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NEWBERRY – An upscale RV park that is planned for Newberry received considerable attention at the March 22 City Commission meeting. At issue was a proposed change to the City’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs) that would allow longer stays for visitors to Recreational Vehicle Parks and commercial campgrounds. In addition, proponents of the change asked for an increase in the number of Park Model RVs from 10 percent to 40 percent of permitted units.

M3 Development, LLC requested the LDR modifications to accommodate Treehouse Village RV Resort, an upscale RV park/commercial campground, which they are developing in Newberry.

The facility is being touted in part as a remedy for the lack of hotel accommodations in Newberry, especially for recreational events hosted by the City. The longer stay times would more completely accommodate those people who travel south in the fall and return north in the spring, developers say.

The current LDRs allow a stay of up to 90 days. The proposed change would allow visitors to stay for 270 days. Not only would the increased length of stay accommodate seasonal visitors, it would also be useful for people who travel for work where they may stay in an area for a few months at a time.

The applicant, who has an RV resort currently under development in Newberry, contends that the current limitations on length of stay and total number of park models are prohibitive relative to trends in the luxury RV customer market.

Newberry Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas reported that after speaking with other cities about the matter, most had no limitations on length of stay.

At the March 1, Planning & Zoning Board hearing, the Board voted 3-2 to recommend approval of the changes to the City Commission. The Board also requested an estimate of the property taxes that may be generated by the resort.

Thomas said staff did a cursory review of a similar existing local RV resort and derived an estimate of the appraised value per RV spot. Applying that figure to the number of spaces proposed at build-out of the Treehouse Village RV Resort yielded an estimated valuation of $9.8 million, which would equate to some $59,000 annually in ad valorem taxes to the City. In addition to ad valorem taxes, the City will also receive revenue from the electric franchise fees, utility taxes, fire assessment fees and shared sales tax revenues generated by the development of the resort and use by its patrons.

Commissioners raised concerns that approving a change to 40 percent would be too much density, referencing the City’s recently approved tiny homes ordinance, which allowed tiny homes at 30 percent density. The Commission voiced no concerns about length of stay, but wanted a limit of 30 percent.

A motion to approve the ordinance on first reading received unanimous approval.

In other business, a resolution approving construction plans for Phase Five of the Country Way at Newberry Town Center subdivision received unanimous approval. Commissioner Paul Norfleet recused himself from voting on this issue.

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ALACHUA – The hunt was on this past Saturday as excited children and their parents gathered at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex for the annual Easter Egg Hunt hosted by the City of Alachua. Each year on the Saturday closest to Easter, the City hosts the event to carry on the tradition of a hunt for hard boiled and candy filled plastic eggs.

For many families and children Easter just isn’t the same without the annual egg hunt. It is an adventure and a tradition that has been part of American culture for over 100 years. But it dates back much farther than that. In some pre-Christian societies, eggs held associations with spring and new life. Early Christians adapted these beliefs, making the egg a symbol of the resurrection and the empty shell a metaphor for Jesus’ tomb.

In Alachua, it has become an annual event that attracts hundreds of people. While the City sponsors the event, others contribute as well. Dollar General provided over 200 baskets to give away with toys and candy, while CVS, Hitchcock’s and Walgreens donated the candy that filled over 1,000 plastic eggs.

Recreation staff and volunteers spread the plastic eggs across four sports fields, with each location designated for a specific age group so all children would have a chance to gather eggs. At 10 a.m., the gates opened on each field and the children rushed in to gather as many eggs as possible. In a matter of minutes each field was cleared of eggs as the parents helped their kids organize their prizes.

Inside the Hal Brady Center, staff members distributed the donated gift baskets as the families waited patiently in line for either a girl’s or boy’s basket containing age and gender appropriate gifts and even more candy. A recreation department employee dressed as a pink bunny circulated among the crowd and offered photos with the kids.

By 11 a.m. the event began to wind down as families left with baskets filled with candy and toys, while others decided to make it a day at the park for the children to play to burn off the energy and excitement caused by the hunt and candy already consumed.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The pandemic was hard on businesses and the economy in 2020, especially on small local businesses. For some family-owned small businesses, there was a small reserve of funds helping them survive during Covid-19 related shutdowns. Others were not so fortunate and were forced to close their doors. Yet others decided to take a chance, follow their dreams and start new businesses amid uncertainties.

