TREASURE ISLAND — A petition drive aimed at pushing city commissioners to reconsider allowing the Rotary Club's four-day beach fundraising event has collected more than 1,000 signatures.
Arthur Czyszczon, general manager of Page Terrace Beachfront Motel, wants to collect 10,000 signatures to sway city commissioners to change their approval of the Rotary Club's annual Greatest Show on Surf event. The event is planned for next March during spring break.
Czyszczon said he and other hoteliers are concerned about the increase in the number of special events held at the beach.
"Within the last five years, events have doubled," he said. "We've never had an issue before because some actually help out our business when they are held when business is slow."
But by holding it during spring break, Czyszczon said he actually loses business.
"We lost a significant amount last year," he said.
Signatures on the petitions come from all over the country. Mayor Robert Minning, who voted in favor of allowing the event, said most people signing don't understand the issue.
"It is easy for him to put something online with no companion piece that shows the other side," he said Thursday, when the petition had fewer signatures. "Of the 675 who have signed it, 15 are from Treasure Island. It is obvious that the people responding don't know all the details."
Minning says he puts more confidence in a survey the chamber of commerce did with 80 businesses. The majority favored having the Rotary event.
The online petition at change.org states that vehicles should not be allowed to drive or park on the beach because they "threaten our natural beach environment and reputation of having a world-class beach."
Large events "pose safety concerns, noise concerns, pollution, and disrupt nesting and resting activities for endangered turtles and shorebirds," the petition states. It claims local businesses are losing money because people "come to stay on a beach, not on a fairground or worse, a parking lot."
The city also is receiving more complaints about daily use of vehicles on the beach.
City Manager Reid Silverboard said people have complained that vendors have caused more ruts on the beach in the soft sand areas and are driving too fast.
City recreation director Cathy Hayduke, who said she is getting more complaints from residents about cars and trucks parking and driving on the beach, said the city has sent five vendors that operate concessions on the beach letters with formal requirements for parking and operating their vehicles.
Beginning July 25, the city's police force monitored vendors for 10 days to see whether they had the required permits and were operating their vehicles in a proper manner.
"We always patrol the beach, but we were stopping all vehicles to see if they had the paperwork required," police Chief Tim Casey said. No summonses or tickets were issued, he said.
In the past year, Casey said, there has been an increase in people illegally driving on the beach.
Signs are posted at every vehicle access point clearly stating that only authorized vehicles can use the beach, Casey said, but people often ignore them.
Commissioners Alan Bildz and Tim Ramsberger have said they have reservations about parking and driving on the beachfront.
"There is more commercial activity on the beach now than I've ever seen," Ramsberger said. "I've been getting lots of negative feedback about it."
When Frank Taylor with Taylor Beach Service, a vendor that operates a rental service on the beachfront, asked last week to expand the number of vehicles his business uses, Ramsberger objected.
"I have trouble with that," he said. "We need to have all vendors limited."
When the city renews its agreements with vendors, Silverboard said it will put in additional language to clarify any problems.
Both Reid and Minning think limiting the number of vehicles vendors are allowed to operate and registering drivers and making sure they understand the rules will help.