CASSELBERRY — One evening last week Craig Tull, cable guy, stood in his front yard with his navy shirt with the left-breast name tag and his well-worn Red Wing work boots with the tiny metal American flags looped into the laces. He pointed at the houses of his neighbors and identified them by the ways they make a living.
Aquarium business, construction maintenance, landscaper.
"They're driving these people out," he said.
Some of his neighbors and many others in this small city just east of Orlando have gotten letters of late from local code enforcement.
"You are hereby notified," the letters begin, and then go on to say they're in violation of Casselberry ordinance 3-10.9 A, 1, C, 3. Translation: Your work van or truck with your equipment on the ladder rack is parked in front of your house.
"It's gotten to a point where the service-class people are just getting beat up left and right," Tull said.
City officials say the ordinance is part of an ongoing effort to "revitalize" the city, improve a downtrodden image and increase property values. The language of the ordinance calls the vehicles "visual blight." The mayor's term: "commercial intrusion."
It has been a rule for a few years. Code enforcement, though, didn't start to enforce it in earnest until this past April. Since then: 80 notices of violation. At a City Commission meeting last month, dozens of workers called the rule "unfair," "dictatorial" and "discriminatory."
"We're just trying to make ourselves look a little better," Mayor Charlene Glancy, who is a Realtor, said last week.
Commissioner Susan Doerner, who trains support staff at a local hospital, got right to the crux:
"I don't think Casselberry's purpose should be to have low-income housing for everyone," she said. "You should be able to stand in front of your house and be proud of where you live."
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This isn't a story about policy. It's a story about identity.
Casselberry, incorporated in 1940, is older than many of its gated, master-planned neighbors. For decades it was known mainly as two things.
The completion of Interstate 4 in the '60s took traffic from U.S. Highway 17/92. That brought blight, blight brought skin, and skin brought video stores and toy shops, and not like Blockbuster and Toys "R" Us either. Seminole County was the only one in the area that let its strippers strip nude. Casselberry became an adult-entertainment epicenter.
Then county and city commissioners began to change that.
In the early '90s, they limited the strip clubs' proximity to schools, churches and homes; in the mid '90s, they outlawed neon flashing "XXX" signs and blinking outlines of buxom women; in the late '90s, they banned total nudity.
The clubs started to go away. Cabaret Internationale, Club Juana, House of Babes: all gone. There's only one left within city limits.
The way the roofers see it, the plumbers, the painters, the cable guys like Tull? First city leaders got rid of the red part of old Casselberry. Now they're coming after the blue.
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About 24,000 people live here. The median household income is roughly $44,000. That figure is the second-lowest in Seminole County.
Stop at the 7-Eleven at 6 in the evening and you'll see vans. Vans with racks. Racks with tools.
This was a huge issue back in the '06 local election.
The commissioners and the candidates sort of split into two groups — the live-and-let-live group, and the stricter-code-enforcement group. The winners came from the latter.
"All the jokes people have made in the past about Casselberry," Commissioner Sandra Solomon told the Orlando Sentinel the night she got elected, "are going to disappear."
Fast forward two and a half years. The boiling-point meeting happened June 8 at City Hall.
In an interview last week, Doerner, the most senior commissioner, called the workers who showed up "very rude." But they weren't really that so much as they were just agitated.
Said a roofer: "Imagine me telling y'all, y'all can't take a laptop home."
Said a plumber: "Keep in mind that we are in a depression."
Said a seller of Little Debbie snack cakes: "I chose Casselberry. I don't want to live in Winter Park."
One woman told commissioners she thought this ordinance was like taking service workers and turning them into criminals.
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Democracy 101: Who has the power? The governors or the governed?
Mayor Glancy last week: "We're not blue collar. We're not working class. What Casselberry was and what it is today are two different things."
Cable guy Tull: "The City Commission is supposed to be there to uphold a neighborhood, and to take care of it, not destroy it."
Inside Tull's house are DVDs. He records all the commission meetings. He has been doing this ever since this stuff started.
The most recent recording is of the workshop on June 25.
In that workshop, Sandra Smith, the city's chief planner, had prepared a PowerPoint to show the ordinances of surrounding cities and towns. Altamonte Springs, Longwood, Maitland, Oviedo, Winter Park, Winter Springs: All of them, she explained, have similar and sometimes stricter rules about commercial vehicles in residential areas.
Same deal around Tampa Bay.
"Most municipalities have similar ordinances," New Port Richey code enforcement administrator Mike Nastasuk said.
"We've been kind of behind the eight ball," Commissioner Colleen Hufford said at the workshop.
Tull's retort: Who cares? Those other places might be like "fine wines," he said, "but we have always been a great beer."
At the workshop, the commissioners agreed to back off a bit. They decided to allow the owners of the vans and trucks to park them in their driveways as long as they take off the ladders and tools when not on a job.
The commissioners called it a concession.
Michael Kruse can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8751.