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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ High Springs is just coming off the traditional Pioneer Days festival, which was held only weeks ago. But one city commissioner is already looking forward to another celebration of a historic nature. At the May 13 City Commission meeting, Commissioner Byran Williams reminded everyone that next year will be the 130th anniversary of the founding of High Springs. Although he took a bit of kidding from the other commissioners, he swore that he was not a member of the first city commission.

Looking toward the future, City Manager Ashley Stathatos recapped the Strategic Planning Session results and reviewed a list of items identified as most important. City staff and citizens agreed on a number of the items they believed were most important.

The fire and police departments are requesting replacements and upgrades necessary to have both departments continue to adequately serve the growing community. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham addressed a resolution establishing the estimated assessment rate for fire services for the next fiscal year and proposed an increase from the current $155 per year per residence to $223, which translates into a 44 percent increase. “That’s 19 cents a day,” said Gillingham.

He listed the replacement of Engine 29, Squad 29 and the brush truck that was purchased in 1997, which he said is no longer operational. He reminded Commissioners that they could set an amount at the beginning of the budgeting process and that the City could reduce it later in the process if necessary. “However, if we set the amount too low, we can’t increase it.” Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the proposed $223 amount.

In other business, the Commission approved two items on second reading. An ordinance was passed that will close a loophole developers have used to bypass procedures in the past. That ordinance also includes changes to the City’s Land Development Code to modify the approval level of certain site and development aspects of the approval process to properly allocate which items should go before the Commission for approval.

The second item receiving a second hearing was an ordinance establishing a Communications Service Tax on all communications services within the City. This change will bring High Springs in line with other cities in the area and helps to diversify the City’s income stream.

The Commission also approved an extension to the agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the infiltrative wetlands project for wastewater treatment and disposal. Approval extends the current agreement one more year to June of 2023. Gillingham said there was no change to the dollar amount of more than $1.7 million.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose described a request by the Florida League of Cities (FLC) to have the mayor sign a letter requesting the governor veto legislation relating to Home-Based Businesses (HBB). Ambrose said CS/HB 403 is scheduled to be signed by the governor in the morning. The FLC maintains that the legislation strips regulation authority away from local government regarding city regulation of home-based businesses. “The homeowner doesn’t even need to live in the home for the business to be active,” said Ambrose.

Ambrose said business activities could take place in a residential area in the middle of the night if a similar business in the same city is open 24 hours a day. Since all City Commissioners were against this bill, no motion was required to approve the signing of the letter and sending of it to Tallahassee, said the city attorney.

In other news, the Commission voted to approve three proclamations. The first declared the week of May 16 – 22 as “National Public Works Week” in High Springs. The second declared the month of May as “Alachua County Public Schools, Teachers and Staff Month” and the third declared the month of May as “Military Appreciation Month.”

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NEWBERRY - The Newberry Watermelon Festival was back with juicy, red watermelon Saturday, May 15 at Country Way Town Square, just south of Newberry High School.  The annual festival brought out thousands who enjoyed picture perfect weather, dozens of vendors, refreshing watermelon, games and activities for the young and not-so-young alike, and entertainment.  Not to be forgotten were the contests, which included “dress your dog,” golf car decorating, seed spitting, and of course, the Watermelon Queen Pageants.  Newberry has been home to the annual festival since 1946.

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GAINESVILLE – The Arc of Alachua County will host 25 bicyclists next week, on Wednesday, May 26, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. for the annual Gear Up Florida/Ability Experience Friendship Visit. The bicyclists, who are traveling throughout the State of Florida raising awareness about developmental disabilities, will be led onto The Arc’s main campus across from Santa Fe College by Santa Fe College police escort, and greeted by Arc employees and its developmentally disabled clients. Once on campus, Florida State Representative Chuck Clemons, Arc Board President Cathy Costello and Arc President/CEO Mark A. Swain will formally welcome the bikers, who are representing colleges and universities throughout the United States.
Each year, these civic-minded bicyclists spend the month of May biking the State of Florida raising awareness of developmental disabilities. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 trip and all of the Friendship Visits, including the Gainesville event. But these athletic and caring young people are once again putting on their helmets and riding their two-wheelers under the hot Florida sun. The bikers will celebrate their stop in Gainesville by signing ball caps for our Arc clients, enjoying lunch with our clients and employees, listening to music and dancing, and taking a group photo by the large Arc sign on NW 83rd St.  
Officials with The Arc and The Ability Experience are partnering together to make the Gear Up Florida, Gainesville Friendship Visit as safe as possible given any lingering COVID-19 concerns. The number of attendees will be limited to fewer than 100. Guests will be asked to wear masks unless eating, drinking or speaking. All attendees will be asked to practice social distancing. Extra hand sanitizer will be available during the entire event. All Arc employees and clients in attendance, as well as the bicyclists, will all be individuals who have been vaccinated with one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Attendees will enjoy box lunches from Dos Mamas Catering and Michael Davis, aka ‘Mr. October DJ,’ will lead the bikers, clients, staff, and visitors in some dancing and singing. As we do each-and-every year at what one Arc client has called, “…the funnest event all year,” the festivities will end with a large group photo taken in front of The Arc’s sign on NW 83rd St. at 12:55 p.m. As is the case each year, the itinerary this year will take the team of bicyclists to the gorgeous Gainesville Health & Fitness Center at 1:15 p.m. for an afternoon of swimming and relaxation. The bikers will then head over to Trinity United Methodist Church where they will enjoy dinner (also prepared by Dos Mamas Catering) and eventually ‘bed down’ for the evening.
“This event gets everybody involved, bikers, staff members, the clients, the donors, and the community. Our clients look forward to seeing the bicyclists being escorted onto our campus by motorcycle police with sirens blaring and lights flashing.’ It will be a lot of fun, and is an event we really look forward to this year given the cancellation of last year’s event due to COVID-19,” stated Mark A. Swain, Arc of Alachua County’s President/CEO.

