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Enforcement of new Sunset Beach alcohol ban to begin gradually

TREASURE ISLAND — Enforcement of the city's new ban on the possession or consumption of alcohol on most of Sunset Beach will begin gently.

"We won't be looking to take full enforcement action until at least a couple of weeks," police Chief Tim Casey said Thursday.

That doesn't mean, however, that police patrolling the beach this weekend will ignore violators.

People carrying alcoholic containers or drinking alcohol will be told that it is now illegal and asked to remove the alcohol from the beach.

Only if they refuse will they be placed under arrest.

"We will tell them you don't have to leave the beach, but the alcohol does," Casey said.

The normal complement of police will be patrolling the beach this weekend, but that may be increased when full enforcement begins.

Meanwhile, the city is doing a "media blitz" to let beachgoers know that drinking on the popular beach north and south of Caddy's is no longer legal on weekends and holidays.

The city also has posted the new rules and a map of the affected area on its website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Casey said.

Specially ordered signs will be erected at the northern entrance to Sunset Beach, as well as at public parking lots and each beach access point.

They will read: "Alcohol Prohibited Beyond This Point, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday, Sunday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day."

The alcohol ban, unanimously approved Tuesday by the City Commission, applies to the section of Sunset Beach from the beach access just south of Island Inn at 99th Avenue to the beach access just north of the Sunset Chateau at 85th Avenue.

The only area within the boundaries not affected is the property owned by Caddy's beachfront bar and restaurant.

Casey said Caddy's owner Tony Amico will place signs at his beach property lines warning patrons that they cannot take alcohol onto the adjacent city-controlled beach.

"I wish there was a wand so I could make the problem go away, but I can't," Amico said during a nearly three-hour City Commission debate.

During Tuesday's meeting, more than 30 residents and business owners spoke passionately for, and mostly against, the proposed ban.

This was in sharp contrast to a meeting two weeks ago when a large contingent of residents clamored for the city to ban alcohol on Sunset Beach.

Timothy Driscoll, an attorney representing several Sunset Beach business owners, warned the commission Tuesday that he believes the ban is unconstitutional and violates the city charter and a 1986 referendum that tossed out an earlier ban on alcohol consumption on the beach.

"If behavior is unlawful, deal with the behavior, not with the problems of alcohol," Driscoll told the commission.

Although rowdy beach crowds are not at a crisis point, Casey urged the commission to enact the ban to "prevent what I think is going to happen if we don't make a change."

Many of the ban's opponents urged the commission to abandon the idea in favor of more enforcement and greater parking regulation.

Resident Eric Corson presented a petition signed by 309 registered Treasure Island voters and 987 visitors opposing the alcohol ban.

The ban also was strongly opposed by W.D. Higginbotham Jr., president and executive director of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce.

Higginbotham proposed instead that the city ban large containers and packages containing alcohol but allow individual "cups" of beer or alcohol purchased at surrounding businesses.

Resident Tim O'Reilly called the ban a "knee-jerk reaction" to an out-of-control Palm Sunday crowd that forced city police to arrest more than 20 people and close down part of the beach.

Resident Andrew Cress predicted the ban would only "create an alcohol monopoly" for Caddy's.

"It's obvious that whatever decision is rendered here this evening, it will not be popular with everybody," Mayor Bob Minning said.

Minning also warned that several business owners plan to sue the city to block the ban.

In the end commissioners could not ignore the complaints of Sunset Beach residents and unanimously passed the ban.

They did try to mitigate its impact, however, by making the ban temporary — it expires at midnight on Oct. 2.

Treasure Island voters could make the final decision next year in a referendum election on either the January primary or March general election ballot.

Enforcement of new Sunset Beach alcohol ban to begin gradually 05/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2011 3:04pm]
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