ORLANDO-Locally-based Glatting Jackson Inc. is rolling the dice and betting a circuit court judge will void an Orange County decision barring 180,000 sf of commercial; 990 houses, apartments and condominiums; a retail center; and 55 acres of park on an 1,100-acre tract 28 miles northwest of Downtown.

The county fears massive traffic problems arising from commuters daily leaving rural Mount Dora (Pop. 9,000) for metro Orlando (Pop. 1.2 million) if the $2 billion venture, Foothills of Mount Dora, gets the green light.

The suit argues the county declared the planned development site as a growth center in 1996, allowing commercial and 990 homes, and cannot now legally reverse itself.

“It’s a question of property rights versus keeping the status quo,” says Harold Kantor of Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed in Orlando, the developer’s lawyer.

The county maintains it can, and already has rezoned the tract for only 477 single-family houses and an elementary school. The approved density is 2.3 houses per acre, along with restricted commercial development.

Besides the rezoning hurdle, the developer faces a still thornier issue: utilities. Based on its own growth-management regulations, the county cannot legally supply utilities to this rural area located at the lip of neighboring Lake County.

However, the city of Mount Dora, just over the Orange County line and minutes from the planned project, agreed five years ago to supply water, sewer and electric lines across US 441 to the development site, currently a cow pasture.

Area residents now maintain they were blindsided by their own county officials in 1996, arguing they were not formally and publicly notified of plans to supply utilities to another county.

When the city of Mount Dora broke off talks with Orange County in 1994 on the same project, residents felt they had succeeded in blocking the mega development. Two years later, the talks resumed.

Residents say they are not anti-growth but pro-managed growth believers.

John Tiedke, owner of the 1,100-acre tract, feels the developer will be handicapped in trying to develop a master-planned community with only 477 homes.

He downplays the county’s traffic congestion fears, arguing the completion of the planned Western Beltway will alleviate much of the county’s concern shortly.

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