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ALACHUA ‒ Opening its doors for the first time, a new Hilton Hampton Inn in Alachua is now welcoming visitors to stay when traveling for leisure or business. After almost three years in development, the Hilton Hampton Inn opened its doors on April 28. .Located just west of I-75 off U.S. Highway 441 at 15930 N.W. 163rd Lane, the new hotel features 101 rooms, including 32 suites, a conference room, gym and full-size pool that is ADA compliant for wheelchair access. The suites are larger than the regular rooms and can sleep up to six with two king beds and a couch that folds out to sleep additional guests.

The Hilton corporation has a variety of hotels in its brand, ranging from the high-end Waldorf and Conrad hotels to the more economical Hampton Inns and Doubletree hotels. While the Alachua hotel is under the Hilton brand, all Hampton Inns are franchises, owned and operated by individual investors. Nationwide there are over 1,200 Hampton Inns. While most of the Hilton Hotel chain consists of individual franchises, they all must meet corporate standards before opening.

General Manager Kari Adams said this was just one of the delays in opening. “We had hoped to open before Gator Nationals in March but Covid hit the hotel industry hard. Travel was very limited in 2020, and a lot of hotels couldn't survive with limited guests.” Adams explained that COVID also changed the way rooms were cleaned and sanitized, adding additional health restrictions that made hotel chains revise their corporate requirements.

“Before we could open, we had to change a lot of things that were not necessary before,” Adams said. “Another delay was getting supplies, especially from overseas sources. What had taken a few weeks to order and deliver is now taking months.”

Hotels nationwide are facing shortages of linens. Adams added, “We planned ahead and ordered a larger supply, but there was still a three to four-month wait.”

Adams has worked for the Hilton corporation for over 20 years, mainly in Las Vegas. She was eager to make the move to assist in opening the new hotel and move to Florida where she has family.

The investors are local and have purchased 150 acres surrounding the hotel with plans for other projects on the property as well.

“Hampton Inns are called lighthouse hotels because they have initiated a number of new ideas that put the hotel in the forefront of innovation. They are geared more toward business clientele and creating ways to make their stay easier and more efficient,” said Adams.

“For our silver, gold and diamond club members we have created ‘digital keys’ that work directly off a phone app so the guest can use their phones for keyless entry and control the thermostat directly from their phone,” said Adams. “This makes check out much easier as well.”

Given the distribution centers that call Alachua home, the hotel has a parking area for trucks. “In most hotels, truckers need to find someplace else to park the large truck overnight,” said Adams. “We have created a parking area at the hotel for trucks, so the drivers do not have to worry about not being able to watch their rig or get to it easier if they have to get items from it at night.”

The hotel has also made revisions to housekeeping procedures to provide enhanced health safety due to Covid. Each room is thoroughly cleaned with Lysol on all surfaces as well as plastic wraps on TV remotes that are changed with each guest. After the cleaning, a seal is placed across the door and nobody else is allowed in the sanitized room until the next guest checks in. These cleaning practices apply to all surfaces in the hotel on an ongoing basis.

Although the hotel is already open for guests, Adams said they will introduce themselves to the community on a more personal level and plan to host an open house to the public on June 23 from 5-7 p.m. with a variety of events and giveaways. There will be a larger Grand Opening in September as Covid restrictions ease to allow more public interaction. Adams said, “The City of Alachua has been very helpful throughout the process and we want to be part of the local community as well.”

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ALACHUA COUNTY, FL – The Florida Department of Health in Alachua County issued a rabies alert for Northeast Gainesville in the Ironwood Golf Club area. This is in response to a stray cat that tested positive on Friday, May 14, 2021.

