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ALACHUA COUNTY – Beginning June 1 and continuing through the summer, the district’s free grab & go meals distribution is Mondays through Thursdays. Meals for all seven days of the week will be provided, with distribution spread throughout the week.

Any child 18 years old and younger can receive a free breakfast and lunch at one of 70 locations, including bus stops, through the Free Summer Meals program.  The department’s food truck will also visit three neighborhoods, including Hidden Oaks, Majestic Oaks and the SWAG Family Resource Center this summer.

The Summer Meals Program, funded by the federal government, is open to any child regardless of family income. Children do not have to be enrolled at a particular school or program to receive meals. They also do not have to be eligible for free and reduced price meals during the regular school year to take advantage of the program.

“Families can take their children to the site that’s most convenient for them,” said Maria Eunice, Director of the district’s Food and Nutrition Services department. “They just drive or walk up during the serving times and enjoy a nutritious grab & go meals, with no registration required.”

For more details on free meal sites, serving dates and times, please visit the Food & Nutrition website www.yourchoicefresh.com or call 352-955-7539.

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NEWBERRY – A Newberry business has been approved for expansion of their facility. Following a lengthy Board of Adjustment (BOA) hearing on an application to expand Pet Paradise, 19518 Newberry Road, a Special Exception (SE) application to allow for facilities expansion was approved. The 4.85-acre property is located to the west of Dudley Farm State Park and is bound on the east, north and west by Tropic Traditions, Inc., a plant nursery.

City Commissioners, sitting as the BOA, voted 3-2 in favor of approval of the application with Commissioners Monty Farnsworth and Paul Norfleet casting the dissenting votes. Prior to the quasi-judicial hearing, the City received three requests from residents asking that the SE application be denied.

Jim Fleming, owner of Tropic Traditions, said he had to maintain the overgrowth of the Pet Paradise fence line, which encroached onto his property. In response to that complaint, Brian Franco, Vice President of Store Master Funding, met with Fleming and agreed to have the fence line vegetation trimmed. Franco showed photographs of the before and after cutting and said he would maintain the overgrowth in the future.

Mary Fleming lives directly next door to the west of the property and opposed the planned expansion. "As it is now, the barking dogs are constantly disrupting my lifestyle, in particular my much-needed rest/sleep," she said. She also said she had never complained before but felt it was obligatory to do so now.

William W. (Wayne) Tharp sent a letter explaining his family’s long history on 20 acres of property at 19527 West Newberry Road and the adjoining 17-acre parcel directly south and across Newberry Road from Pet Paradise. His expressed concern was that “at times a lot of barking can clearly be heard across Newberry Road on my property.” He also complained that several times people pulling boats or driving large vehicles have pulled over on the side of Newberry Road to pick up or drop off animals at Pet Paradise. “I have to believe that the proposed additional 77 kennel spaces will only make the current barking noise and limited parking, ingress and egress, particularly for larger vehicles, worse and unacceptable,” he said.

Wayne Tharpe also was sworn in to testify in the quasi-judicial hearing. He said he believed the buffers were unrealistic for 125 barking dogs and that he didn't think barking dogs would add to anyone's property values. "I don't see a need for another 77 barking dogs," he said.

Newberry Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas explained that the animal boarding facility is located in an agricultural zoning district, as authorized by the City's Land Development Regulations (LDRs). The application will allow the facility to expand the 12,500-sq.-ft. building and 125 kennel spaces to allow for the addition of 4,500 sq. ft. and 77 more kennels.

The property was annexed into the City in August 2019 and received approval for a zoning change in November 2019. The zoning change requires a Special Exception (SE) to allow for the facility expansion.

Thomas explained, "The purpose of a SE is to permit a use not otherwise allowed by right in a particular zoning district when certain conditions specifically set out in the SE are met." When considering approval of a SE, the BOA must consider the potential for adverse impacts on the surrounding area.

Clay Sweger of eda Engineers, who was acting as the agent for the parent company, Store Master Funding XI, submitted a site and development plan showing the proposed placement of the new buildings, parking provisions, entrance to and from the parking area, refuse and service areas as well as open spaces. The plan also showed screening and buffering, landscaping, signage and lighting. In all cases, the project met or exceeded the requirements required by the City.

Franco presented photographs of a relatively new facility similar to the one proposed in Newberry. He also provided pictures of the inside of the existing Newberry location and explained how the employees mitigated odor and noise on the property and addressed hours of operation, outside playtimes and how the facility is regulated.

Franco said, "We want to be good neighbors and will try to minimize nuisance barking." He also said he had introduced Fleming to his facility manager and encouraged Fleming to contact his manager whenever an issue arises.

One item in the Planning and Zoning Board's recommendation to the BOA was removed from the resolution before approval by the board. That item was a sentence indicating that the City would be responsible for making sure that the facility would address the boundary overgrowth.

Three board members agreed with Mayor Jordan Marlowe that it was not something they believed the City should be responsible for regulating. Commissioner Tim Marden made the motion to approve, explicitly eliminating the questionable item from his action. Commissioner Rick Coleman seconded.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - At the June 9 Alachua County Regular County Commission Meeting, the County Commission issued a new emergency order that will follow the Governors Executive Order 20-139 with two additions:
1. Facial coverings remain mandatory. In the Commission discussion, it was mentioned that the University of Florida was also requiring facial coverings, and that consistency was important.
2. The Commission is requiring businesses to adhere to OSHA and CDC Covid-19 guidelines to keep the public and their employees safe.
In addition, the new order will allow playgrounds to be opened. All County parks and their playgrounds will be opened on Friday, June 12. The one exception is Poe Springs, which will be opened on weekends only (Saturday and Sunday) for the time being.
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HIGH SPRINGS – On May 29, the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) responded to a call involving a shooting near the Catherine Taylor Park. Officers arrived on the scene within minutes of the call and discovered an adult male victim on the ground, suffering from a single gunshot wound near the lower back. HSPD personnel administered first aid until EMS arrived on the scene. The victim was then airlifted to a local hospital where he is in stable condition.

