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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Alachua County’s popular Poe Springs Park will soon be closing for construction and improvements. The closure will start Tuesday, Sept. 14, except for the boat ramp. It is anticipated that construction will stretch until January 2021. There will still be a $5 vehicle entry fee for the use of the boat ramp.

The 202-acre park on the Santa Fe River is near High Springs on County Road 340. Poe Springs is rated as second-magnitude in terms of the water that flows out of it — about 45 million gallons a day and is the largest spring in Alachua County.

A popular weekend recreation area, the property includes a playground, volleyball courts, sports fields and nature trails. It also includes pavilions and picnic shelters with bar-b-que grills. There is also a lodge building for event rentals, such as parties, family gatherings and small weddings. There is a full-service kitchen in the building which is included in the rental fee. Restrooms are on-site, and there is additional picnic table seating under the attached pavilion. There are loop trails throughout the park for hiking, and a boardwalk that traverses the cypress swamp that leads visitors to the springs. A boat launch and dock afford watercraft access to the river for boating kayaking, tubing and fishing.

The spring itself has a large area for swimming, relaxing or snorkeling in the year round 72-degree water. The crystal-clear spring water feeds directly into the Santa Fe River.

The park has a rich history spanning nearly 70 years of inviting people to enjoy nature and water-based recreation. In the mid-1940s Poe Springs was a commercial recreation site with bathhouses, refreshment stand, and picnic facility, but it fell into disrepair in later years and most of the buildings were taken down.

Poe was privately owned until 1985 when the initial 75 acres was purchased with a federal grant from the land and water conservation fund. Additional acreage was acquired by the Suwanee River Water management District (SRWMD) and additional grant funds in the 1980s. In 1987 the county obtained a permit to dredge the spring boil from a depth of 12 feet to 25 feet. Four years later, in 1991, Alachua County finished construction and opened the park to the public.

Alachua County shut the park again in December 2011 for a construction project that included a new retaining wall and steps in the spring-fed swimming area, new landscaping and new roofs and air-conditioning units on the buildings and pavilions. It reopened again on July 4, 2013 with no admission charge four days a week Thursday through Sunday.

Although Alachua County owned the park, it was a barebones operation and the county and High Springs made arrangements for the city to run the park.

It closed again in 2017 due to damage from Hurricane Irma and opened again in May 2018 after repairs were made but on a shorter weekend only schedule of Friday to Sunday, but was still free to visit.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and the park closed again under state quarantine in March 2020 only to open again three months later with a $5 per car fee to help maintain the park and pay employees.

But more repairs and upgrades are still needed. The boardwalk, which winds through a wetland to the spring, was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. It was repaired enough to make it usable, but it will now be widened in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, heightened and lengthened to the spring.

During the closure, the work will include widening and lengthening the boardwalk to the spring, replacing the canoe/kayak launch and replacing the restrooms. Contractors will also be required to install silt fencing to protect water quality and the process will be monitored by the county.

An infusion of cash from the federal government and a local tax will pay for upgrades at the park. Funding is provided jointly through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Alachua County’s Wild Spaces Public Places tax. FEMA will kick in $280,665 while the county’s share is $284,152.

The expected reopening date is mid-January 2021.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission has approved on first reading rezoning requests for some 53 acres of property. Two related ordinances to amend the City’s official zoning map were heard in quasi-judicial public hearings during the Aug. 13 City Commission meeting.

The first to be considered was Ordinance 2020-07/Z 20-01 submitted by Jarrod Ryan Hingson and Crystal Courtney Hingson. Their application requested the City amend the Land Development Code’s Official Zoning Map from “IND” Industrial to R-1 Residential on 20.06 acres. According to the City, water is available on the property, but sewer access is not. This application received unanimous approval by the Commission.

The second amendment under consideration was Ordinance 2020-09/Z 20-03 submitted by Woodland III Ltd. The application requested the City amend the Land Development Code’s Official Zoning Map from “IND” Industrial to C-3 Commercial of 32.98 acres of land bordering the road known as Railroad Avenue in High Springs.