 All residents and visitors in Alachua County should be aware that rabies is present in the wild animal population and domestic animals are at risk if not vaccinated. The public is asked to maintain a heightened awareness that rabies is active in Alachua County. Alerts are designed to increase awareness to the public, but they should not get a false sense of security to areas that have not been named under an alert.
The recent rabies alert is for 60 days. The center of the rabies alert is 3400 N.E. 53rd Avenue and includes the following boundaries in Alachua County:
  • NE 15 Street, Gainesville
  • NE 39 Avenue, Gainesville
  • NE Waldo Road
  • NE 73 Avenue
 An animal with rabies could infect other wild or domestic animals that have not been vaccinated against rabies. All domestic animals should be vaccinated against rabies, and all wildlife contact should be avoided, particularly raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks, otters, bobcats, and coyotes. Rabies is a disease of the nervous system and is fatal to warm-blooded animals and humans. The only treatment for human exposure to rabies is rabies specific immune globulin and rabies immunization. Appropriate treatment started soon after the exposure will protect an exposed person from the disease.
Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:
  • Keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all pets.
  • Keep pets under direct supervision, so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If a wild animal bites a pet, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately and contact Alachua County Animal Services, 352-264-6880.
  • Call the local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood.
  • Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.
  • Never adopt wild animals or bring them into the home.
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly.
  • Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools, and other similar areas, where they might come in contact with people and pets.
  • Persons who have been bitten or scratched by wild or domestic animals should seek medical attention and report the injury to the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County at 352-334-7930.
For further information on rabies, visit the Florida Department of Health’s Rabies website or call the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County at 352-334-7930 or Alachua County Animal Control at 352-264-6880.
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ALACHUA – Mill Creek Farm’s Retirement Home for Horses will soon have a new resident. Guido has served the Davie Police Department and the Town of Davie admirably since 2015. At 19 years of age, it might seem young for an officer to retire. But if you are a horse that is a different story. Guido has put in many hard hours and miles during his stint and over the years he has been the “go to” horse for many special events.

A Maryland bred thoroughbred, born on May 14, 2002, Guido in a Speedo had one win from seven starts as a racehorse. Although he wasn’t a world beater as a racehorse, he excelled in his life after racing.

Guido has definitely become a barn favorite, and has earned a proper retirement for a life of service. While this is a bittersweet moment for the Mounted Unit, they know that a healthy, safe and forever retirement is what he deserves.

Guido will be moving to the Retirement Home for Horses, Inc. at Mill Creek Farm in Alachua, Florida on Friday, May 21.  He will meet up with his former equine friend, Officer Zach, as well as four horses from the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department (Sheba, Cappy, Eli and Commander) and three horses from the Broward County Sheriff's Office (Zeus, Apollo and Greystoke).

The farm encompasses 335 acres and is home to 133 horses and three miniature donkeys.  Once a horse comes through the gates they are never worked or ridden again and get to spend the rest of their lives with all the vet, dental and farrier care they need along with grain, hay, carrots, apples, bananas, weekly grooming and lots of love. 

Guido will be able to spend his retirement grazing all day long with the farm's resident retirees.  The mission of the Retirement Home for Horses, Inc. is to take in horses seized by law enforcement and other frontline rescue groups in cruelty cases.  They also accept active Police and Military Horses as they feel they have done their public service and deserve a proper retirement.

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ALACHUA ‒ After 12 years of service, Alachua City Commissioner Gary Hardacre has stepped down. On Monday, May 10, commissioners honored Hardacre for his service as he vacated his seat on the board. In the transition ceremony, Hardacre's nameplate was removed as he stepped off the dais.

Jennifer Blalock will be filling Hardacre’s seat by winning the runoff election held May 4 and defeating Malcolm Dixon with 58 percent of the vote. City Manager Adam Boukari administered the official Oath of Office to Blalock and she then took her seat on the dais.

According to the City Charter, the City Commission also elects a new Vice Mayor from among its members each year at the first City Commission meeting after the City election. The Commission unanimously chose Commissioner Shirley Green-Brown for the position. Brown successfully defended her seat on the commission in the general election, which was held April 13.

In other business, Duke Energy handed over $1,039,857 to the City for the purchase of assets related to the recently opened Legacy Park substation. The energy company agreed to purchase the non-real property substation assets for equipment to transfer power from its transmission line to the substation and convert that power for distribution through the City substation to City distribution lines. The check was presented to Mayor Gib Coerper at the May 10 meeting.

The pandemic quarantine created significant disruption in the education system and schools had to revise the ways they taught students and come up with new ways to budget their resources. In recognition of the hard work, resilience, and creativity the teachers of Alachua County demonstrated this year, Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon asked the City of Alachua to join in proclaiming the month of May as Alachua County Public Schools Teacher and Staff Month. Coerper read the proclamation and presented it to Jackie Johnson, Public Information Director for Alachua County Public Schools.

The Commission considered and approved a request to amend the Official Zoning Atlas from Central Business District (CBD) to Commercial Intensive (CI) on a 1.09-acre property located south of U.S. Highway 441, east of Northwest 147th Drive, north of the Hitchcock’s Shopping Plaza. The parcel is currently a cleared vacant lot, surrounded by commercial uses including Hitchcock’s Plaza and Rolling Oaks Plaza. The property has been zoned with a commercial zoning designation since at least the 1980s.

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