According to an ongoing investigation, it was revealed that the victim was part of a group involved in a physical altercation with another group and the victim was allegedly shot by 19-year-old George Mack Strawder III. Strawder and others in the group fled the scene on foot and eluded a search by law enforcement.

Strawder, a resident of High Springs, is well known to HSPD and has an extensive arrest record. He had recently been arrested on a robbery charge, but was released due to the unwillingness of witnesses to testify.

“It’s really frustrating when we know of his involvement in criminal activity, arrest him on a charge, but then see them go free due to being unable to get a conviction with no testimony from witnesses,” HSPD Police Chief Antione Sheppard said.

As a result of the shooting, another arrest warrant has been issued for the Strawder. He is being charged with Attempted Murder, Aggravated Battery, Shooting/Throwing a Deadly Missile into a Dwelling, Shooting/Throwing a Deadly Missile into a Vehicle, and Possession of a Firearm by Convicted Felon.

This is the second shooting incident in the vicinity within a month. While authorities are not sure if the two incidents are related, they do believe that Strawder was involved in both cases. Due to this increased violence, HSPD will be deploying extra patrols in the affected area for the next few days and is appealing to the community to use restraint and to allow law enforcement to resolve this matter. “We are concerned that there may be retribution between the two groups so we want to get this resolved quickly,” Sheppard said.

Last year there was a series of shootings in Alachua, which were retaliatory and police believed they were gang related, including a group called 4K. Sheppard does not believe that the incident in High Springs is gang related, but rather a dispute between two groups of residents. Police believe that Strawder is still in the general area although probably not in High Springs. A task force of HSPD, U.S. Marshals and Alachua County Sheriff’s office is investigating Strawder's whereabouts.

“We want to keep our city safe, but we can't be everywhere at once, we need the cooperation of the citizens who witness incidents, so we can target the bad people and get them out of the neighborhood,” Sheppard said. “There were two daycare centers in the immediate vicinity and children were in the park when this incident occurred, which makes this particularly dangerous for the neighborhood.

“So far, we have not had many people step forward with information, but we know there were a number of witnesses and are asking them contact us so we can help resolve this situation before it gets worse. Keeping our town safe is a collaborative effort between the police and the residents in the community,” said Sheppard.

Anyone with information about this crime or the whereabouts of Strawder is encouraged to contact HSPD Detective Tracy Taylor at ttaylor@highsprings.us or 352-955-1818, or call any local law enforcement agency or Crime Stoppers 352-372-STOP and remain anonymous and be eligible for a monetary reward.

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GAINESVILLE. – Alachua County teens can register now to compete in the Alachua County Library District’s annual
Battle of the Books online in July and receive free copies of this year’s books while supplies last.

Teens ages 11 to 17 can register at www.aclib.us/teens/battle-books and select which branch they’d like to pick up their
books from using the Library District’s curbside service. The Library District purchased the books with a generous
donation from The Friends of the Library. The 2020 Battle of the Books titles are “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds
and “A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World” by Charlie Fletcher.

Typically, local teens compete as teams in this trivia contest, but this year’s program will be all online. The Battle of the
Books will be held Saturday, July 25 as a multiple-choice and true/false quiz on the two books using Kahoot! Teens can
join the competition starting at 1 p.m. in their web browser or on the Kahoot! mobile app. Questions won’t be timed
and participants have until 11:59 p.m. on July 25 to complete the quiz.

The 10 players with the highest scores will each receive a copy of George Takei’s award-winning graphic novel memoir
“They Called us Enemy.” If more than 10 players have the same high score, the names of high scorers will be drawn
randomly for prizes.

“The Battle of the Books has always been a fun way to keep teens reading and talking about books throughout the
summer. We’re excited to keep the tradition going,” said Youth Services Librarian Cameron Burris.
For more information, please contact Rachel Cook at 352-334-3909. Curbside service is available at all Library District
branches 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visit www.aclib.us/currentservice for more details.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - The Alachua County Health Department has identified an outbreak of COVID-19 in an agricultural community. Ninety-eight individuals have been identified, with 76 testing positive, 14 results are pending. Those positive individuals have been appropriately isolated and contacts quarantined.
The investigation and response have been supported by Alachua County Emergency Management and Alachua County Community Support Services.
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ALACHUA COUNTY - Poe Springs (28800 N.W. 182nd Ave, High Springs) will reopen at 50 percent capacity on weekends only starting June 13, 2020, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Park staff will patrol the day-use area and swimming area to ensure all guidelines are being followed. Park staff will also clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and restrooms hourly. Visitors should follow CDC recommendations for visiting parks and recreational facilities. Groups that live together visiting the park are not expected to be contactless or use social distancing.
Guidelines for park swimming:
  • Keep "play" and interaction between swimmers contactless, and maintain social distancing.
  • Do not intermix groups.
  • Discourage the sharing of swim equipment. If sharing must occur, consider how the equipment will be sanitized between each use.
  • Adhere to park-specific guidelines for COVID-19.
Park guidelines:
  • Limit groups to ten or less and stay at least six feet from others at all times. This might make some open areas, trails, and paths better to use. Do not go into a crowded area.
  • Do not use the playground located within the park.
  • Keep "play" and interactions contactless, and maintain social distancing.
  • Do not intermix groups.
For more information, contact the Alachua County Parks and Conservation Land Office at 352-264-6868 or parks@alachuacounty.us.
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