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Maitland bogs down on road to modernism

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Maitland bogs down on road to modernism

Published March 3, 2005

Maitland is stuck in a 1960s time warp. While other communities have embraced all these fancy notions of "new urbanism" -- town centers and loft condos sitting on top of quaint coffee shops and stores -- Maitland has clung to the past.

There is something to be said for packed PTA meetings, quiet neighborhoods and ranch houses that don't leak and have actual yards.

But when you look at the city's dilapidated downtown, anchored by a used-car lot and a dying Winn-Dixie, it's hard to fathom that this is one of the most affluent cities in Central Florida.

It seemed that the city was ready to upgrade. But its first foray into new urbanism has been greeted with the same enthusiasm as Frankenstein's monster.

It wasn't supposed to go down like this. The downtown project had been planned for years. There was meeting after meeting because in Maitland, everybody gets their say.

The result was nice. A new City Hall, fronted by a public park, would anchor downtown. There would be retail and restaurants. There would be loft condos.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a tax increase to pay for new public buildings. But during this process, an insurgency was born. The old guard did not like all this newfangled development. There were whispers and rumors of devious plots and conspiracies. You'd think they were talking about Boss Daley's Chicago.

Whenever there is political dissent, Doug Guetzloe comes clawing his way out of the ground like a zombie from Night of the Living Dead. And so the hatchet man from Ax the Tax arrived in Maitland to fan the fires of dissent and maybe pick up some contributions while he was at it.

But he didn't go away after losing the referendum. He filed a lawsuit challenging the vote. His lawyer sent a letter to the city saying the suit might go away for $30,000. City officials screamed extortion.

Guetzloe denied it and replied, "As far as I'm concerned, the city of Maitland can rot in hell."

The city says his legal antics could cost taxpayers an added $2 million.

Given this mess, you'd think a politician would tread softly. But Maitland Mayor Sascha Rizzo led the City Council in approving its first official new-urbanism condo project -- three days after Hurricane Charley, when many residents were distracted by oak trees on their roofs. That stupid maneuver only fed the conspiracy theorists. That the condo was seven stories, a skyscraper by Maitland standards, did not help.

Making matters worse, the council then passed an unnecessary ordinance setting building height limits at 100 feet. This led to doomsday predictions of high-rises rising from downtown. This would not happen because the area is zoned for only 19.8 units per acre.

But this isn't about reality. It's about paranoia being fed by an arrogant and bumbling mayor who is sabotaging his own good ideas.

The insurgency now is running architect Bob Miller for City Council. Miller has been endorsed by Doug "Maitland can rot in hell" Guetzloe.

They were allies in the referendum fight. According to Guetzloe's finance reports, Miller gave Ax the Tax $200.

So now Guetzloe is taking root in Maitland. A lawsuit has been filed against the condo project. And the insurgency is taking over City Hall.

That used-car dealership downtown could be there a long, long time.

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525

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