The planned community of townhomes and single-family houses in Newberry’s Country Way Town Square was designed as a golf cart-friendly community next to Newberry High School. The concept was to provide not only a variety of housing in a community environment, but also to provide a retail area in the town center so residents could have services within walking or golf cart distance. It was also designed as an event and entertainment location that has hosted the Newberry Watermelon Festival and rodeos.

On March 11, Stonehouse Grill had a ribbon cutting to celebrate the restaurant’s opening. Although the eatery began serving lunch and dinners a month ago, the official opening was delayed until everything from the food to the service was in order. Jay Krecker and wife Katie are co-owners, and although this is their first venture into ownership, they have over 20 years of experience in all aspects of the industry, from bartending and serving to management.

“It's always been a dream of mine to operate my own restaurant with exceptional recipes and service, and this opportunity came up so we took it,” Jay Krecker said.

Krecker was the general manager of Gator Dockside for 15 years before making the move. His assistant manager there also joined him as general manager at Stonehouse.

“I had worked with Jay for almost 15 years and knew his capabilities in this industry, so when he asked me to come with him in this new venture I immediately accepted,” said general manager Jamie Sulecki. “I was not the only one; there were several other employees that left to work here with him.”

The extensive menu includes several selections of steaks, from prime rib to porterhouse, ribeye and sirloin. There are also a variety of burgers (including a vegetarian Beyond Burger), sandwiches, ribs, and seafood. Salad options also are available. The location offers outdoor patio seating as well as a full bar.

“Besides being a new and different restaurant for the general public, we want this to be a destination place for the community of Country Way to come relax and gather,” Sulecki said.

The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. The full menu is available at https://www.stonehousenewberry.com/

After eating steak dinners at the Stonehouse Grill Health, they can walk across the plaza to the other new business in the square. Because It Matters (BIM) is a 24-hour full equipped fitness center for cross fit training or traditional workouts. The gym is designed with easy-to-use strength and cardio equipment, a stadium-quality sound system and spacious locker rooms.

“I am a newbie at owning my own fitness business. But it has been a dream for most of my life,” said owner Slade Williams. “I got into fitness when I was 16 and on the school weight lifting team, and it’s been a passion ever since. I work out four to five days a week.”

Williams comes from a farming family and has lived in the area all his life. “My wife, Starla, and I have gotten to a position where we could finally afford to open a business. I have been friends with Tripp Norfleet who built the Country Way development and when he told me they were opening retail in the town square I decided it was time to take the opportunity,” Williams said.

“We made sure we have top of the line equipment including 30 pieces of cardio machines, treadmills, mechanical and free weights. We also offer classes, but to stay in compliance with the health guidelines, we are teaching them outdoors with social distancing between participants.”

Inside the building a UV Germicidal light treatment serves all air systems for top-tier cleanliness. Gym memberships range from $35 to $40 a month, and there is a 10 percent membership discount for military and first responders. Because It Matters Fitness is located in Newberry at 24850 S.W. 17th Place in the Country Way community. More information can be found at https://becauseitmattersfitness.com or by calling 352-660-3803.

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ALACHUA – Alachua city leaders gathered Tuesday morning at the new Legacy Park Electrical substation for a ribbon cutting ceremony. Joining in was an assembled crowd of government dignitaries, representatives from Jacobs Electrical Engineering and Duke Energy and city employees, including the members of the city’s electric department who will maintain the substation. The facility comes online just one year after the project’s groundbreaking in 2020.

The new electric substation expands the electrical grid to supply power to the growing city and improve reliability. The substation is in line with the city’s long-range capital plan, which for a number of years, has been exploring expanding the electrical grid in anticipation of growth.

City Manager Adam Boukari said that the substation brings a more efficient power system for residents, acknowledging the work of predecessors who had the foresight to pursue this project and determination to see it accomplished. He specifically referenced outgoing City Commissioner Gary Hardacre, who is not seeking reelection this April. Boukari said that Hardacre pressed to see the substation a reality.