According to Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham, this property was heard and approved in 2006. The item was submitted to the Department of Community Affairs but was tabled and swept up with Industrial-Commercial (Mixed Use) C3 zoning. This zoning request is consistent with the property to the north of it.

Dennis Lee appeared on behalf of Woodland III Ltd. Both he and Gillingham said there was sewer access on Railroad Avenue.

One commissioner expressed concern with the rezoning, with Commissioner Nancy Lavin commenting that the area is surrounded by residential properties. In response, Lavin was reassured that the change was compatible with the surrounding area. Commissioner Scott Jamison said the Commission would have to approve any development on that property.

The proposed amendment received unanimous approval on first reading.

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ALACHUA ‒ With the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and infection resurgences in multiple states including Florida, the struggle for businesses to survive continues, especially in restaurants and bars. In Alachua, one local restaurant is planning a live entertainment night on Aug. 20 to attract customers and boost revenues.

On Main Street in Alachua, Tony and Al's Restaurant has become a local favorite for Italian food was voted Favorite Restaurant in Alachua by readers of “Our Town” magazine. The restaurant was also known for monthly Art & Music nights with acoustic music and artists exhibiting their works. But the pandemic changed all that.

In Florida restaurants can only serve at 50 percent capacity and bars remain closed. Restaurants have lost more revenue and jobs than any other industry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In June a survey by the National Restaurant Association showed food service lost nearly $120 billion out of a projected at $899 billion in sales for 2020 so far.

Restaurant owners have been forced to quickly come up with new adaptations on menus, points of service, hours, delivery and takeout models that better serve their local communities just to keep the lights on. Restaurants are known to run on thin margins, which makes a forced closure even more painful as they struggle to keep the business going.

Yelp released an economic report in late June revealing that, as of June 15, more than 57,000 restaurants listed on the site had closed permanently since the onset. Locally, well known restaurants have closed including The Diner in High Springs, and Gainesville’s Leonardo’s 706, The Swamp, Civilization and Francesca's Trattoria.

In April, Toni & Al’s offered take out or delivery and was closed for in house dining. When in-house dining was first allowed, it was limited to 25 percent capacity and later revised to 50 percent, still cutting revenues in half.

Owner and Chef Al Zuluaga was concerned not only about his restaurant, but also about his employees. “It was important to keep everyone employed and keep the restaurant going even if the profit was slim.” Due to the pandemic and fears of infection, Zuluaga said he has also seen a dramatic reduction in people coming out to restaurants.

The pandemic also meant the end of art and music night, which also meant lost income for artists and musicians. Local artist Peggy Justensen had arranged for the monthly showcase for over two years. After five months without entertainment at the restaurant, Justensen stopped in to see how the restaurant was doing.

Zuluaga and Justensen decided it was time to bring back the music as long as the restaurant followed all social distancing rules and opened the patio for outdoor seating. Recognizing the financial hit the restaurant had taken, Justensen created a special event titled “Help Keep Al in Business Night on Thursday, Aug. 20 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The event will also feature musicians Allan Lowe and Don Hennesy. Lowe was lead singer and acoustic guitar for Dixie Desperadoes through the years, and for the last six years he was lead vocal and acoustic guitar with Wild Blue Yonder with two Dixie Desperados albums and one Wild Blue Yonder albums under his belt.

Don Hennesy was a session musician in Los Angeles. More recently he's has played in several Gainesville bands, his most recent gig playing guitar for local country favorite Clay Brooker.

The two will perform inside and there will be speakers to the patio so outside diners can enjoy the music. The event will start at 6 p.m. with both inside and patio seating. Masks are required unless drinking and/or eating and seating will be limited to 50 percent capacity with all tables socially distanced at six ft apart. Tony & Al's Restaurant is located at 14960 Main Street in Alachua.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs Commission has issued its initial approval of changing nearly 66 acres of property from County Agricultural to City R-1 Residential. The first public hearing on Ordinance 2020-05/CPA 20-01, a large-scale amendment pertaining to 65.87 acres, resulted in unanimous approval by Commissioners. Following approval of this item on first reading, the City transmitted the proposed changes to the state of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. If the state does not challenge the amendment within 31 days, the Commission will consider adoption of this ordinance on second and final reading.

