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That old house 

Orange County Commissioner Clarence Hoenstine doesn't like his Hansel Avenue neighbors, and his Hansel Avenue neighbors don't like him.

The mutual animosity isn't surprising. Hoenstine is conservative, while his neighbors -- Phil Windsor and Gary Ashland -- are openly gay.

But what really set the two sides at odds is Hoenstine's new business, a planned antiques store housed in a Depression-era cracker house Hoenstine moved in 1999 from a few blocks away to a patch of land adjacent to Windsor and Ashland's property.

For the last three years, the two sides have engaged in bitter back-and-forths over fence lines, mailboxes, right-of-ways and property lines. Windsor and Ashland accuse Hoenstine of moving the house and getting a sewer line attached without the proper permits, and of violating numerous county building and zoning codes.

Hoenstine counters that Windsor and Ashland are harassing him. They've thrown dirt at his dog, he says, removed his campaign signs and interfered with his business every step of the way. "It never stops," says the commissioner, who is up for re-election Sept. 10. "There's one in every neighborhood."

Beyond the tit-for-tat accusations and unsubstantiated claims of malfeasance, however, there's at least the appearance that the county Building department and the Public Works department have gone out of their respective ways to accommodate Hoenstine, bending rules to let his son live there and running off an inspector who asked too many questions.

Nothing illegal, mind you, but the question remains: Did Hoenstine get special treatment?

County officials say they've done nothing out of the ordinary. But to Ashland and Windsor, the whole thing stinks. Irby Pugh, their heavy-hitting Democratic lawyer, put it this way in an Aug. 16 letter to the county: "The most troubling aspect is that Commissioner Hoenstine is the steward for land-use decisions throughout Orange County."

The conflict boils down to the fact that Windsor and Ashland don't like the way Hoenstine's shop looks. The two-story cracker house is next to a tall, unfinished garage that eventually will hold Hoen-stine's antiques shop. Meanwhile, however, it's a place for Hoenstine's son to live.

And that's the issue. Hoenstine doesn't have a certificate of occupancy -- the document needed to let people live in a building. That won't be issued until after he gets an occupational license for the antiques store. But since the residential part of the property was ready to go, says deputy building official Norm Smith, the Building department let Hoenstine's son move in anyway.

Until July 10, the zoning department prevented Hoenstine from getting a certificate of occupancy. According to zoning department assistant manager Tim Boldig, the original plan was to block the certificate until the business opened.

But the zoning department relented after Hoenstine started building the garage that will become the antiques shop.

Still, says one official familiar with the situation, it was unusual for the building department to let Hoenstine's son move in without a certificate.

Smith, the building official, demurs, "As far as we know everything is OK."

According to Ingrid Henninger, a county engineering inspector, Hoenstine got one of the two permits needed to move the house retroactively. Henninger says he moved the house to the Hansel Avenue site July 2, 1999. She believes his permits to make the move weren't valid until July 12. (Copies of two permits obtained by Orlando Weekly don't make the issue any clearer. One gives him the go-ahead on July 1, but another isn't dated as "ready" until July 12.)

A county official, who asked not to be named, remembers Hoenstine clearing the matter up "after the fact."

Henninger also says that in May 1999, Hoenstine used county workers to move sewer lines on his private property -- something he's not allowed to do.

Hoenstine says he has received no preferential treatment. He calls the accusations "sour grapes."

That may be true in the case of Hoenstine's neighbors, Ashland and Windsor. But Henninger can't be dismissed.

A nine-year county vet, Henninger's records show her to be dedicated, intelligent and at times hotheaded. (She was once suspended for swearing at her boss.)

She has complained loudly that Hoenstine hasn't followed the rules. In 1999, she tried to give Hoenstine a violation for using county workers to move his private sewer lines but says her boss made her back off.

On June 1, Henninger ran into Hoenstine at the Hansel Avenue property. "I told him, 'You put yourself in the spotlight. Rather than being an exception you should be an example,'" she says.

That infuriated Hoenstine, who promptly called her boss. "She was doing everything but her assigned job. I called her supervisors and told them that. Ã? They said, 'You're right, commissioner.'" (Frank Gallagher, Henninger's immediate supervisor, did not return calls.)

After that, her boss told her not to go to Hoenstine's property again.

Then last month, Henninger was told to appear at a disciplinary hearing. A supervisor told her the hearing was about an insubordination issue unconnected with Hoenstine's property. She will find out in the next 10 days whether she will be fired, suspended or reprimanded.


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