The new substation in the southwestern part of the city expands the supply of power and lessens outages by creating a looped system between two stations. By looping the two, power can be transferred from one station to the other and isolate outages and shorten the time to get customers back on line. The system also creates a wider power grid to compensate for increased demand due to commercial and residential development.

The Alachua City Commission adopted the substation as a high priority strategic initiative in June 2018 and solicited formal proposals from qualified vendors to provide engineering inspection services and design to assist in the expansion of the City’s electric system.

The winning bid went to electrical engineering firm Jacobs to provide construction engineering inspection services for the expansion of electrical infrastructure with construction of the Legacy Substation.

The Legacy Park location was selected for the site of the new substation with design and construction accomplished and coordinated with Duke Energy. The City constructed the substation with Duke agreeing to purchase the non-real property substation assets of equipment to transfer power from its transmission line to the substation and convert that power for distribution throughout the city and to city utility customers. Duke paid $1,039,857 of the total project cost of $5.7 million.

Duke Energy’s Dan Smith said that having the substation operational just a year after groundbreaking was quite an accomplishment and would greatly increase reliability of the electric grid. City of Alachua Public Services Director Rudolfo Valladares thanked City electric department workers for their efforts in getting the station ready. Mayor Gib Coerper also spoke, thanking city official s and reflecting on the people that had the determination to see the project to completion.

Boukari said that despite the cost of the project the City’s electric utility is still debt free and that the project would pay for itself multiple times.

“It’s all about investing in the future and improving the quality of life and City services to the community,” Boukari said.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Despite restrictions on events and crowds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 40th annual Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show (ACYFLS) is back for another year. This year marked the first time the event was held in Newberry at the former Canterbury Equestrian Showplace. The new site was purchased by Alachua County in 2019 for nearly $4 million. More than $8 million went into upgrading the facilities, and it was renamed the Alachua County Agriculture and Equestrian Center. The location will also be home to the Alachua County Fairgrounds, hosting events like the Livestock Youth Fair, which is the first major event held at the site.

According to former Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, Alachua County had been searching for a new location for the fairgrounds and a new UF IFAS extension center for almost 40 years. “They kept it together with baling wire, duct tape and chewing gum, but their perseverance was ultimately rewarded, and here we are today,” Pinkoson said.

Since the initial ribbon cutting in October 2020, the following months were spent replacing and updating the site including the arena, buildings, railings, concrete, and restrooms as well bringing it up to current safety standards. The new facility has a 150-ft. X 250-ft. open-air pavilion with seating for more than 2,000. In addition to hosting the Youth Fair and equestrian events, the arena can host other events including festivals, rodeos, auctions, concerts and trade shows. The facility also has plenty of space for spectators to social distance in the stands.

On Friday, March 5, the new site came to life with the opening of the Alachua County Youth Fair & Livestock Show. The event is sponsored by UF IFAS and the ACYFL Association. The fair brings out hundreds of students who participate in 4-H and FFA in schools throughout the county to exhibit their pigs, goats, chickens and cattle they have raised.

On Saturday, elected officials from the surrounding area including the cities of Newberry, Alachua, High Springs and Gainesville, as well as U.S. Congresswoman Kat Cammack, and IFAS representatives gathered for a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting.

But before the ribbon was cut, these leaders teamed up with students for a farm animal “celebrity show.” Each pair dressed up a goat in comical clothing and competed to have their animal stand out against the others. After they were all dressed each one circled the rings for the spectators to see and cheer.

UF/IFAS Extension Director Cynthia Sanders thanked the City of Newberry for purchasing the property on which the UF/IFAS buildings sits. Sanders reminded the crowd that even if the kids participating in the youth fair don't become farmers, they will use the skills they learn at the facility in future accomplishments. “These projects they’ve been working on since school started back in August and September as well as the time it takes to raise the animals” added Sanders. “It’s really about the kids and exhibitors developing their life skills, responsibilities and citizenship skills that they’ll carry on for the rest of their life,” Sanders said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Florida Creamery is celebrating their second anniversary, and as a tribute to their faithful customers, is holding an ice cream social, and will present a $500 donation to Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) to help protect the area’s river and its springs. The event is being held at the Florida Creamery in historic downtown High Springs at 23629 West U.S. Highway 27 from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 27.

