TREASURE ISLAND — After a year of heated debate and lawsuits, residents and city officials are again bracing for the throngs of spring break visitors about to descend on this beach community.
Starting this weekend, Sunset Beach will probably attract its share of the more than 1.7 million college students nationwide who will go somewhere for spring break vacations.
Last year, traffic caused by spring break visitors clogged the area's narrow streets. Cars parked in neighborhoods, often blocking residents' driveways. Drunken beachgoers left trash on lawns, and sometimes used residents' yards as bathrooms.
For students who do come to Treasure Island, officials hope they will heed warnings posted on the city Web site and its new Twitter page, twitter.com/tifl33706.
"The police are among you," the city's Web site warns, also telling prospective beach visitors to "Smile! You're on Camera" and adding that if anyone has a "handcuff fetish," city police officers will gladly put them on "criminal offenders" before transporting them to jail.
The city has increased the number of officers patrolling Sunset Beach, particularly on weekends.
Plainclothes police officers, in conjunction with officers from the state liquor authorities, will focus on underage drinking.
The city also plans "frequent, coordinated DUI enforcement patrols" on Sunset Beach and DUI checkpoints on Gulf Boulevard.
Police enforcement will include monitoring live video taken by high-resolution, pole-mounted cameras positioned to the north and south of Caddy's on the Beach bar and restaurant.
Last year, Caddy's became the focal point for many spring break visitors, prompting complaints and eventual legal action from Sunset Beach residents.
In response, the City Commission banned beer kegs on the beach. Caddy's, which owns much of its beachfront, is banning private coolers on its property. The city is also enforcing its ban on glass bottles or containers on the beach.
City officials are considering updating parking regulations. A special workshop on proposed rules governing lots throughout the city is 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Although proposed parking regulations are citywide, the issue originally was raised by Sunset Beach residents who complained about a number of remote parking lots on residentially zoned land operated by Caddy's.
"By adding parking lot after parking lot, Caddy's is bringing hundreds more cars and thousands more people to our beaches," Sunset Beach resident Ray Green told the City Commission on Tuesday. Green is one of 15 residents who has filed a lawsuit against Caddy's for violating city parking lot regulations. The lawsuit also names the city for allegedly failing to enforce its own rules as they relate to Caddy's parking lots.
Wednesday's special commission workshop will focus on an 11-page report prepared by City Planner Lynn Rosetti that includes proposed changes to city parking regulations.
Originally, the proposal was to be forwarded to the city's Planning and Zoning Board for consideration, but the commission decided it needs to more carefully review the staff recommendations.
Last Tuesday, the commission unanimously agreed it opposes allowing commercial parking lots in residential areas.
Under the proposal, commercial parking lots would be allowed in some residential and commercial zones as a special exception. Parking lots as a permitted use without the need for special approval would be allowed only in the city's commercial district.
Currently, there is no zoning district in the city that allows a standalone parking lot as either a permitted or special exception use. Instead, parking lots can only be placed as "accessory uses" on the same property as the business or structure served.
A special exception for "off-site parking" is allowed in the commercial and resort facilities districts, but it must be within 100 yards of the main commercial property and can be granted only by the City Commission.
A number of commercial parking lots in the city are in technical violation of these regulations. Some lots were created before Treasure Island was incorporated. Others, including some lots at Caddy's, were granted temporary permits that apparently have since expired.