ST. PETE BEACH — Guests at gulffront hotels here can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas.
Residents and other beachgoers who are not registered guests of the hotels continue to be barred from imbibing anywhere on the city's beaches.
The retreat from the city's previous total ban on alcohol drinking on both public and private beaches was passed unanimously Tuesday night by the City Commission.
"This is not a free-for-all for drinking on the beach," said Commissioner Rick Falkenstein, stressing that alcohol is still not allowed on Pass-a-Grille or other city beaches.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher, who said she is concerned about possible extra law enforcement costs, nonetheless supported the move, saying "it is reasonable to expect (hotel guests) to order a libation, a beverage, while laying out there on the beach."
Only two people spoke in opposition to the new ordinance.
Bill Pyle, president of the Silver Sands Condominium that's adjacent to the Postcard Inn, said his neighbors are "intimidated when walking up and down the beach by drunken, unruly behavior" from people on the beach.
David Westmark, representing the environmental group Blue Turtle Society, did not object to serving alcohol to beachgoers, but pressed the city to require hotels to use biodegradable cups instead of plastic.
Mayor Alan Johnson suggested that Westmark speak directly to the city's hoteliers.
St. Pete Beach now joins neighboring cities in allowing drinking on the beach, at least for hotel guests.
Treasure Island and Madeira Beach both allow drinking by all adults on their city-owned and public beaches, with one exception: Drinking is not allowed at a Madeira Beach beachfront park at 14400 Gulf Blvd. that is owned by Pinellas County. The county bars alcohol at its parks.
Clearwater Beach, the county's other major tourist beach destination, bans alcohol for beachgoers.
The ordinance was written last year after the city's staff met with hoteliers and representatives of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
The new law allows drinking on the sandy beach only by people registered with or renting rooms and cabanas from permitted hotels.
There are currently 17 hotels on the Gulf of Mexico that rent cabanas in an area stretching from the Don CeSar Hotel to the Postcard Inn.
Annual permits will be granted after a review by the city's technical review committee.
Those permits could be rescinded if hotels fail to follow city rules:
• Hotels must hold an active business tax receipt for cabana rentals.
• The sale and serving of alcohol is permitted only within 10 feet of hotel-owned or licensed cabanas.
• Cabanas must be at least 75 feet from abutting residential properties (this restriction affects only the Silver Sands Condominiums) and no closer than 50 feet to the wet sand.
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• All cabana occupants must wear a wristband identifiable to the issuing hotel.
• Alcoholic beverage service is restricted to designated cabana areas between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
• All drink containers must carry markings identifiable to the related hotel, but glass and plastic straws are prohibited.
If a hotel violates any of the above rules, there are escalating penalties: on the first violation, a written warning; on the second violation, a written warning that the beach-alcoholic beverage permit will be revoked if any additional violations occur within a six-month period; and on the third violation, revocation of the hotel's beach-alcoholic beverage permit and a ban on reapplying for one year plus an additional six months for each additional violation.
"They (the hotels) wanted this and we've given it to them. Now we need to make sure it is carried out in a proper way," said Commissioner Terri Finnerty.