Friday, July 01, 2005

Celebration Destiny

It's been a while since the parking meeting that dropped me from Celebration into the Twilight Zone. It was a terrible feeling to watch helplessly as the kangaroo-court "approval process" took place. But it seems that something good often springs from the bad stuff. In this case, the good is the formation of Celebration Destiny.

The website is There's not a lot of content out there yet, but it's in the works. We're still in our infancy, but Celebration Destiny is made up of a group of concerned citizens who will act as watchdogs over government agencies, spread awareness of important issues, and support self-determination for our community. The worst thing about the Issa/Carlyle proposal and land swap was that no one among the citizenry realized what was going on until it was too late. Knowing in advance would have allowed us to make our opinions known and to have researched alternate proposals.

For me, personally, the most important issue is maintaining the viability of Celebration's downtown. Without the shops and restaurants that attract tourists (and dollars) and the special events that keep it fun and vibrant, we'll be just another town. I'm not necessarily against development, but I draw the line when it eliminates precious parking spaces or threatens the downtown district in any other way.

If you take away downtown, Celebration becomes like virtually any other suburb. I can't imagine living here and not being able to walk downtown to enjoy a Barnie's Cooler in a rocking chair in front of the lake. As a matter of fact, it was that very mental picture that helped to bring me to town. I'd heard about Celebration for years, and it was one of those places I knew I'd visit someday. Since my husband and I had a ten-year plan to move to Florida, I even though I might like to live there. But I didn't seriously entertain the thought because I thought it would be too expensive (ironically, it wasn't at the time, but now it is!)

Then I met a woman from Celebration in the spa on a Disney Cruise Line ship. As she rattled off the advantages of living here, one thing in particular caught my attention. She described the pleasure of relaxing in a rocker on the lakefront with a good book. It sounded so appealing; I couldn't even imagine doing that in my hometown. In my Chicago 'burb, they do have a park with chairs, but the ambience is destroyed by the heavy chains anchoring them into the concrete. That conversation planted a seed that sprouted when we finally made it to Celebration a year or so later; after that visit, it blossomed, and here we are today.

Of course, Celebration Destiny is concerned with the bigger picture, but those are just my personal reasons for joining. I've never been a community activist before, mainly because I've never really cared all that much about the towns in which I lived. They were a place to crash in between my busy days. In contrast, Celebration is my home.

I've participated in a couple of activities so far. One was a field trip to the Osceola County Planning Office to see the Celebration Master Plan. It shows all of the current zoning for the various land parcels. Interestingly enough, there is one area near Disney MGM Studio that could be used as a theme park. The planner we spoke to also showed us the Celebration DRI 2004 Annual Report. According to its introductory letter, it contains items such as "project development activity and approvals" from March, 2003 to Feb. 2004. Interestingly enough, the 2005 report is overdue and has not been filed by The Celebration Company yet. We ordered copies of the two documents, which I picked up this week to peruse at my leisure and to make available to other interested residents.

I also attended the latest CCDD meeting. There was nothing volatile on the agenda, but it was still interesting. It flashed me back to my days of covering school board and village board meetings for the Southtown Economist newspaper. I was what is known as a "stringer," meaning they would call me up and give me my assignment for the evening. It brought in a little extra cash and helped me build up experience to ease my way into magazine writing.

Now, I attend as an interested citizen. I am going to try to attend as many meetings of the various alphabet-soup boards in Celebration as I can. We have CCDD (Celebration Community Development District), CROA (Celebration Residential Owners Association), CNOA (Celebration Non-Residential Owners Association), CJC (Celebration Joint Committee), CSEC (Celebration Special Events Committee) and ARC (Architectural Review Committee), just to name a few.

The talk at the CCDD meeting centered around downtown parking, with a chart showing the total number of parking spaces (for anyone who is interested, Main Village parking breaks down like this: Iris St., 26 spots; Camilla, 33; Verandah Pl., 17; Elderberry, 6; Jasmine, 122; Greenbriar, 108; Campus, 144; LOngmeadow, 45; Golfpark, 150; Honeysuckle, 64; Teal, 69; Mulberry, 80; Water St. E, 39; Water St. W, 46; Celebration Ave., 204; Front St., 40; Sycamore, 87; Arbor Ct., 8; Arbor Circle, 53). However, there wasn't a breakdown of the number of spots that would be considered specifically "downtown" parking.

They also talked about incorporation, which is a topic that is heating up in Celebration. Despite the common perception, we are not a real town. But someday, perhaps, we will be. Plans for possibly incorporating are still in their infancy, but there is a growing movement. There is a separate group examining the feasibility of incorporation, but the CCDD board discussed some of the potential issues. They also discussed the turnover of the last 10 roads to the county and a new stop sign to be installed at Celebration Avenue and Spring Park. Nothing too exciting, but it's best to be there anyway because you never know when a whopper item will slip onto the agenda.

Actually, I'm wondering if one of the items will cause some repercussions down the road. It's not specifically a CCDD issue, but they did chat about it a bit. The ECDD is installing meters to measure the use of reclaimed water (i.e. irrigation water for sprinklers etc.), and people who use more than the recommended guidelines will have to pay for it. This is a new policy; letters have gone out, but I don't know if people have paid attention to them. I suspect there will be a stir when meter installation actually begins, or at least when people start getting higher bills. I'm not sure exactly what "reasonable use" means, so we'll see.

Thus far, my community activism has been low-key, but I'm sure it will jump into high gear when another big issue rears its ugly head. There are a few that are somewhat dormant but that could jump into the spotlight at any time.

I've discovered that I enjoy being "involved." It was one of things I looked forward to when making the decision to move to Celebration. I didn't know about the community issues back then, but I looked forward to volunteering at the special events and supporting local groups. Thus far, I haven't been disappointed, as there always seems to be something going on. There's always a high school or community play or a fund raising car wash or sporting event or the like. Tomorrow I'll be selling Tugger merchandise downtown and praying that the weather holds.

When I return to my old Chicago stomping ground, I feel no sense of belonging. The town looks as bland as ever, with pathetic attempts to make it more exciting. Besides the chained-down chairs, there is some odd artwork (when I see it, all I can think of is the thousands of dollars it must have cost) and hideously painted themed benches. I guess they're meant to draw people to the main street, but all they do is scare me away. The town's efforts must not be working, because one of the prime-location restuarants is in its fourth incarnation. In its last one, it morphed into a rather rough biker bar...nothing says "Spend some time downtown!" like two dozen Harleys parked in a row.

In contrast, I love spending time downtown in Celebration, and just living here in general. How nice to live in a place that I actually care about.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

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