TREASURE ISLAND — Complaints from Sunset Beach residents — about thoughtless visitors who block narrow streets with their cars and obnoxious boaters congregating close to gulffront homes — drew promises of action Tuesday from the City Commission.
The boating problem will be tackled first, but the parking issue could take until January to fix.
A proposed ban on nonresident parking in nonmetered spaces throughout Sunset Beach will not be voted on until later this summer and go into effect in early January, when residents and property owners would be required to buy official parking permits to avoid tickets or towing.
Of more immediate concern are boaters who are clogging the waters off sections of the gulf side of Sunset Beach. They may soon be banned from proposed new boat-free swim zones.
A commission majority told City Manager Reid Silverboard on Tuesday to draft new ordinances implementing both actions. The first, establishing new swim zones, will be considered on first reading at the commission's regular meeting Tuesday.
The area most affected extends nearly 3,000 feet from 82nd Avenue to just south of a swim zone beginning at the south end of Weckesser Park.
"Residents in this area complain of the increased noise from these boaters, as well as the increased risk to the safety of swimmers," said Silverboard.
He proposed that the swim zone be expanded to cover the area, now designated an idle speed-no wake zone, and that buoys be installed to prevent boats from coming closer than 300 feet of the shoreline.
According to Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach, the boating problem worsened after the county implemented stricter rules at Shell Key.
"They play their radios loudly and are doing not nice things to the residents," he said.
Resident Ray Green said the problem could lead to serious accidents.
He showed the commission a brief video showing dozens of boats with blaring radios close to swimmers just off the beach in front of his home.
"It is extremely dangerous," he said. "We get very weary calling the Police Department."
Meanwhile, complaints about parking congestion have grown over the years, according to police Chief Tim Casey.
"The popularity of various destinations in Sunset Beach periodically results in the inability of residents to park their own vehicles at or near their home," he said.
In addition to blocking driveways, visitor parking could impede emergency vehicles, Casey said
The issue has led to verbal and physical confrontations between residents and visitors.
"As beachgoers return to their cars, some had a little too much sun and refreshment. Sometimes people under the influence are not at their best. Residents are exposed to vulgar language and aggressive comments," Casey said.
"I object to people using my front yard as a garbage can and a urinal," said resident Chris Sierra.
Casey said the Ka'Tiki and Caddy's Waterfront bars, the Lions Club facility, and the city's Beach Pavilion and public parking lots draw many beachgoers. Overflow parking spreads the congestion into side streets.
"We need to think this thing through very, very carefully. It might end up shooting us all in the foot," said Fred Stern, owner of the Ka'Tiki, as he warned that restricting parking could adversely affect Sunset Beach businesses.
"One of the more difficult problems is when on an already narrow street, two vehicles park opposite each other and in doing so, narrow the street to the point of preventing another vehicle from passing through," Casey said.
"It is a safety issue," said Commissioner Ed Gayton Jr. He asked Silverboard to test emergency vehicle accessibility on Sunset Beach streets and report his findings to the commission.
Casey suggested that the city require parking permits for all cars parked on Sunset Beach streets, except at metered spaces.
Only residents would be allowed to buy both annual and temporary permits needed for guests. Still at issue is whether the permits would be sold only to Sunset Beach residents or to residents throughout the city.
"I am totally in favor of this, but I feel the permits should be available island-wide. Sunset Beach is part of Treasure Island; it is not a province unto itself," said Commissioner Phil Collins.
It's unclear what the permits will cost, but they should be enough to cover the estimated $14,112 cost of about 200 signs and program implementation, Silverboard said.
Money to cover the cost of the parking permit program will be included in the new budget.
A similar parking permit program in St. Pete Beach's Pass-a-Grille area charges $5 for an annual parking permit and $3 for temporary 30-day permits.
Casey also recommended that the city increase its parking fines from $20 to $35 to discourage illegal parking.