TREASURE ISLAND — Spring break crowds packing the beach at a popular bar have prompted the mayor to propose temporarily banning alcohol on Sunset Beach.
The proposal, to be considered Thursday during an emergency meeting of the City Commission, emerged from a meeting the mayor had Friday with Sunset Beach residents concerned about inappropriate behavior by some beachgoers.
"There is a growing consensus among the residents that prohibiting alcohol would go a long way to alleviating some of the problems on the beach and in the neighborhoods," said City Manager Reid Silverboard.
But some locals are concerned that the misbehavior of some visitors could keep them from enjoying a beer on the beach. Treasure Island is one of only two Pinellas County beach communities where it is legal to consume alcohol on the beach. A citywide alcohol ban was overturned by referendum in the 1980s.
"I think they're taking improper steps,'' said Sunset Beach resident Eric Corson. "I think they should enforce the rules they already have in effect, like no bottles and underage drinking and littering and the parking regulations.'' He said several people are distributing fliers opposing the ban.
Even Mayor Bob Minning, who has been in office a week, says he's not sure he'll vote for the ban he has proposed. Details of the proposal are vague because the ordinance is still being written.
The city charter says an emergency ordinance can be enacted immediately and remain in effect for 60 days. A longer ban would require two votes by the commission and a public hearing.
The ban would not prevent alcohol sales at Caddy's On the Beach, which has drawn huge weekend crowds of spring breakers recently, but it raises questions about where on the beach alcohol could be consumed.
Caddy's crowds have grown so large that the owner hired off-duty police officers to direct traffic and portable toilets were put in.
The city also put in some portable toilets near Caddy's and erected a large flashing sign at the entrance to Sunset Beach, directing visitors to public parking about a mile south of Caddy's.
Caddy's owner Tony Amico opposes an alcohol ban unless it applies to all of Treasure Island.
"An alcohol ban will hurt my business, but I will bend over backward to help work out a solution that is acceptable for everybody," Amico said. "But my business is located on property that is zoned commercial and I am entitled to run my business."
Some questions still to be settled include how the ban would be enforced and how much beachfront Amico controls.
"Caddy's believes they have ownership to a certain point of white sandy beach while the city believes the area is public beach," Silverboard said.
City officials estimate more than 1,200 people gathered at the beach on Saturday. Residents have bristled at the influx of cars on the narrow streets, where parking is scarce, and the time it takes to get in and out of the neighborhood. Police issued more than 120 parking tickets over the weekend.
City officials think those steps have helped.
"We had only one complaint of public urination all weekend, so it appears the additional restrooms were successful. The police said the crowd was well-behaved for the most part," Silverboard said.
Minning, who also spent several hours observing the beach crowds over the weekend, confirmed the improved behavior.
"I observed quite a few people using the porta-potties," Minning said.
He said he called the emergency commission meeting to allow commissioners and the public to "weigh in" on the problems and the effectiveness of the steps taken so far.
During a commission discussion last week, Sunset Beach residents said they a were fed up.
"This has got to stop. We've had our belly full. We have a massive problem down there," said Sunset Beach resident Allan Sansotta, a former city commissioner, complaining of severe parking and traffic problems.
Dawn Fader, president of the Sunset Beach Civic Association, urged residents to attend Thursday's commission meeting "to voice their opinions." She also urged beach visitors to "avoid confrontation with residents."
Although Minning asked the city to prepare a proposed alcohol ban, he is not sure he will vote for it.
"My whole motivation is to give residents from all of Treasure Island a chance to weigh in on the issue," Minning said.