TREASURE ISLAND — Sunset Beach residents won a major battle this week in their long-running fight against Caddy's bar and restaurant.
Circuit Judge Anthony Rondolino has effectively ordered the city to shut down most of Caddy's parking lots.
In a strongly worded ruling Wednesday, he told officials to enforce parking lot regulations on Sunset Beach. He said City Manager Reid Silverboard and Neal Schwartz, the city's building official and code enforcement officer, "have failed to carry out their lawful ministerial duty."
Silverboard, who had yet to see the order or discuss it with City Attorney Maura Kiefer, declined to comment Friday.
Caddy's is a popular gathering spot for weekend and holiday beachgoers who crowd Sunset Beach, sometimes in the thousands. The beach bar currently provides 200 parking spaces where it is located at 9000 W Gulf Blvd., and on seven other off-site properties.
City codes currently prohibit parking on those off-site lots and officials are considering changing those parking lot regulations to allow limited off-site parking. But with any final decision months away, the city is holding off any enforcement of its commercial parking codes until then.
The judge's ruling changes that — and could have an enormous effect on Caddy's business.
Closing the disputed parking lots would leave the establishment with only 45 parking spaces on its original property, according to Caddy's owner Tony Amico.
Although the order takes effect "immediately," the city will have a chance to argue against its becoming permanent during a hearing Sept. 7.
The crowds that Caddy's draws have irritated and angered Sunset Beach residents, who complain of heavy traffic, blocked streets and driveways, drunkenness and obnoxious behavior — including beachgoers urinating in residential yards and conducting sexual trysts among the beach dunes.
Responding to resident complaints, the city restricted public parking in Sunset Beach neighborhoods on weekends and holidays, banned beer kegs on the beach, and increased weekend law enforcement.
And bar owner Amico hired off-duty law enforcement, installed portable toilets and regularly cleans the beach.
But that wasn't enough for 15 Sunset Beach residents who sued the city and Caddy's over parking lots they claim are illegal. Caddy's has since been dropped from the lawsuit.
Rondolino's order states the residents "have the clear legal right to the relief sought."
For the residents, that "relief" is nothing less than forcing the city to close down parking lots adjacent to or near Caddy's.
City Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach, argues the effect of Wednesday's ruling on Caddy's is "debatable" since for most of the bar's 40-plus-year history the business operated only with the original parking spaces.
"Caddy's is the nicest bar there, closes early and I think people would support him if he followed the law," Bildz said. "Tony Amico is fighting against the neighborhood."
He then suggested Caddy's should consider moving to the now vacant Buccaneer Motel gulffront property in the center of the city.
Amico, however, doesn't sound like he is ready to move off Sunset Beach any time soon.
"I spent millions to buy those properties because the city asked me to provide more parking for my customers," Amico said. "I will defend myself to every extent of the law."