The property is owned by Double B Property LLC. The change, if approved on second reading, will amend the Future Land Use Plan Map of the City’s Comprehensive Plan to change the land use classification from County Rural/Agriculture to City Residential Rural. The land use classification change affects the number of dwellings allowed on the property. Rural/Agriculture, which allows for up to one dwelling unit per five acres, will be changed to City Residential Rural, which allows for one dwelling unit per gross acre.

It is not expected that the property will require City services of water or sewer. The High Springs city attorney said that utilities are approximately .5 miles away from the property. Should the owners decide to hook up to City utilities later, they would bear the burden of paying to extend service from their property to City utilities.

The first public hearing on Ordinance 2020-08/Z 20-02 also received unanimous approved on first reading by Commissioners. This action is on the same 65.87 acres owned by Double B Property LLC. When approved on second reading, this application will amend the Official Zoning Map of the Land Development Code by changing the zoning district on this property from County Agricultural to City R-1 Residential.

No development orders, development permits or land uses dependent on these changes may be issued or commence before it has been approved.

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ALACHUA ‒ There is murder and mayhem going on in the Ivy House Mansion on Main Street in Alachua. Multiple victims are meeting untimely and brutal deaths while being stalked by an unknown murderer. But no one has actually been hurt, because it is all part of a horror film called “Call Time” being filmed in Alachua with the majority of the film being shot at the Ivy House.

"Call Time" tells a story about an inexperienced film crew and has-been director Ethan Shaw who attempts to film the greatest scary movie of all time. Little do they know; they are the main stars and victims. Some of the characters’ greed for Hollywood fame turns into a series of twisted betrayals. The guilty rises from the ashes as the innocent fall under grotesque bloodshed.

The production includes crew from a variety of places including New Jersey, California and Tampa but also includes local crew and talent as well. The original shooting location was to be in Pennsylvania, but fell through due to COVID-19. While the producers were looking for a suitably scary Victorian mansion, one of the actors, Tiffany Jordan, worked in Alachua at the Ivy House as a groundskeeper. She suggested the house, which was vacant at the time, as a location and the producers agreed it was perfect.

The movie is being produced by20/20 Vizion Entertainment and 1st Dibz Production in association with Love Logan Productions and is based on the script by Nicanson Guerrier, 1st Dibz CEO.

The film stars actor Marcus T. Paulk (“Moesha” and new scripted series “Pump”), reality star Royce Reed (VH1’s “Basketball Wives”), recording artist and reality personality Lynese Wiley, known as Babs Bunny (MTV’s “Making of the Band” and YouTube series “Queen of the Ring”), actor and YouTube sensation Tyrone Magnus, and actress Mercedes Gutierrez.

“Although we were originally going to film in the Philadelphia area, when we saw a picture that Tiffany sent of the Ivy house and the town of Alachua, it fit our vision of where this movie would take place,” said film director Derrick Hammond. “Alachua had the right atmosphere for the setting. I think the location change was our best move. We have already written in five new parts based on the small town feel of Alachua.”

Based in New Jersey, Hammond's directing credits include the movies “Her Little Secret,” “Breaking Point” and award winning “Always with You,” as well as the TV series “Chase Street.”

The Ivy House provides an historic private location and also offers cast and crew a chance to shoot on a closed set in adherence to COVID-19 regulations.

Hammond anticipates completing shooting around Aug. 23, but will likely return in September to shoot new parts and make-up shots. The expected release will be around September or early October 2021, coinciding with Halloween.

Due to current COVID-19 restrictions and lack of open theaters, the movie will be released on streaming channels and internet services like Hulu and HBO. The producer also sees this as a horror movie series, similar to “Halloween,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Friday the 13th” and “Scream.”

“We actually plan to start shooting the second one while this one is in post-production” said Hammond.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ During normal times, the LUL (Love U Lots) Quilting Group of High Springs focuses on making charity quilts. However, with the arrival of Covid-19, the group refocused and expanded a considerable portion of their efforts to meet a new need: face masks.

