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ALACHUA – Final preparations are underway as the City of Alachua kicks off the Legacy Park Concert Series beginning in May.

The concert series is a free, two-month event that will feature some of the best music talent in the region performing in the beautiful Legacy Park Amphitheater.

The Saturday, May 1 event features two rising stars on the Country/Southern Rock Music scene, Cliff Dorsey and Jamie Davis. Taking the stage for the June 5 event will be the top Funk/Soul bands in the area, Fastlane and The Stagers.

Food trucks, vendors and general concessions will be available in a smoke-free environment at Legacy Park , located at 15400 Peggy Road in Alachua. Pets are not allowed and social distancing protocols will be observed.

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HAWTHORNE ‒ A City of Hawthorne employee complaint sparked a Special City Commission meeting Tuesday night after the employee contacted city commissioners about an incident with City Manager Ellen Vause.

Concern over the reason for the Special Commission meeting was so strong in the community that the meeting room had more citizens in attendance than could be accommodated, with people standing in doorways, against walls and in an adjacent room. Some had heard rumors about the meeting and others expressed concern that the posted agenda was vague and City employees referred callers to the mayor when they asked for details.

Vause, who has been City Manager for approximately eight years, had reprimanded a City Public Works Department employee because she believed that something he was doing would adversely impact the City’s ability to obtain a grant; something she had been working to obtain for the City.

It is the city manager’s authority to hire, fire and reprimand employees, but the issue between the two became heated and Vause finished her reprimand by swearing. At issue also was that the employee was reprimanded in front of other employees; something Surrency and others suggested might better have been done privately.

Commissioner Jacquelyn Randall brought up instances in which she believed Vause had either been inconsistent or negligent in her procedures. She further expressed concern that there were no negative notes in the City Manager’s employee file, which she believed should have been there.

Surrency suggested that a letter be placed into Vause’s file regarding the way in which she handled this interaction with her employee so there would be a paper record available and to help the Commission determine if improvements were made following this incident.

Vice-Mayor Deloris Roberts-Cheatham suggested the City’s Charter should be changed to reflect grievance procedures. The City Attorney suggested instead that those issues would be best spelled out in the City’s Employee Manual as a change in the Charter was a lengthy process.

Commissioner Patricia Bouie-Hutchinson said she hadn’t been aware of some of the issues Commissioner Randall raised and wants those issues addressed. The City Attorney reminded the Commissioners that the purpose of the meeting was this one incident and that her advice was not to address other issues.

Several citizens addressed the Commission to express their feelings about the issues. Comments offered both supported and opposed Vause.

At Surrency’s suggestion, commissioners unanimously approved three measures, one of which would be a letter he composes to be placed in Vause’s file, and would bring back to the next Commission meeting for final approval.

Surrency also offered that an evaluation process should take place to establish a base line and he offered to work with the City Clerk to review criteria from other similar cities and provide it to Commissioners before the next meeting.

He also suggested that the City schedule a policies workshop to evaluate the current policies.

Vause addressed the Commission, saying she would hold an employee meeting Thursday morning and provide each employee with an employee manual with the grievance procedures highlighted. She indicated she had done this previously, but would do so again.

Vause’s employment contract runs through August 2022.

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GAINESVILLE – The Santa Fe College chapter of the Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) will be holding a food drive Thursday, April 29, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the parking circle by the Santa Fe College Police Department. The community is invited to participate to help food-insecure people in SF’s service district, and all of the food that is collected will go to SF’s Food Pantry. Preferred items include canned meats (tuna, chicken), canned fruit and fruit cups (pop-tops), individually wrapped snacks and toiletries. 

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, as many as one out of every five people, and one of every four children in the community did not have reliable access to food. The economic strain brought on by the pandemic has not only continued to impact the most vulnerable in the region, but also those who had never needed to rely on food donations have now found themselves in need. 

Santa Fe College is also in the process of expanding their food pantry. In addition to a portion of the food pantry housed in the Santa Fe College Police Department, the college is working on moving the other food pantry, located in Building H to a larger and more accessible facility in Building S. The new facility will also allow for refrigerated items, providing more variety and healthier options for food-insecure individuals. 

