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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Election results are in for the 2022 General Election in Alachua County. Out of 180,902 eligible voters in Alachua County, 96,081 ballots, or 53.11 percent of the voters, cast ballots.

Countywide, voters approved the Single-Member District referendum 51.44 percent (45,690 votes) to 48.56 percent (43,125 votes). The measure replaces the current at-large election, where all Alachua County voters choose all five commissioners. Under Single-Member Districts, voters will vote for the one candidate who lives in the same district as the voter, rather than voting for all five candidates.

Of the 91,368 votes cast on the question of approving the one-cent Wild Spaces Public Places sales tax initiative, 52.18 percent (47,677 votes) were cast to approve as opposed to 47.82 percent (43,691 votes) cast to disapprove of the tax.

In High Springs, voters cast their ballots for City Commission Seat #3, currently held by incumbent Linda Jones. Of the 2,733 votes cast in this race, newcomer to the High Springs political scene Tristan Grunder won with 1,308 votes, or 47.86 percent of the votes cast, as opposed to Jones, who received 864 votes, or 31.61 percent of the votes. Eyvonne Andrews received 561 votes, or 20.53 percent of the votes cast.

Republican State Senator Keith Perry defeated Democrat challenger Rodney Long to win the District 9 Florida Senate seat with 65.5 percent (135,000) of the vote. Perry returns to the Senate representing Marion County and parts of Alachua and Levy counties.

Republican Chuck Clemons returns for his fourth and final term in the Florida House after representing District 21 for three terms. Clemons defeated Democrat Brandon Peters with 56.1 percent of the vote. Due to redistricting, Clemons will serve his final term in District 22, representing Gilchrist, Levy and part of western Alachua County. Clemons sponsored legislation in the 2022 session that placed the Alachua County Single-Member District referendum on the ballot.

Incumbent Democrat Yvonne Hayes Hinson defeated Hollye Merton with 60 percent of the vote to retain her state House seat. Hinson ran on a platform to increase funding for public schools, advocating for magnet schools, creating career pathways for students and increasing teacher salaries.

Republican Chuck Brannan retains his Florida House of Representatives District 10 seat as he was unchallenged in the Nov. 8 election. Brannan’s district lines were redrawn in the redistricting effort to include a larger area in Alachua County, stretching into the city of Alachua.

Republican Florida State Senator Jennifer Bradley also retains her seat as she was unchallenged as well. She represents Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Gilchrist, Union counties and part of Alachua County.

Although the governor’s race in Alachua County showed Democrat Charlie Crist as the winner with 57.12 percent (54,719 votes) as opposed to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis with 42.06 percent (40,289 votes), the overall state votes carried DeSantis back into the Governor’s mansion with 59.4 percent of the votes (4,608,398).

In the race for U.S. Senator, Alachua County voted to elect Val Demings with 57.87 percent (55,359 votes) to Marco Rubio at 40.97 percent (39,190 votes). Once again, state-wide voters upended that with a 57.7 percent of the votes cast for Rubio (4,469,218) who is returning for his third term in the U.S. Senate.

In the race for Congressional District 3, incumbent Congresswoman Kat Cammack retained her seat with 58.23 percent (55,377 votes) in Alachua County. State-wide results show Cammack receiving 62.5 percent of the votes (177,999) to Democrat challenger Danielle Hawk’s 36.3 percent (103,254) and Linda Brooks 1.2 percent (3,405).

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ With the High Springs municipal election set for Election Day Nov. 8, three candidates are vying for one seat on the High Springs City Commission. Seat 3 is currently held by incumbent Linda Jones, who is seeking her third three-year term as a city commissioner. Jones ran unopposed in two prior elections, but this election cycle she has two opponents vying for the seat she currently holds—Tristan Grunder and Eyvonne Andrews.

On Oct. 25, the GFWC High Springs New Century Woman's Club hosted a public forum for the community to meet the three candidates and to enable voters to hear the candidates and question them about important issues in the Nov. 8 election.

Moderator Vickie Cox introduced each candidate and allowed each a two-minute introduction to talk about their backgrounds and plans for the Commission if elected.