Our Santa Fe River will have a table set up in front of Bambi’s Café selling tickets for a donation of $10, which entitles each donor to a free scoop of ice cream from Florida Creamery plus entry in an hourly drawing at the creamery for prizes such as :

  • Two prints from Lanza Gallery
  • Florida Creamery T-Shirt and $10 gift certificate
  • Our Santa Fe River ‘I Care’ T-shirt and a vintage ‘2019 OSFR Riverfest’ Tie Dye T-shirt
  • Florida Springs Institute FSI cap and Springs Book
  • Lion’s Lair Boutique $25 gift card
  • Unique Notions gift basket 

Plus, entry into a drawing for the Grand Prize of a Rum 138 kayak rental and shuttle for two in either a tandem kayak or canoe.

 You do not have to be present to win. OSFR will contact winners at the end of the evening.

 Bambi’s Café will be preparing a plant-based Italian Farm to Table Feast from 6-8 p.m. for $25. Menu includes cream of porcini mushroom soup, insalata, organic bruchetta, organic pasta primavera with local vegetables in creamy pink sauce, and vegan ice cream topped with organic chocolate syrup and strawberries from the Florida Creamery. Gluten free options will be available.  Coffee and tea are included. Italian Farm to Table Feast reservations are required by calling 386-454-1600 or 954-907-9759.

 This event in downtown High Springs promises fun, food and ice cream, plus the many fabulous door prizes donated by locally owned businesses. For more information call event coordinator Kristin Rubin at 305-582-3800 or visit Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/735992450393760.

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ALACHUA ‒ A new nature preserve in Alachua County has opened to the public. Turkey Creek Preserve, located behind the Turkey Creek subdivision in the city of Alachua, features 375 acres of protected woodland including several habitats, such as a basin swamp, depression marsh, dome swamp, upland hardwood forest, blackwater streams and sinkholes.

Four miles of Turkey Creek winds its way through the preserve that features almost five miles of hiking trails. It’s also home to a variety of wildlife, including several endangered species such as the woodland poppy mallow and gopher tortoises.

The opening of the park has been a long time coming. The area was historically used as cattle pasture land through much of the 1900s under the ownership of the Cellon family. Old cattle infrastructure is still present in the northeast corner of the preserve, including old sorting pens, the foundation of a cattle scale and a concrete ramp used to load cattle into trucks.

The property was purchased by investors as part of the Turkey Creek subdivision with plans to build Phase 2 consisting of 1,000 houses in addition to the 900 houses already built during Phase 1.

Alachua County bought the property in 2009 from the Gainesville Investment Group for $4 million using a combination of Wild Spaces Public Places funds and a $1.5 million grant from the Florida Communities Trust.

According to Charlie Houder, the county’s land conservation and management director, the Turkey Creek Preserve it took more than a decade to restore to its former glory because the area was in disrepair for years. The cattle fences had fallen down as well as trees and overgrown vegetation covered the area.

“The area had also become a dumping ground and we hauled tons of trash and metal surplus out of here, exotic plants that had to be removed and replaced with native species, we made the trails, built a bridge and a parking lot to make it accessible,” Houder said.

After a decade of work, the Turkey Creek Preserve was officially opened on March 1, 2021 with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Speakers included Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman, Alachua County Commission Chair Ken Cornell, Alachua County Land Conservation and Management Director Charlie Houder, and City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper.

“Turkey Creek Preserve is a wonderful addition to our conservation lands inventory,” said Cornell.

While the park is open to the public, another entrance is accessible within the Turkey Creek neighborhood providing a large nature area to explore for the residents. “The Turkey Creek Preserve is a place for residents to come exercise, explore exotic plants and wildlife. There will be no excuse for not getting out of your house and going for a really long walk,” said City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper.

Visitors can check out five miles of marked trails, all of which are open to hikers. Select trails are open for off-road bicycling and equestrian use. There’s also a half-mile fitness trail with seven exercise stations. The Turkey Creek Preserve is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., October through March and 7 a.m.-8 p.m., April – September. The entrance is located at 6300 N.W. 93rd Avenue.

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