The SF chapter of AFC thanks the students, faculty, staff and community in advance for helping those most in need.

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NEWBERRY – An updated plan to increase the size of the proposed Sandia Town Parc was presented to the Newberry City Commission at the April 12, 2021. Approximately 10 years ago a plan for Sandia Town Parc was proposed and approved by the then sitting City Commission. At Monday’s meeting, CHW’s Craig Frasier presented three related applications for Sandia Town Parc.

The developer is seeking approval to include an additional 312 acres. The requested expansion is to allow for additional economic development opportunities that could benefit from a larger footprint, as well as to provide direct access to the CSX rail line for light industrial uses. The project is located behind and to the south of Champions Park.

The conceptual plan includes four hotels, single and multi family residential units, retail space, recreation and golf areas, championship stadium, and in the southern portion of the development, light manufacturing.

Three quasi-judicial hearings were conducted following CHW’s presentation in which each application was heard and voted on separately. All three applications previously came before the Planning and Zoning Board and were recommended for approval as well.

The first application is a large scale Comprehensive Plan Amendment to modify the plan boundary. This is the original plan referred to as Phase I.

The second application, Phase II, is a Plan Development Amendment to Phase I for a rezoning change from Agriculture to Planned Development.

The third application is a Plan Development amendment application for Phase I to amend the existing Plan Development entitlements and layout.

The addition of Phase II to Phase I would provide 270 multi-family units, 70,000 non-residential and 200 hotel rooms. The two phases together would provide a net increase of 710 single-family detached and attached units, a 150,000 square-foot sports arena, a 1,000-seat stadium and 550,000 square feet of light manufacturing area.

City staff recommended approval along with the Planning and Zoning Board, but with suggested modifications to Ordinances 2021-13 and 2021-12, which deal with water and wastewater capacities.

Water and wastewater capacity for development is on a first come, first serve basis when final development orders are approved by the Commission. Currently, capacity to serve the proposed development exists based on the City’s present water and wastewater flow data and outstanding capacity reservations.

“As the City is in the process of expanding its wastewater treatment capacity it makes no representation as to available water and wastewater capacity at any time in the future,” said Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas.

All three applications were approved by the Commission on first reading and will come back for consideration again at a future meeting.

In other business, the City Commission approved extending the allowable length of stays in RV resorts and campgrounds from 90 days to unlimited days and to increase the allowable number of park model RVs from 10 percent to 30 percent.

The City Commission also approved Ordinance 2021-02 that brings the City’s Code of Ordinances into compliance with recent changes to state statutes placing limits on local government regulations of mobile food dispensing trucks and providing for regulation of food trucks within the City limits.

Outgoing Commissioner Paul Norfleet received a plaque commemorating his service to the citizens of Newberry as a city commissioner. Norfleet did not seek re-election in the April 13 municipal election.

A proclamation in honor of Municipal Clerk’s Week was also read into the record. Mayor Jordan Marlowe thanked City Clerk Judy Rice for her service to the citizens of Newberry.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs to Newberry Rail Corridor was once again under discussion as the High Springs City Commission and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners discussed the project on April 8 at a joint meeting. The corridor was originally considered by the County commission several years ago. However, the County did not reach an agreement with CSX, the corridor’s previous owner.

According to the County’s Transportation Planning Manager Chris Dawson, CSX consummated a Trail Use Agreement with Georgetown and High Line Railway (GHL). Dawson said attempts to contact GHL have not been successful.

High Springs Parks and Recreation Director Damon Messina asked the County for help in revisiting the project. Should the trail be completed, it would join Newberry on one end and connect to the Santa Fe River on the other end.

The County Commission voted unanimously to have staff work with High Springs and Newberry to determine if grant funding can be found to pay for the purchase of the corridor, if it becomes available.

One of the funding mechanisms to help purchase the corridor was Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) funds. Those funds have since been allocated throughout the County for a variety of projects. However, High Springs would like to have the WSPP program extended and realize it wouldn’t be until 2024 before those funds, if available, could be allocated to this project.

