Coral Gables and Miami team up to prevent hourly hotel rentals along Calle Ocho

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Roberto Koltun

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The days of renting rooms by the hour at a chain of hotels and motels along Southwest Eighth Street could be coming to an end – if two cities team up to enact changes.

Coral Gables and the City of Miami are working on a partnership that will enforce a new law in the gables that prohibits hourly rentals. The Coral Gables City Commission hopes that the end of the rentals will be a step towards changing the character of the stretch of Calle Ocho that runs from LeJeune Road to the Palmetto Highway and preventing prostitution and drug trafficking there and in neighboring neighborhoods.

“I hope I can implement this and clean up an area which for so long has been a plague not only for the city of Miami but for the city of Coral Gables,” said Commissioner Vince Lago. “For some reason there has been a blind eye for a long time.”

But Coral Gables, which for a long time did not crack down on hourly room rentals, needs the cooperation of the city of Miami. Only one of the motels is within the city limits of Coral Gables. The motels across the street are in Miami.

This section of the bustling street is home to establishments like the Wishes Hotel, Jamaica Motel, Stardust Motel, Miami Executive Hotel, and Tamiami Motel that feature heart-shaped Jacuzzis, rooms with mirrors, adult movies and TV. emphasis on privacy and discretion. Many of these “no-warning motels” have been operating for decades.

Many hotels feature neon signs with hearts and are surrounded by tall fences or expansive shrubs. Almost all have gated parking and, except for a few missing tiles or a dim bulb, appear to be in good condition from the outside.

“The prostitutes are walking around at all hours and the men are moving slowly up and down near the hotels. I often choose different routes to get home when bringing guests back to avoid this area, ”a resident said in an email to Lago.

Lago and City Attorney Craig Leen recently met with Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez and Miami staff to discuss the article, which would create a mutual aid agreement, a joint enforcement zone and a task force. special between city police departments.

“I think a lot of times this type of activity can be seasonal, and when there is a slight increase, everyone starts paying attention,” Suarez said. “It all depends on where we see it happening.”

Lago said he performed four undercover shots with Miami Police on the north side of Calle Ocho and saw pimps and prostitutes making their way in and around motels. Police arrested prostitutes and customers, some of whom had guns and drugs.

“There is no way that can be accepted that is a stone’s throw away from us,” Lago said.

The Gables approved an ordinance in December banning hourly rentals at city hotels and motels. The ordinance provides for fines for any business owner who accepts payment for an hourly rental. The city plans to impose fines of up to $ 5,000 – after a warning and if the company has two infractions within a year – and up to $ 15,000 if it turns out that the company facilitates prostitution or sex trafficking. The owner’s certificate of use could also be revoked under the new law.

The existing zoning code already specifically defines hotels as “designed and used for daily, weekly or monthly occupancy”.

Former Commissioner Wayne “Chip” Withers, who served from 1991 to 2011, said concerns on the streets are not new, but during his time on the stage, the city has focused more on communication. with Miami Police to fight crime than on business regulation. .

“If you saw the solicitation on the street, it was more of a concern,” Withers said. “I have mixed feelings that the government is rushing to regulate this stuff.”

Neighbors said they were relieved to see this first step in addressing an issue that has caused some longtime residents to consider leaving the North Gables. Ariel Fernandez, a North Gables resident who has criticized the city’s public safety efforts, said he was encouraged by the new law and believed it was long overdue.

“We definitely saw activity in the neighborhood,” Fernandez said. “Every time you walk down Eighth Street on your way home, you see the activity going on in that area in general. “

City leaders believe other crimes in the North Gables area could be linked to illicit activity on Calle Ocho.

“Some of the petty thefts and break-ins that we have in the town of Coral Gables are [by] people who are looking for that cash flow, ”Lago said.

Rahul Kothari, who has lived in North Gables for about five years, said hourly rentals appear to encourage illegal behavior.

“I am not against people who run their businesses the way they want, but not at the expense of our security,” Kothari said.

Miami operated a similar stretch of motels along Biscayne Boulevard in the Upper Eastside that were known in the 1980s and 1990s to harbor prostitution and drug trafficking. The region has overcome some of these issues and has experienced a resurgence over the past decade with new restaurants and shops. And renovated hotels like the Vagabond are now tourist destinations.

Fernandez is hoping the same kind of change can happen along Calle Ocho as well.

“If we can attract new flagship stores to these malls, maybe we can change that perspective as well,” Fernandez said. “We’ve seen some business owners take the initiative to make things better.

Coral Gables has already seen results at Wishes, the only hotel within city limits along Eighth Street. The company stopped hourly rentals after receiving a cease and desist letter from the city. But Coral Gables has no jurisdiction across the street.

Suarez said municipal boundaries along the highway have made it difficult for governments and law enforcement as businesses fall into the cities of Coral Gables, Miami and West Miami and unincorporated Miami-Dade. in society and prostitutes are aware that different jurisdictions have different regulations. .

“We don’t want some people to exploit jurisdictional boundaries to get away with something that’s bad for our neighborhoods,” Suarez said. “We want to make sure there is some flexibility for our officers and their officers. The goal is for law enforcement agencies to work together to prevent activity along the street.

Suarez said he plans to discuss the deal with Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes and that his staff will review laws already in place in Miami to deal with these businesses before considering a similar restriction on rentals. He expects Coral Gables to approve the new article, with the Miami commission likely voting on it in March.

“We’re looking to see how well we can implement this if we don’t already have laws that address it,” Suarez said.

Leen said he expects the Gables Committee to vote on the deal at its February 28 meeting.

“I think it will be a model of how two cities can work together,” Leen said. “I think it will help a lot of people. “

This story was originally published February 10, 2017 2:36 p.m.

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