TREASURE ISLAND — Two businesses and more than 60 residents are suing the city over its renewed ban on drinking of alcohol on part of Sunset Beach.
The ban was put in place this year to stem misbehavior among thousands of beachgoers intruding on Sunset Beach neighborhoods during the spring and summer.
Several months ago, the City Commission renewed the ban for 2012, to begin the first week in February and ending the first weekend in October 2012.
At the time, Ka'Tiki owner Fred Stern said he and other businesses had lost 30 percent or more of their business during the 2011 ban.
Now the owners of Atcost Liquors & Beer, at 9861 Gulf Blvd., and the 7-Eleven at 9695 Gulf Blvd. as well as a large group of residents want the ban rescinded.
Tim Driscoll, attorney for the group suing the city, says the ban violates a 1986 citywide referendum that tossed out an earlier ordinance that prohibited consumption of alcohol on public property anywhere in the city.
When the city implemented the ban affecting part of Sunset Beach, City Attorney Maura Kiefer argued that it did not violate the city's charter because it was a "partial regulation of time and places" where drinking would be restricted.
"The City Commission does not have the authority, without approval of the electorate, to reinstate an alcohol ban on the public beach," Driscoll countered in the lawsuit.
He is seeking both a temporary and permanent declaratory judgment that would invalidate the Sunset Beach alcohol ban, arguing that residents and the two businesses have been "irreparably harmed" because the ban prohibits them or their customers from consuming alcohol on the beach.
City Manager Reid Silverboard declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the city has no intention of stopping enforcement of the Sunset Beach alcohol ban unless ordered by a court.
Where it all began
For years, weekend drinking and lewd behavior among beachgoers led to angry complaints and even a lawsuit to force the city to enforce parking regulations in an attempt to discourage beach crowds.
Sunset Beach residents complained about heavy traffic, blocked streets and driveways, drunkenness and obnoxious behavior, including beach visitors urinating in residential yards and sexual trysts in beach dunes.
In 2009, a proposed 60-day ban on alcohol on all the city's beaches was rejected amid strong opposition from residents in other parts of the city.
The same year, a petition drive started by Sunset Beach residents failed to get enough signatures for a ballot measure calling for a complete alcohol ban.
The city then tried other solutions, including increasing the weekend police presence on Sunset Beach during spring break and the summer beach season, banning beer kegs and tightening parking regulations in Sunset Beach neighborhoods.
At first, many of the problems and the complaints abated, but this year even rowdier crowds, often numbering in the thousands, began flocking to Sunset Beach.
When police Chief Tim Casey said his department could no longer fully control the crowds and recommended the city considering banning alcohol, the commission acted.
By the end of the summer, both residents and Casey reported that the drinking ban had been successful in sharply reducing the number of beachgoers and the number of incidents affecting residents.
The ban is only in effect on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The ban is in place just south of the Island Inn at about 99th Avenue and extends south on Sunset Beach to the north side of the Sunset Chateau condominiums at about 85th Avenue.
It does not apply to the beach behind Caddy's, which the business says it owns to the waterline on the Gulf of Mexico.
The only other exemption is at Sunset Vista Park and the Beach Pavilion, where beachgoers may consume beer and wine at permitted special events.