Tristan Grunder is a lifelong resident of High Springs. A decorated law enforcement officer of 15 years, Grunder worked with the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) on the gang and special operations units. In 2015, he transferred to the Criminal Investigations Division, working robberies and homicides. In December 2017, he was selected as Acting Sergeant in the Operations Division. Grunder is also a member of the Negotiation Response Team and is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Eyvonne Andrews is also a lifelong resident of High Springs and is the former President of the Chamber of Commerce. She also worked with the Alachua Sherriff’s Office (ASO) Inmate Trust Fund from 1988-2004.

Incumbent Linda Jones is the former Vice Mayor of High Springs. She was born in DeLand and moved to Gainesville in 1959. Jones attended JJ Finley Elementary, Westwood Junior High and graduated in 1966 from Gainesville High School. Jones and her husband moved to High Springs in 2007. She has worked on the campaigns of four successful commissioners and was on the City Charter review in spring 2016 when she decided to run for City Commission. Jones ran unopposed in the November 2016 and 2019 elections.

Moderator Cox asked each candidate four questions about the issues they felt were important with much of the discussion focused on growth and infrastructure, which is a growing concern with many High Springs residents.

Grunder stressed his deep-rooted involvement in the community and raising his family in High Springs. Grunder wants High Springs to retain its small-town heritage, but he also recognizes the need for responsible growth and funding for additional infrastructure. He plans to work with City staff to create a long-term strategic plan and is aware of the need to keep the public informed on all decision that affect the community. Grunder maintains he will study the details on any decision and will be honest in educating the public on all sides of City decisions. Grunder said that as a family man and police officer, safety for the community is also of vital importance and he will continue advocating for first responders.

Andrews’ main concern involves maintaining and improving infrastructure in the community, especially road repairs and the increasing traffic. Andrews also stated a need for better internet for the entire community with reasonable rates and reliable service. Another concern is to provide more elder care and senior activities.

Jones expressed her desire to win another term to finish many of the issues that are still in progress within the Commission. She discussed her opposition to the Wall Dogs Murals and increasing growth in High Springs as well as her voting record on issues involving growth. While she voted against two large housing projects, Bailey Estates and Tara Meadows, she did vote in favor of Bridlewood and Fair Oaks subdivisions. She supported purchasing the Canoe Outpost and Crockett Springs as well as support for the proposed solar farm. Jones is also advocating for Alachua County Commission single member districts, an issue that will be decided by a voter referendum on Nov. 8.

Each candidate offered a two-minute closing statement and then mingled with audience members.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Thousands of new homes are coming to High Springs as the City Commission approves a number of development agreements and zoning change requests. An estimated 2,000 housing units in one development alone are closer to reality as the High Springs City Commission approved on Oct. 13 a development agreement and zoning change on 688 acres. The proposed Bridlewood Development is in the southern sector of the city, east of U.S. Highway 41 near the City's wastewater treatment plant. Residents had earlier complained that the subdivision was too large and would cause traffic congestion and increase crime in the city.

The Bridlewood Development Master Plan allows for 1,432 single-family lots, 250 multi-family units and 200 independent living, assisted living or memory care units. The maximum number of residential units is limited to 2,000 units. Acreage has also been set aside for up to 300,000 square feet of commercial space, a future police/fire station, a future school as well as 60 acres for parks, recreation and open space.

The Commission approvals result in rezoning the property from PD-1, Planned Development and R-1, Residential to PD-12 Planned Development with a minimum dwelling size of 1,000 square feet, which is the same as for the entire city.

Commissioner Katherine Weitz expressed concern about the reservation of 500 units in the City’s new Wastewater Treatment Plant. City Manager Ashley Stathatos pointed out that the original plat would have allowed the reservation of more than 1,400 units and under the new agreement, the length of time the developer could take advantage of those hookups is limited to five years.

The Development Agreement calls for City water and sewer, roadways with curb and gutter, sidewalks on both sides of the street, enhanced subdivision entrances, increased landscaping along collector streets and along retention/detention areas, native/vegetation requirements, and a 25-foot buffer along the perimeter of the subdivision. The agreement also calls for architectural design guidelines for residential development, a landscape package for single-family homes, regulations pertaining to house repetition and façade elevations, consideration of a future Community Development District, and consideration of future Impact Fee Credit Agreements.

“The stipulations in the Development Agreement that the developer has agreed to are above and beyond what is required by City Code,” said Stathatos.

The Commission approved the Development Agreement and the zoning change 4 – 1 with Commissioner Weitz casting the dissenting votes for both the Agreement and the zoning change.

