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Treasure Island ready to regulate drinking on beaches

Arely and Andy Rosas of Wesley Chapel walk down the beach in Treasure Island with alcoholic beverages on Sunday. The couple said this is the first time they had been to this beach and had just found out that drinking was legal. “It’s an adult beach, not that many kids,” he said.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Arely and Andy Rosas of Wesley Chapel walk down the beach in Treasure Island with alcoholic beverages on Sunday. The couple said this is the first time they had been to this beach and had just found out that drinking was legal. “It’s an adult beach, not that many kids,” he said.

TREASURE ISLAND

Although Easter Sunday was a respite from the hordes of people that normally fill the beach north and south of Caddy's restaurant, large crowds are expected to return Saturday.

This past weekend, about 800 people were on Sunset Beach during peak afternoon hours, compared to 1,600 who were on the beach the previous weekend.

Five people were arrested Saturday and Sunday. Twenty-one were arrested just one week before.

Most arrests were for underage drinking, but a variety of other misbehaviors earned beachgoers a trip to jail during the past two weeks — DUI, narcotics, drunkenness, fighting, obstruction of police officers, disorderly conduct including a "simulated sex act," trespassing and even child neglect.

For years, weekend drinking and lewd behavior among beachgoers prompted angry complaints and even lawsuits from Sunset Beach residents.

Now, police and city officials agree that allowing alcohol on the beach is a real problem that needs to be fixed.

"Ninety-five percent of the people out there are respectful and not abusive," says City Manager Reid Silverboard. "It is a very small percentage of people who just didn't learn good manners at home. Their mamas should have spanked them."

Last week, he and police Chief Tim Casey recommended that the city ban alcohol on Sunset Beach on weekends and holidays.

The commission agreed and on Tuesday will consider an ordinance calling for such a ban not only for Sunset Beach, but for all the city's beaches.

Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach, and Commissioner Gail Caldwell would go a step further, banning alcohol seven days a week throughout the city.

A complete ban would violate a 1986 voter-approved referendum allowing alcohol on the beach.

Instead, city officials are looking to "regulate" alcohol consumption.

The proposed ordinance would ban alcohol on the city's beaches between 8 a.m. and sunset on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Imbibing on the beach on those days would be allowed only at city-sanctioned special events and permitted weddings and other functions.

But judging from past attempts to ban alcohol on the city's beach, even a limited regulatory approach may not get much support from residents in other parts of the city.

In 2009, a proposed 60-day ban on alcohol on the city's beaches was rejected amid strong opposition from residents in other parts of the city.

The same year, a petition drive started by Sunset Beach residents failed to get enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot calling for a complete alcohol ban.

Since then, an increased weekend police presence on Sunset Beach during spring break and the summer beach season, a ban on beer kegs and tightened parking regulations in Sunset Beach neighborhoods seemed to tamp down many of the problems and the complaints.

Until this year.

"The big deal now is the crowd has changed," Casey said Tuesday. "They are mostly from Hillsborough County and are not as compliant with our officers. I believe this will be a growing problem."

On Easter weekend, that "problem" erupted into a major fight among beachgoers, forcing Casey to order more than 600 people off the beach north of Caddy's.

It started about 4:30 p.m., when the chief and his officers noticed a "disturbance" on the beach.

"We separated a few people who were tugging and pulling on each other, but the crowd got too condensed and some were trying to rile everybody up," Casey said.

He positioned three police vehicles near the crowd and use PA systems and intermittent sirens to warn people that they were closing the beach.

"Most people left without a problem, but we did arrest six people who were not compliant," Casey said.

This level of disturbance is new this year, the chief said.

"These are things that never happened before," Casey said.

In response, he has beefed up the police presence on the beach with an additional three officers, bringing the total to eight officers patrolling the beach on weekends.

That total includes three off-duty sheriff's deputies hired by Caddy's to help control the crowds on his property and the surrounding beach.

Caddy's beachfront bar and restaurant, long the focus of resident complaints, is not the problem, Casey said.

But Caddy's owner Tony Amico also admits that Caddy's popularity has contributed to the growing crowds at the beach.

"Caddy's was the one that opened the door," Amico told the commission last week. "With the advent of the Internet and Facebook, the word got out and traveled like a virus that they could drink on the beach."

Amico said he favors the city regulating alcohol on Sunset Beach.

The ban won't affect his business because he owns the beach to the waterline and does not allow his patrons to bring coolers or their own alcohol.

Casey said Amico is "doing a great job" policing his portion of the beach.

"He doesn't want this going on either. They don't spend a dime in his place," the chief said.

As for Sunset Beach residents, nearly a dozen spoke last week begging the commission to ban alcohol.

"Last weekend (Palm Sunday) was completely out of control," said resident Robin Welborn. "You need to act. If you don't, something is going to happen. Something very bad is going to happen."

Treasure Island ready to regulate drinking on beaches 04/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 9:56am]
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