Coral Gables

Coral Gables moves to crack down on ‘love motels’ but needs Miami’s help

Unlike most hotels on this stretch of Southwest Eighth Street, Wishes Motel is on the Coral Gables side of the street and was served with a cease and desist order to stop renting rooms by the hour.
Unlike most hotels on this stretch of Southwest Eighth Street, Wishes Motel is on the Coral Gables side of the street and was served with a cease and desist order to stop renting rooms by the hour. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

The creation of a new joint enforcement zone between Coral Gables and Miami, meant to prevent prostitution and drug dealing along a stretch of Calle Ocho, is now halfway to approval.

The Coral Gables City Commission approved a resolution at Tuesday’s meeting to create the zone, but the item still needs approval from the city of Miami.

Gables leaders reached out to the city of Miami after approving a law last December that prohibits hourly room rentals in Coral Gables. The city hopes that by cracking down on the practice on that stretch of Southwest Eighth Street, from LeJeune Road to the Palmetto Expressway, there will be less illegal activity on Calle Ocho and in nearby neighborhoods.

But because most of the motels are on the Miami side of the street, Coral Gables wants a partnership that would allow officers from either jurisdiction to operate with the same rights and privileges whether they’re in the Gables or Miami’s boundaries.

Only one of the motels, Wishes Hotel, is in the Gables city limits. The rest are in Miami or unincorporated areas. Wishes has complied with the Gables law, city officials said.

“There could be human trafficking that my officers see day to day and now that we can see both sides of the street and enforce it that’s going to put us a little bit closer to trying to nip that huge problem in the bud,” Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak said.

The enforcement zone would run from Southwest 57th Avenue east to Southwest 42nd Avenue 100 feet north and south of Eighth Street.

If Coral Gables wants to carry out any forfeitures of illegal drugs or other materials at a property in Miami’s boundaries, they can do so only with the Miami city manager’s approval.

The resolution was on Miami’s March 23 agenda but was deferred, partly because of an hours-long discussion of an Airbnb item.

Also, Miami Chief Rodolfo Llanes was out of town when the agreement was being negotiated and wanted more input before Miami commissioners consider the item.

“Their chief wants to talk with us a little bit more about [the agreement]. My understanding is they’re still generally supportive of it,” Gables City Attorney Craig Leen said.

Only one of the businesses, Wishes Hotel, is in the Gables city limits. The rest are in Miami or unincorporated areas. Wishes has complied with the Gables law, city officials said.

That section of the busy street has establishments like Wishes, Jamaica Motel, Miami Executive Hotel and Tamiami Motel that offer heart-shaped jacuzzis, mirrored rooms and adult movies, and that emphasize privacy and discretion. Many of these “no-tell motels” have operated for decades.

The businesses charge about $30 to $40 for a two-hour stay with a queen-sized bed. Many charge extra for the “love suite” or for access to parking.

Most of the hotels charge about $30 to $40 for a two-hour stay.

“A lot of us are fortunate, we don’t have prostitutes, drug dealers, or pimps a stone’s throw away from where we live,” said Gables Commissioner Vince Lago, who sponsored the resolution and has gone on undercover rides with police. “Once you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you can’t turn a blind eye to it.”

The Gables approved an ordinance in December to prohibit 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 levy fines of up to $5,000 — after a warning and if the business has two violations within a year — and up to $15,000 if the business is found to be facilitating prostitution or sex trafficking. The owner’s certificate of use could also be revoked under the law.

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

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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