The talent to help meet a critical need began over 10 years ago when Sharlene Hotary was searching for an indoor, cold, or rainy-day hobby and went to a class at the High Springs Branch of the Alachua County Library District. There she was introduced to the art of quilting. Soon Hotary was making quilts, often not knowing who the recipient of the gift would be.

A visiting friend at the time, Helen LeBrun, who was a patient/support hospice volunteer, saw the quilting efforts and suggested that a nice, warm quilt would help senior hospice patients who are often chilly and using a wheelchair to be more comfortable. These colorful and cheery quilts would also remind the patients that they are cared for and not forgotten by their community.

Hotary took to the task, and as word spread, donations of fabric started arriving. Two retired friends, Laura Nielsen and Janis Youngblood, joined the effort. A year later these three friends were meeting weekly to quilt in Hotary’s home.

Hotary’s husband, David, lent his expert design and engineering handiwork to create a professionally appointed and well-stocked quilting room, which has evolved with each passing year. Although the composition of the LUL group sometimes changes, the mission does not: use quilting talents to spread love in the community.

Over the years, quilts made by the LUL group have also been donated for raffles sponsored by the City of High Springs for Pioneer Days and to the High Springs Playhouse in support of local community programs. Peaceful Paths of Gainesville and the Wounded Warrior organization have also received several quilts.

In 2011, Hotary was presented with the Non-Patient-Support Outstanding Volunteer Service Award by Hospice of Citrus and the Nature Coast (currently known as VITAS Healthcare). More recently in 2019, the LUL Quilting Group made 89 quilts for VITAS Healthcare and 18 quilts for the Shands NICU. The NICU quilts are donated through the Tree City Quilters Guild.

In March of this year, it became evident that there was a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel throughout the country in the fight against Covid-19.

The LUL Group learned that the VA in Gainesville was recruiting quilters and seamstresses to make cloth face masks to be used in nonmedical settings to preserve the dwindling supply of PPE. Today anyone entering the VA facility even for a routine appointment must be wearing a face covering of some kind.

With the arrival of COVID-19, quilting meetings were discontinued, but the group’s mission did not change, and the needs of the community continued. And now there is great demand for cloth face masks.

Unfortunately, it was necessary for the LUL Group to discontinue in-person quilting to ensure the safety of quilters and their families. It was then that Hotary began preparing kits that included fabric cut to specification and all the other supplies needed to make either a quilt top or 10 face masks. The group’s volunteer quilters pick up kits to sew at their homes and then drop off projects with no-contact procedures in place.

Hotary quilts the quilt tops on a longarm machine and applies binding and follows up by making sure the finished product reaches the intended charity group. The charity work has continued and even expanded. By the end of Apri1, the group had donated 47 quilts to VITAS and two quilts to the Shands NICU. They have also sewn over l,200 face masks, approximately half of which have been donated to the VA Medical Center in Gainesville. These masks were made according to the specifications supplied by VA Voluntary Services.

The LUL Quilting Group is working harder than ever but with a severely diminished supply of fabric. Donations of l00 percent cotton fabric are critically needed to continue their efforts. Contact Sharlene Hotary at 352-214-1481 or Cindy Sheeley at the Consider the Lilies Thrift Shop at 23560 N.W. Railroad Avenue in High Springs. Financial donations are also welcomed to help defray the costs of other supplies like elastic, interfacing, needles, thread, batting. The LUL group supports the local community by purchasing supplies whenever possible from Julie’s Pins and Needles Quilt Shop, which is also located in High Springs.

Whether through the creation of colorful quilts or critically needed face masks, the LUL Quilting Group continues their mission of spreading love in the community through their quilting talents.

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Clovis Watson, Jr. (right) receives a congratulatory hug from a supporter Tuesday evening following results from the race for sheriff in which Watson handily won over incumbent Sheriff Sadie Darnell.

ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Clovis Watson, Jr. handily defeated incumbent Sadie Darnell to be Alachua County’s top law enforcement official. After first being elected Nov. 14, 2006, the longstanding Sheriff Darnell will lose her seat in the coming months as Watson formally takes over the role of Alachua County Sheriff at the beginning of 2020.

