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Police Close Virginia Key Outdoor Center Amidst Controversial Homeless Project

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FOR TWO WEEKS, the Virginia Key Outdoor Center —one of the most important tourist and recreational sites in Miami, Florida— has been in the eye of the storm because its owners are leading protests against a controversial homeless relocation plan proposed by the Miami City Commission. On Friday, August 12th, the outdoor activity center was shut down by local police.

In a video posted on her Instagram account, the Virginia Key Outdoor Center owner, Ester Alonso, denounced that Miami Police officers closed the center indefinitely. Alonso recorded the video to clarify that she had taken staunch opposition against the city’s proposed Transformation & Transition Zone, which is considering the construction of 50 to 100 tiny homes on a vacant, open lot located at the back of the activity center, near the exclusive Fisher Island, between the bike trails.

“As you know we’ve taken, I’ve taken a very vocal position and opposition to the city’s plan to build an encampment on Virginia Key; today, we were shut down by code enforcement… we’re very disappointed that the city has chosen to pursue this course of action and taken their fight to social media and providing (I guess) “notice” for lack of a better word, through the press instead of through us,” Alonso said on Instagram.

“The reality is my staff is now without work, and I want to help find them jobs, so if you have positions available, please reach out,” Alonso added in his statement.

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“We have a problem at hand that doesn’t go away even when Virginia key outdoor center goes away…” the owner continued. “We need to protect the island from any further development… If Virginia key falls, every single park in the city of Miami will be subject to development.”

It doesn’t matter if it is development for a supposedly benevolent project or if it’s residential development (…) this is a city park and this nonsense needs to stop —Keep the fight going,” Alonso admonished.

According to a report by 7 News Miami, Alonso said the closing of the activity center would be related to her opposition to the city’s plan, in retaliation to Virginia Key’s owners and employees.

A city spokesperson sent a statement to the media outlet, explaining that the Virginia Key Outdoor Center (VKOC) was closed for allegedly violating some regulations, including operating without a certificate of use (CU) or a business tax receipt (BTR).

He said that both documents are necessary to operate a water-related business in the city of Miami and that, in addition, the activity center owes an alleged $140,000 debt in rents.

“Certainly, I dispute their statements about me both personally and regarding any financial obligation that they alleged for the first time; this goes now to the hands of attorneys…” Alonso stressed

El American had access to a closed-circuit video from one of the Virginia Key Outdoor Center’s stores just as agents requested a tax receipt from one of the center’s employees. The video was slightly edited to protect the identity of a minor.

The Virginia Key controversy

In the homeless relocation plan proposed by the Miami Commission, up to five locations are evaluated, but the vacant yard on Virginia Key is presented as an optimal location. This same proposal had been rejected in the first instance, but, in a bizarre plot twist, Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who had voted against the pilot program, reversed his decision by successfully requesting a review of the relocation proposal and then joining his colleagues Joe Carollo and Christine King in voting in favor.

In a detailed report, El American reported that Virginia Key residents strongly opposed the homeless relocation proposal, paddlers, kayakers, bicyclists, environmental activists, homeless rights advocates, and entire families used to visit the island’s downtown or its beautiful cays.

The objections had an effect, as Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava sent a memo to the city board outlining her concerns about the plan to move homeless people to Virginia Key, citing various environmental, safety, and budgetary issues.

Likewise, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez agreed with Commissioner Carollo —the main proponent of the initiative— to suspend the homeless relocation plan for six months, in a small triumph for activists who want to protect Virginia Key

Local authorities’ sudden closure of the Virginia Key Outdoor Center adds to the controversy surrounding the criticized homeless relocation plan.

This is a developing news story and updates may be forthcoming.

Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.

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