Watered-down Celebration

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As much as it must be tired of the spotlight, Celebration just can't get out of the harsh light of scrutiny. When you're built from scratch by Disney as a righteous experiment in traditional living, you've got to expect attention. Case in point: What other city in America would get a New York Times write-up for an everyday, ho-hum robbery?

That August 1998 robbery -- the first reported crime in Celebration which opened its doors in summer 1996 -- had a great punch line: As if heeding the town's community-values ethos, the robber apologized.

Now Celebration is back in the news, this time for being home to a car-swallowing retention pond. Seems as if the town that made such a brouhaha over its design and planning is plagued by a particularly badly planned road. As cars take exit 24 east off I-4, the bottom of the off-ramp makes a somewhat sudden left turn. If you miss the turn, the pond is waiting nearby.

Five cars have been pulled from the water in the past six months. One person died. At least two cars had been stolen.

Last week it was reported the pond might harbor three tourists missing since September, but no reasons were given for the suspicion, and the Orlando Police Department says the pond isn't on their list of suspects. "We received a call, as a courtesy, that numerous stolen vehicles had been located in this retention pond," says OPD spokesman Orlando Rolon. Any connection to the tourists was utter speculation.

One town employee was willing to laugh about "our retention pond that everyone seems to be going into," but the officials got edgy and tight-lipped -- the usual Disney response -- at any questions. With the spokesperson on the matter, Marilyn Waters, out of town, no one would utter a syllable about the pond. The consolation prize was a typed quote attributed to Waters: "We currently have lighted highway barricades there, and our long-range plan is to add walls, fencing and landscaping. We are also moving forward with Osceola County to put a traffic light there."

A waiter at Barnie's Coffee & Tea Co. in the town center had "heard something" about the pond, and said, "It's a sort of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil town." Fred Tarver, who works at The Bakery at Market Street, drives by the pond on his way to work. Asked if it was dangerous, Tarver flatly said "no." His theory? "It's just kids dumping cars."

Could our ponds be homes to flocks of stolen automobiles? Do thieves condemn cars to watery deaths?

"It happens periodically," says Osceola Sheriff's Office Lt. July Rivers . "It's not something that happens regularly."

Except -- perhaps -- in Celebration.

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