TREASURE ISLAND — Commercial parking, particularly as it affects Caddy's on the Beach bar and restaurant, is the latest hot issue that has been dumped in the lap of the city's Planning and Zoning Board.
Technically, the proposed parking changes to the city's land development regulations will affect all commercial activities in the city.
But in light of a recent lawsuit filed by a group of Sunset Beach residents against Caddy's, the city and some city staff — as well as comments made at Tuesday's commission meeting — it is clear the real issue is the crowds flocking to Caddy's and the surrounding beach.
"I am sorry about this conflict, but the solution to take away parking spaces in an already problem area is not a solution," Caddy's owner Tony Amico told the commission at the end of a long workshop discussion.
The debate started with nearly an hour of testimony by Brian Battaglia, the attorney representing the 15 residents who are suing the city over what they say is its failure to adequately enforce its own laws, particularly relating to several off-site parking lots owned and operated by Caddy's.
"The use of these lots is contrary to city ordinances," Battaglia told the commission.
He described Caddy's as an uncontrolled "entertainment mecca" whose "explosive growth" is destroying the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
Beginning last spring, thousands of weekend beachgoers crowded Sunset Beach, particularly near Caddy's.
Their sometimes drunken behavior, as well as frequent use of the beach and neighborhood yards as toilets and trash receptacles, annoyed and then increasingly angered residents.
Last year, the city and Caddy's increased police patrols and installed portable toilets. Large beer kegs were eventually banned.
The same will be done this year, but police are also installing two surveillance cameras to monitor beachgoers' behavior.
That was not enough for Battaglia, however, who insisted the city must curtail the growth of Caddy's business by closing down some of what he says are illegal parking lots.
Actually, a number of commercial parking lots in the city are in technical violation of current zoning regulations. Some parking lots were created before Treasure Island was incorporated as a city. Others, including some lots at Caddy's were granted temporary permits that apparently have since expired.
Currently, there is no zoning district in the city that allows a stand-alone parking lot as 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 they must be within 100 yards of the main commercial property and can be granted only by the City Commission.
Last fall, the commission asked its staff to recommend changes to its codes to address parking issues and help bring commercial lots into compliance.
On Tuesday, an 11-page report was presented by city planner Lynn Rosetti that recommended allowing various types of commercial parking lots in some residential and commercial zones only 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.
Aside from a few questions from city attorney Maura Kiefer, the commission declined to respond to Battaglia's request for no commercial parking in Sunset Beach's residential area, citing the pending lawsuit.
Several residents did, however.
"Mr. Amico has done a fine job building a very successful business and done everything possible to deal with overcrowding problems," said resident Dennis Velasco. "But the parking lots encourage and facilitate overflow crowds."
The commission unanimously agreed to send the proposed parking regulations to the city's Planning and Zoning Board for review, most likely during a special meeting on March 10.