Hidden Springs Villas

In other business, the Commission unanimously approved a development agreement and zoning change for Hidden Springs Villas, a proposed town home project on 5.8 +/- acres located at 22771 Railroad Avenue. The developer, PR Corporate Holdings, LLC, intends to develop the town home project consisting of 44 units in 11 buildings.

The minimum lot size area proposed is 2,000 square feet and the minimum home size proposed is 1,200 square feet. The development will be served by City water and sewer. Roads with curb and gutter are required. They will be private and maintained by the Home Owners Association (HOA) or Property Owners’ Association (POA).

The Development Agreement calls for five-foot wide sidewalks throughout the development, all landscape areas must retain existing native trees, shrubs, ground cover and grasses to the greatest extent possible. Lawn areas must have water-wise turf grasses and 40 percent native vegetation. A landscape strip of land not less than 10 feet in width is to be provided along Railroad Avenue. In retention/detention areas, one large tree is required to be planted each fifty linear feet of the perimeter. “The developer has agreed to a 10-foot buffer area along the perimeter of the development as well,” City Manager Ashley Stathatos said.

The approved rezoning changes the property from R3, Residential to PD Planned Development. All parking areas and roadways within the development will be constructed with curb and gutter and sidewalks are required in front of buildings and other areas for pedestrian connectivity and pedestrian traffic.

Saddle Ridge Estates

Commissioners unanimously approved the Saddle Ridge Estates Preliminary Plat. The plat proposes 30 single-family lots on 154 acres. The project is located in the southern part of the city off of Northwest 142nd Avenue. The property is zoned Rl, with a future land use of Rural Residential, with a maximum allowable density of one dwelling unit per five gross acres. The project will be serviced by well and septic.

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ALACHUA ‒ What has become a 22-year annual event each fall has returned to Alachua. The 1st United Methodist Church has been selling pumpkins of various sizes and colors during the month October at a field fronting U.S. Highway 441 on the west side of Alachua. But they don't just sell the orange gords from a random pile. The various pumpkins are arranged in artful displays, which also include activity areas that are directed primarily toward children's entertainment. They also have a display set up around a vintage tractor to provide a photo opportunity for visitors. And that includes the couple who brought their rescued dogs for a family photo.

The month-long event has become a tradition for many families to celebrate the Halloween season, returning year after year, often taking advantage of the photo area to document the growth of their families over the year..

The Covid Pandemic almost shut down the event in 2020, but the church felt they could safely do the outdoor event. They scaled back all activities except the pumpkin sale, which helps raise funding for their missionary work. This year, the crowds were back as well as additional activities.

Each year they sell around 20,000 pumpkins ranging from 50 cents to $26 a piece as well as homemade pumpkin bread for $8. Setting up the pumpkin patch and all the displays is a group effort for the church with everyone pitching in on unloading, making displays or manning the pumpkin patch. Twice a week, the youths in the church come out and “roll” each pumpkin so it does not go bad from sitting on the same side.

The pumpkins come from the Navajo tribes in New Mexico, where the climate is ideal for growing large pumpkins. A commercial business working with the tribes imports the pumpkins to various churches and stores. The churches keep 40 percent of the profits and the tribe gets 60 percent.

For the 1st United Methodist, the money is used to fund mission work to support a program of up to 40 members who go to various low-income areas in the Appalachians every year to help rebuild houses that need major repairs the owner can’t afford. They also use the money to fund a camp for the deaf, mainly children, in the Dominican Republic. The camp is designed to help these deaf children learn life skills to overcome their challenges they may face.

The church sponsors a number of activities at the site including storytelling, bean bag toss, and the photo area. On weekends they offer hay rides pulled by a tractor. During the week they sponsor school groups to come and enjoy the activities.

While the availability is based on the number of pumpkins they have, this year, they had a second delivery on Oct. 17 since they had already depleted their initial supply. The crowds have been steady so they suggest that people not wait until the last minute to buy a pumpkin to support the church's charity projects.

Hours for the Pumpkin Patch are 2 p.m. - 8 p.m. Monday -Friday, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturday and 12-8 p.m. on Sunday. The pumpkin patch is located at15710 N.W. U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

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ALACHUA ‒ An Alachua woman is going to prison after throwing hot grease on a co-worker while working at Popeyes Restaurant in Alachua.

