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Little River Club

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WSVN -- If you have ever had a drinking problem and had the guts to confront it, you might have heard of the Little River Club.

Robert Hardison, Little River Club: "To me, it's the most important place in the world."

The Little River Club on 79th Street in Miami has helped Bob stay sober for 32 years.

John Donnelly, Little River Club: "This place saved my life. Thirty-five years ago, I came in here a broken man."

John is one of thousands of people who stopped drug or alcohol abuse thanks to the Little River Club.

Diana Cruz, Little River Club: "Well, this place was the back bone of my recovery. It helped me get my children back."

Their open doors have saved lives. Now, the Little River Club says the City of Miami is trying to shut its door.

John Donnelly, Little River Club: "They said we are a harm to the neighborhood."

Eighteen years ago, City of Miami officials gave the Little River Club the right to pave the lot behind the club and come in through this gate to use as a parking lot.

Robert Hardison, Little River Club: "And he said, 'That's fine, that's beautiful.' And we haven't had any parking lot trouble."

For 18 years, the members drove in behind the club. But now, the City of Miami has changed its mind and cited the club.

Robert Hardison, Little River Club: "Unauthorized use of our property."

The street behind the club is in Shorecrest, a residential neighborhood.

Some residents complained to Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, showed him a picture of a couple apparently having sex at a vacant house behind the club. Another picture appeared to show the couple walking in through the club's gate.

They showed Sarnoff and other commissioners pictures of two cars being worked on in the parking lot and pictures of beer cans on the ground on their street, which they say came from someone who had been at the club. Bob says the drinkers definitely weren't from the AA club, and his members obey the law.

Robert Hardison, Little River Club: "No one ever received a ticket for speeding. Nobody has ever been hit by a car."

The city then ordered Bob to shut the gate and block members from coming through, convinced it would be the beginning of the end of the Little River Club. He said no.

Robert Hardison, Little River Club: "And they had said that they can put me in jail, and I told them they didn't scare me."

The City of Miami then put up these barricades.

Bob says it's clear they are following the wishes of a few residents who want the AA club to go away.

Robert Hardison, Little River Club: "They told the judge that we do great work, saving people's lives, but not in my backyard. Go somewhere else."

There is a front gate to the Little River Club a block over on 79th Street, but a billboard owned by the club sits there, blocking traffic. To get in, members would have to drive on another owner's property.

Waste management can't get in, the garbage piles up, while worries pile up for members, afraid the AA club they depend on may go away.

Alan McDonald, Little River Club: "Little River Club saved my life, and I'm totally grateful to it, and whatever I can do, like Bob says, if I got to go to jail, I'll go with him."

Well Howard, you looked at the property. In 1994, the city said you can come through this gate. Today, they say you can't. Legally, can the City of Miami do that?

Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "I think the city is going to lose because of what the law calls 'equitable estoppel.' The city gave this club permission to have ingress and egress and to pave this parking lot. The law is not going to let the city come back years later and take that permission away."

When I spoke to Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, he was open and blunt.

He said, we don't want the members of the club to have ingress and egress through the back gate; that the city approval 18 years ago was temporary and there is no paperwork that shows it was permanent approval to use the back gate.

He said the members could use the front gate, but they chose to block their own gate by putting up the billboard; that they should buy the property next door to drive through in the front.

When I mentioned the likelihood of a lawsuit, Sarnoff told me that based on the law generated by the city attorney's office, we feel comfortable with our decision.

Finally, he said city residents should not have to put up with activity they showed him in pictures.

Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "It's not a reason to shut down ingress and egress from the club. People violate the law, arrest them for violating the law. You don't shut down the club to stop people from committing crimes, especially off the property."

The members here at the Alcoholics Anonymous club have beaten drugs and alcohol, and they won't give in to a city they believe wants them gone.

Robert Hardison, Little River Club: "No, they might knock us down, but they're not going to knock us out."

Patrick Fraser: "And the Little River Club is fighting back. They have filed suit to get the barricades removed. I asked Bob if he had the money to fight the city. He said no. But hopefully, we'll find some. How is the city gonna pay for the lawsuit? With your tax dollars. We'll keep an eye on this battle."

Troubles left you feeling barricaded? Wanna find a way to break through? Park it with us. Hopefully, we can drive in with a solution.

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:EMAIL: helpmehoward@wsvn.com (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com MIAMI-DADE: 305-953-WSVNBROWARD: 954-761-WSVN

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