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Swim-zone tempest to be settled Aug. 19

TREASURE ISLAND — A decision on a proposed expanded swim zone extending more than a mile along Sunset Beach, blocking boaters from Caddy's restaurant, has been put on hold until August.

The swim zone would extend 5,335 feet from Blind Pass to the south end of Weckesser Park and would bar boats from within 300 feet of the beach.

At issue is part of the area near 82nd Avenue that is not now a swim zone and attracts a large number of boats, particularly on weekends.

While area residents want the area closed to boaters, boaters and the owner of Caddy's on the Waterfront are strongly opposed.

Residents complain that boaters endanger swimmers, play loud music, are often rowdy and even "relieve themselves" on the beach.

Boating supporters argue that the city should ticket lawbreakers instead of banning all boats from visiting Sunset Beach.

"The commission is not cold-hearted," Commissioner Bob Minning said after listening last week for more than an hour to pleas from boaters seeking continued access to the beach.

"We are not here to ramrod anything through for the pleasure of a few residents. The commission recognizes that Caddy's has the right to do business," Minning said.

Possible revisions to the proposed ordinance, which was scheduled for a final vote at the commission's July 1 meeting, will now be discussed during the Aug. 5 workshop and resubmitted for an official vote at the Aug. 19 regular meeting.

"I have no objection to going back and rethinking this," Commissioner Ed Gayton Jr. said after arguing at length with Caddy's owner Tony Amico about the need to ensure the safety of swimmers near the restaurant.

Initially, Gayton said that the only way he would change his support for the swim zone was if the city's attorney said the ordinance was illegal.

Amico said the action would "severely" harm his business and argued that the commission did not have the right to block boats from Caddy's.

"Some of the people who are complaining don't own the beach. I do. The city is without jurisdiction," Amico said, explaining that he has invested "more than $5-million" to acquire beach-front lots both north and south of his restaurant.

He warned that the "city will be liable for millions of dollars in legal costs" if it passed the ordinance as originally proposed.

"I am trying to save us all a problem. I am happy to sit down and negotiate," Amico told the commission.

He suggested that the commission designate a "very narrow boating area" where boats could come close enough to the beach to allow boaters to easily wade to shore and patronize his restaurant.

"Yes, I want to keep people safe, but I also want to accommodate boat traffic, car traffic, walk-in traffic and any other kind of traffic Caddy's could accommodate," said Amico.

When Gayton suggested that people would swim the proposed 300-foot distance to the beach, Amico and several residents protested, saying the football-field distance was too far for children to swim.

"I can't ask my son to swim 300 feet," said resident John Gordon. "This seems like a really harsh thing to do. You are talking about restricting a mile of the beach. It just isn't fair."

Max Linn, a lifelong Sunset Beach resident, said most people come to the beach to have fun.

"Municipalities are getting too restrictive on people having fun," Linn said.

Harold Seltzer, a founder of Sam Seltzer's Steak House in Tampa, told the commission he moved to Treasure Island to be able to keep a boat and take it to Caddy's.

"This is silly," Seltzer said. "There has been no tragic accident, no loss of life, no injuries. The tail is wagging the dog. You have two or three or four home- owners who are upset. The rest of us need to be heard as well."

Swim-zone tempest to be settled Aug. 19 07/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2008 8:09pm]

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