Alachua city police officers arrested 46-year-old Betty Terry in June after she used a frying utensil to fling hot grease at a fellow employee with whom she was arguing.

During their verbal argument, Terry said she was going to throw hot grease on the victim, another female employee. The store manager said he had attempted to stop her, but he backed away in fear of having hot grease thrown on him.

Terry then grabbed a tool from the fryer that had hot grease on it and she threw the grease at the victim. Witnesses said that Terry threw grease at the victim approximately three times. The regional manager told police that the grease is set at 330 degrees and burned the victim.

The victim had burn marks on her left side and left arm and there was damage to the business that had to be cleaned up, along with losses from having to close the business early. Terry reportedly fled before police arrived, but she was located on June 14.

Terry was charged with aggravated battery and sentenced to three years in prison and four more years of supervised probation.

Terry was previously arrested on Sept. 5, 2021, after allegedly threatening her nephew with a knife. The charges were later dropped on the same day her lawyer filed a motion requesting a reduction in her bond. She has served five state prison terms and was most recently released in 2019 after serving a seven-year sentence on a conviction for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On a sunny fall day on Oct. 8, the High Springs Civic Center field was alive with activity thanks to the “The Ultimate North Central Florida Carnival.” A number of vendors and food trucks shared the field with bounce houses, pony rides, train rides, face painters, and various games, all geared toward children’s activities.

The event was sponsored by the Deeper Purpose Community Church to raise funds for their new church to be built at16817 N.W. on U.S. Highway 441. The church has sponsored a number events for children including an annual Easter Egg Hunt, summer camps and a pre-school and after-school care center. The church identifies itself as a “Spirit-Filled & Purpose-Driven, Multi-Racial, Multicultural Non-Denominational Christian Church Serving our Communities with a Purpose”

“In the past we have held an annual Fall Festival, but this year we wanted to expand it and offer a festive carnival for the community’s children and help raise funds for building a larger church, since we have outgrown our present location,” said church Pastor Adam Joy. The event garnered support and interest from both the community and vendors with the High Springs Lions Club donating their time and train rides for free.

“We wanted to make it a carnival with all the features they would have for the whole community to enjoy,” said Joy. “We had a large turn out and not just from our community. Some visitors said they drove two hours to come here for the event.”

To raise money for the new church building, food vendors were charged a $100 fee and product vendors were charged $50. Adults and children under 3 years of age enjoyed free admission, while there was an entree fee for children to have an all-access pass. “While we charged the vendors, most of that money actually went toward paying for things like the bounce houses, face painters, train operators and over all expenses which the church covered. What was left over will go into the church building fund,” said Joy. “

Continuous large crowds of families wandered among the tents and games throughout the warm fall afternoon. Lines formed for popular train rides, horse rides, mechanical bull rides and bounce houses. A variety of vendors included nonprofit organizations as well as UF Health offering free COVID testing and shots, and a blood mobile seeking donors.

“The event was a great success as far as providing the community with entertainment, as far as funds raise for the church, we don’t have those figures yet,” said Joy. “But I think it will definitely help in raising money for the new church.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Lucian Ryan Flaitz, 29, was arrested on Wednesday, Oct. 12, and charged with aggravated child abuse and possession of a controlled substance after allegedly preparing a burger with THC oil for a 15-year-old boy. The boy was later taken to the emergency room.

A High Springs Police Department officer reported that Flaitz is an employee at Bev’s Cafe in High Springs and was cleaning up after closing the restaurant on Oct. 7. He offered to make a hamburger for the boy. He then allegedly asked if the boy wanted Rick Simpson Oil on his burger. The boy allegedly responded that he did. Rick Simpson Oil is an oil with high THC potency, sold as a treatment for chronic pain and cancer.

Video surveillance reportedly showed Flaitz walking out to his car, then coming back into the restaurant and placing the oil on the victim’s burger. Flaitz then handed the boy the burger.

Shortly after eating the burger, the victim reportedly began to feel tired and went to bed. The next morning, the victim was reportedly found in bed face down by an officer, unable to walk and turning gray. He was taken to UF Health Shands for emergency treatment. According to the arrest report, tests revealed the boy had high levels of THC in his blood. He was released from the emergency room later that evening.

Post Miranda, Flaitz reportedly admitted putting the oil on the victim’s burger.

Flaitz has been charged with aggravated child abuse and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. Bail information is not currently available.

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