County Commission Chair Ken Cornell said that a strategic plan was held in early March. At that time a number of County and small city needs were discussed. One need was for affordable housing. Another was infrastructure such as roads, and a third was to extend the WSPP structure. “We have asked staff to see if citizens would be in favor of a one cent infrastructure tax which would provide some funding for WSPP, which could lead to some future funding and grants,” said Cornell.

Regarding the extension of, concern was expressed about extending the WSPP issue to a one cent amount and using the funds for more than just the one issue of recreation.

“It was clear as to how the funds would be used when the citizens approved the WSPP tax,” said City Commissioner Ross Ambrose. He expressed concern that there could be voter backlash if there isn’t a level of transparency. He said there may be confusion on the part of the voters if the funds are to be used for a number of different projects. “It could be detrimental.”

Although the issue was discussed, no action was taken at this meeting.

Priest Theater

High Springs City Manager Stathatos addressed the issue of the Priest Theater. She said the City was still in the due diligence phase of looking into this, but asked if the County would consider advancing Community Redevelopment dollars as an early loan.

The City is in the process of obtaining an appraisal but the asking price is $390,000. “With a 10-year repayment to the County of $39,000, the County’s CRA obligation to High Springs would be reduced to approximately $51,700 in fiscal year 20-21, using FY20-21 Ad Valorem contributions as a baseline.”

While County Commission members seemed supportive of historic preservation of the building, some had questions about intended use. City Manager Stathatos said one thought was to establish a partnership with a developer where the City would specify allowed use. Another idea was to send out a request for proposals to see what people involved in the arts or other areas might suggest. Establishing a committee to help determine a plan for use and to help obtain funding is another option. However, Stathatos said she wanted to see if the County would be interested in advancing CRA funds to purchase the property and reducing the amount of CRA funds it sends to High Springs each year.

Cornell asked that the City return in 60 days with a plan after the committee has met and established a use and any other funding options to help with the purchase.

Fellowship Church Purchase

The County has an option for 60 days to purchase Fellowship Church on U.S. Highway 441 in High Springs. The church grounds consist of 9.682 acres and the asking price is $3.3 million

The County needed the 60 days to obtain a survey and do due diligence on the purchase.

Should the County decide to purchase the property, it is considering using it as a center for facilities to serve the people of High Springs, Alachua and Newberry with medical and other services. Transportation to Gainesville for medical services has proven difficult for some residents without reliable transportation. It is hoped that this facility will minimize transportation issues for people seeking medical and related services.

Emergency Services Radio System

Another item discussed was a trunk radio system for all of the County’s emergency services. Alachua County Fire Chief Harold Theus addressed this item and explained that the 20 year contract with GRU.Com for radio services expired September 30 of last year. Attempted negotiations have failed. Based on Florida Statutes Chapter 164 that deals with intergovernmental conflict, a resolution needs to be determined so the County can negotiate with GRU.com.

Based on the County Commission’s direction, Theus said they were also looking at a county-wide communications system which would be administered by the County. The current estimate to set that up would be approximately $14 million. As this was primarily a status report, no decision was made on this issue.

Housing

Missy Daniels from County Growth Management addressed the issue of a residential rental unit permit and inspection program. Daniels explained that the City of Gainesville has enacted such an ordinance and is contracting with a company out of Miami which proposes using University of Florida Engineering students.

Should the County administer this program in-house, Daniels said they would need to hire four more codes officers and one licensing clerk/staff assistant. The cost the first year is estimated to be $454,000 and ongoing, the cost is estimated to be $345,000 annually.

Based on a survey the County did on non-homestead exempted properties in High Springs, Daniels estimated that the City has eight duplexes, three triplex or quads and 574 single-family united without Homestead exemptions. She pointed out that it is unlikely that all of these are rentals but she presented the numbers to give the City someplace to start on the number of possible rentals in High Springs.

Although City Commissioners are generally in favor of standards for rental properties, some expressed concern about how much it would cost the City, whether permit funds would go to the individual cities to offset costs, how to deal with historic homes and ways in which the City might be able to resolve issues between their citizens and the County should the need arise.

Currently, the County is attempting to determine the interest level of all of the cities in the county and will eventually present an ordinance for consideration.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Get ready for some western style family fun. Every year on the fourth weekend of April, the High Springs Chamber of Commerce hosts the Pioneer Days festival to celebrate the town's colorful past. This year, the 44th Annual Pioneer Days Festival will be held in downtown historic High Springs on Saturday, April 24, 2021 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is held in and around James Paul Park, located behind City Hall in the heart of downtown.

