TREASURE ISLAND — Warmer weather attracted 400 to 500 beachgoers to Sunset Beach last weekend, a harbinger of larger spring break crowds to come.
Last year, crowd estimates peaked at more than 3,000 and were particularly concentrated on holiday weekends into the summer. Caddy's on the Beach bar and restaurant was the focal point for many beachgoers.
Spring break already has begun, but crowds have yet to reach their maximum.
Increased traffic, parking and alcohol-related behavior problems associated with those crowds led to increases in residents' complaints that continued throughout the year and, most recently, resulted in a lawsuit against the city and Caddy's.
"Spring break is kinda-sorta here. The beach was busy, but not at peak crowds. Sunday was busier," Treasure Island police Chief Tim Casey said Monday. He estimated Saturday's beach crowd at about 400, while warmer weather Sunday drew about 500 to the beach.
He expects the number of Sunset Beach visitors to increase significantly once temperatures rise another 5 to 10 degrees.
Casey said the heaviest concentration of beachgoers was south of Caddy's on Saturday and Sunday.
Although three people were arrested on an assortment of drug and alcohol charges, he said those crowds were mostly well-behaved.
Casey said with extra officers on duty, as well as off-duty officers hired by Caddy's, there were about 11 officers patrolling the beach and Sunset Beach neighborhoods.
In addition, Caddy's employees patrolled the section of beach the restaurant owns to ensure that the city's ban on beer kegs and glass containers was being obeyed.
Police officers also responded to a scattering of residential complaints about cars parking too close to driveways.
New surveillance cameras the city set up north and south of Caddy's have not detected any illegal behavior, Casey said.
"It will take heavier crowds for the cameras to show their worth. I actually think they are more of a deterrent," he said.
Nonetheless, live video feeds from the cameras are being watched at police headquarters.
Casey said big signs on the beach warn visitors that police are watching.
Meanwhile, city officials are still debating what kind of new parking regulations should be created to help alleviate problems, not only on Sunset Beach, but throughout the city.
The City Commission last Wednesday discussed a staff proposal to change the rules for off-street commercial parking lots and forwarded it, with some changes, to the city's Planning and Zoning Board for review.
At issue are properties owned by Caddy's that are used for satellite and valet parking. A lawsuit claims the lots violate city codes.
Tuesday night, commissioners also planned to review a series of on-street parking rules affecting Sunset Beach.
As recommended by Casey, new rules would ban parking on one side of neighborhood streets that run east to west. The proposed rules would be in effect between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekends and some holidays.
Sunset Beach streets affected by the proposed rules are between 95th Avenue and Blind Pass Drive to the south. Casey, fire Chief Charlie Fant and Public Works Director Jim Murphy selected the particular street sides that would be closed to parking.