Watson picked up 23,110 votes, or 59.3 percent compared to Darnell’s 15,851 votes, or 40.7 percent of the votes according to the unofficial tally by the Alachua County Supervisor of Election.

Watson and Darnell were in a closed primary race, meaning only Democrats could cast ballots because Rob Brinkman jumped in the race as a write-in general election candidate. That means Watson will face off against Brinkman as a write-in candidate in the general election, although Watson’s election is nearly a foregone conclusion since Brinkman is not campaigning.

While only registered Democrats could cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary, according to campaign finance reports, Watson garnered a wide cross-section of support.

Watson currently serves in the Florida House of Representatives in House District 20. For several years, he led his hometown, the City of Alachua, as its city manager, and has an extensive background in law enforcement, having served for many years as the Deputy Police Chief in the City of Alachua.

Darnell was not the only incumbent to lose in the Aug. 18 primary. Longtime Alachua County District 1 Commissioner Mike Byerly with 34.2 percent lost to fellow-Democrat Mary Alford who picked up 65.8 percent of the vote tally.

Alachua County Commissioner for District 3, Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, who chose not to seek re-election, will be replaced by Anna Prizzia (49.1 percent), who beat Kevin Thorpe (36.9 percent) and Jason Stanford (14 percent).

Alachua County Commissioner for District 5, Charles “Chuck” Chestnut, IV, faced no challenger in the Aug. 18 election and will retain his seat. As a result of Tuesday’s election, and for the first time, women will make a majority of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.

In an historic shakeup on the Alachua County School Board, Diyonne L. McGraw (52.4 percent) won the District 2 seat over Khanh-Lien R. Banko (47.6 percent). McGraw replaces Eileen F. Roy on the school board. Meanwhile, Leanetta McNealy (61percent) will retain her District 4 school board seat after defeating Sande Calkins (39 percent). With McGraw, McNealy, and Tina Certain (District 1), the School Board of Alachua County will consist of three African-American women for the first time in school board history.

In Newberry, incumbent Commissioner Monty Farnsworth was re-elected with 55.3 percent as compared to challenger Walt Boyer’s 44.7 percent of the votes cast in Tuesday’s election. Newberry voters did adopt some revisions to the City’s charter, but declined to increase the terms of service from two years to three years for the mayor and commissioners.

Hawthorne voters elected Patricia Bouie (72.1 percent) to Seat 4 over Wallace F. Russell (27.9 percent). In Archer, voters elected Joan White (61.8 percent) to Seat 1 over Bill Lewandowski (38.1 percent) and Fletcher Hope (62.3 percent) to Seat 3 over Mary Bennett (37.7 percent).

With Alachua County Property Appraiser Ed Crapo declining to seek re-election, Ayesha Solomon (48.8 percent) will take on the role after facing off against Matt Geiger (27 percent), Wendy Sapp (13 percent), Susan M. McQuillan (6.2 percent) and Kelly F. Suggs (5 percent).

Replacing Clovis Watson, Jr. as the Florida House District 20 representative will be Yvonne Hayes Hinson. Hinson, with 61.8 percent of the votes beat out Rodney Long, who had 38.2 percent of the votes cast. Long had served as an Alachua County Commissioner for a number of years in the 2000s, and as a Gainesville city commissioner beginning in 1988, but has been out of elected public office for years since leaving the county commission.

In the hotly-contested U.S. House of Representatives District 3 Republican primary race, Kat Cammack won with 25.2 percent of the ballots cast over Judson Sapp (20 percent), Gavin Rollins (15.3 percent), James St. George (14.1 percent), Todd Chase (9.5 percent), and five other candidates garnering a combined 15.9 percent of the votes. Cammack will face off in the Nov. 3 general election against Adam Christensen who won 34.5 percent of the votes cast in the U.S. House of Representatives District 3 Democrat primary race. Christensen beat out Philip Dodds (32.3 percent) and Tom Wells (33.2 percent). Given the voter makeup of House District District 3, and the history of Republican victories over the district, it is likely that Cammack will prevail in the Nov. 3 general election.

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