The event is presented by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce. Admission and parking are free. There’s something for everyone this year including Kids Korral with many free activities, and pony rides for a fee, plus a bounce house that will be sanitized regularly throughout the day, face painting and more. Other attractions for the weekend-long event include over 60 crafters, artist and various vendors as well as seven food vendors featuring a wide variety of food and deserts.

High Springs is now known for its peaceful small-town charm with antique and art shops, eateries and recreation areas. People come for the unique nature that surrounds the town with the rivers and springs for swimming, boating and scuba diving. But the town’s beginnings had little to do with recreation.

One of the earliest settlements in the vicinity was established at Crockett Springs, located about three miles east of present-day High Springs. Settlers and ranchers moved into the area during the 1840s, but no town developed in the area before the latter part of the nineteenth century. In 1884, the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad was extended from Live Oak to Gainesville, passing through High Springs. A post office and train station were established in the town, which grew due to the rail lines. In the next few years, High Springs boomed as a result of the development of phosphate mining in the area as well. In 1892, the town was incorporated. During the next year, the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad completed its South Florida Division which connected High Springs with Port Tampa. By the beginning of the twentieth century, High Springs had become an important railroad center.

The railroad and mines brought a lot of workers into the area, along with vices, entertainment and services they required, along with general merchants, an opera house, hotels and boarding houses came the saloons, gambling halls and houses of prostitution. Early High Springs was a wild rough town with a bad reputation. The first sheriff was shot down in the street and a few years later another one was ambushed and wounded.

By the early 20th century, a large railroad terminal was located in the town. There was a huge roundhouse, machine shops, two large water towers, a two-story hospital and boarding houses that are all gone now. When the phosphate mines declined in the 1920s High Springs lost much of its population and businesses. By the 1960s the railroads had stopped running and High Springs reverted back to an agricultural and recreation based small town. It's a much quieter place than its wild past.

The annual Pioneer Days festival celebrates that rough and rowdy bygone time, while also holding a family friendly event. Free entertainment will include the popular historic cowboy gunfight reenactments from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on both days. The High Springs Museum, located by the police station will also be open for visitors. The historic St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, which is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, will also be open for tours.

There are also live music concerts in James Paul Park featuring four bands on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, April 24, featured performers are Wild Blue Yonder at 10:30 a.m. performing a combination of classic rock songs and originals. At 2 p.m. on Saturday, it’s The Imposters, which include a who’s who of Gainesville’s finest musicians. Some form of the band has existed for 37 years and the current lineup is comprised of Brad Bangstad, keyboard; Ron Thomas, vocals and bass; Don David, vocals and guitar; Mike Boulware, vocals and guitar; Rob Rothschild, drums; and Michael Derry on vocals and guitar. The Imposters will be playing a combination of classic rock and acoustic music from the 1960s -70s.

On Sunday, Sides-Morris Band takes the stage at 10 a.m. featuring a semi-acoustic vocal duo comprised of local favorite Barry Sides and recent Nashville transplant Gary Morse. The duo’s playlist encompasses The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, Neil Young and Tom Petty, in addition to roots country and Americana.

Bringing the weekend festival to a close, local favorites Fast Lane will play at 1 p.m. with a unique combination of blues, rock & roll, funk, and soul.

For more information visit the Chamber website at www.highsprings.com, or call the chamber at 386-454-3120.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry Commissioner Tim Marden was victorious over Joy Glanzer in the City of Newberry’s Group 4 commission election held Tuesday, April 13. Marden picked up 487 votes, just 60 votes more than Glanzer’s 427 votes.

Marden’s win came with a slim 53.3 percent ballots while Glanzer pulled down 46.7 percent of the 914 votes counted.

Group 5 Commissioner Paul Norfleet did not seek re-election to his seat, leaving it open for candidates. Only Tony Mazon qualified for the Group 5 seat. As an unopposed candidate, Mazon was not required to garner any ballots and will be sworn in to replace Norfleet.

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