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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ For 13 years in late December the High Springs Police and Fire Departments have been making wishes come true for local children. This year, on Dec. 22, a convoy of police cars, city vehicles and a firetruck with lights flashing and sirens wailing, traveled through High Springs neighborhoods delivering “Operation Holiday Cheer” to excited children.

Each year, beginning in the fall, the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) and Fire Department (HSFD) ask for donations of new toys, clothes and books from the community, as well as gift cards and cash, to give to families in need. Working in conjunction with the City CRA, Parks and Recreation Department and Public Works, they set up collection points within local businesses and city sites to gather donations from individuals in the community, civic groups and businesses, both local and national chains.

Through collaboration between the HSPD and the High Springs Community School, families are identified to take part in the holiday tradition. With parental approval, a home visit is planned so that officers can discover what the children want and to find out if there are other children in the house to add to the list so that no youngster is left out. This year’s Operation Holiday Cheer brought smiles to 19 families with a combined total of 45 kids.

The past two years throughout the pandemic have been harder than usual for many families, especially economically, making fulfilling Christmas wishes tough. Due to these hard financial times, this year the HSPD made sure parents and children received gift cards donated by both local and corporate merchants so they could buy any needed items, including food.

“We raised over $10,000 in funds to buy gifts that matched the children's needs and wishes,” said HSPD Chief Antione Sheppard. “Individuals, businesses and civic groups contributed over $8,000 in purchased gifts, gift cards, money and merchandise vouchers.”

“Each family also received a food gift card of $400-$500 from contributing stores,” said Sheppard. “The pandemic didn't slow down charity, it seems to have made people even more aware of the hardships others faced and the need to contribute.”

After all the donations were collected, the police set Dec. 22 for delivery of Operation Holiday Cheer. Since they couldn't go to every house, they offered parents the choice to come to the station to pick up the gift bags to put under their own tree. With six locations remaining for delivery, police officers, firefighters and city employees gathered at the station at 9:30 a.m. to lead the caravan. Led by a High Springs Public Works pickup with a trailer full of presents, the convoy began its mission.

The first stop was a rural house where three children were anxiously awaiting their arrival and the children were stunned by the number of gifts they were receiving, matched to the list the parents had provided, and much more. Two police officers wore inflatable costumes as Santa and a Christmas tree. The other officers decorated their uniforms or wore Christmas hats to brighten the festive holiday.

At the second location a mother waited with her pre-teen son and two-year-old daughter. Although the little girl was confused and apprehensive at first, her uneasiness quickly turned to smiles of joy as the bags were opened. At the next stop, the costumed Santa was greeted with hugs from the youngest two of the four children. As the officers left, the mother hugged one of the police staff, thanking them for this special day.

The next stop had three teens and a baby. One of their wishes had been bikes, and they looked on in awe as two bikes were pulled off the trailer. As the caravan was about to move on to its final destination, the three teens asked to take a picture with Santa.

At the final stop, two neighboring families received gifts. One family included two young teen boys and a much younger baby brother. When the officers gave them their bags of presents, the youngest brother was confused and not sure what to do. One of his older brothers sat with him and helped the little one open all his presents before looking in his own bag.

On the other side of the street were a brother and a sister who seemed surprised at what was happening. As the officers were preparing to leave with the now empty trailer, the brother and sister asked if they could take a photo with all the officers to remember this special day. The officers were happy to oblige.

For the High Springs first responders, the event is a tradition—an opportunity to help others in need and spread the joy of Christmas and community. For the youngsters who were visited, it is a Christmas they will never forget.

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ALACHUA ‒ For the past 16 years at Christmas, cars and people in lawn chairs have lined both sides of the road in front of Bill Holmes’ house on 170th Street in Alachua. They all come to see and hear the two-and-a-half-hour Christmas light show complete with 45 songs transmitted by radio at 97.7 FM frequency. The show features 55,000 incandescent lights as well as another 6,000 LED lights — all synced to holiday music and a nativity scene with lights spreading over two acres. For local families and visitors as far away as Jacksonville, it has become an annual tradition.

For Holmes, the past 16 years has been a labor of love to celebrate the holidays and share it with the community. As wonderful as it has been, the tradition will end this year.

“Much as I have enjoyed doing this and watching it expand every year, there are several factors that are making it time to end it,” said Holmes. Two years ago, Holmes’ wife passed and the 75-year-old is finding it more difficult to hang lights in trees and along rooftops.

Although Holmes has had help the last few years, he has continued to do the majority of the work himself. It takes three months to put the holiday extravaganza together as well as troubleshoot during the month it is up.

This coming year, Holmes will be selling his Alachua home and relocating to the Dade City, Florida, area to be near family. “At this stage in my life, as I start to recognize and accept my limitations, this is a good move for me,” Holmes said.

The amazing light show started small back in 2005 as a work in progress. Watching television, Holmes saw a guest on “Good Morning America” who had built a smaller version that integrated a computer-based system of synced lights and sound to create a show. “I was interested in the concept and began looking into the technical aspects,” Holmes said. It didn’t hurt that his former career was with Phillips Corporation and much of it in the IT division.

Holmes began to build his Christmas show system using a specially designed computer system to run the controller, which sends “scripts” to sections of lights, coordinating music and lights.

“When I started the show in December of 2005, I had 30,000 lights I had picked up cheap at an after Christmas sale, five controllers and five songs,” Holmes said. “The show lasted 15 minutes. I started with extension cords coming out of various house windows so we didn't overload the electrical circuits, but the lights in the house would dim as the Christmas lights changed.”

Each year the show continued to expand and refine. “I had Clay Electric double the amount of power here from 200 amps to 400 amps with the additional amps being divided into 24-amp circuits around the property to distribute out the draw,” said Holmes. Despite that, there is still 10,000 feet of extension cord to connect it all. “The system now is run by a custom-built computer that sends programs to 60 controllers that have 10,000 channels controlling various lights,” said Holmes. “They also control the music program for what has become a two-and-a-half-hour show,” Holmes said.

But while Holmes is giving up the show, it will not end. Over the past few years, he has had help from the Lopez family, who have helped maintain the property and put up lights. They have offered to take over and will be given all the supplies after this year’s show.

The Lopez family, consisting of two parents and four grown children, will also work with their church to find a new home for the show. “This year they did over 85 percent of the work including programming to get hands-on experience on the whole operation,” Holmes said. “I feel confident giving this over to them that they will carry on the tradition.”

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to experience Holmes’ Christmas show, take heart. Shows will be running nightly until Jan.2 from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m. at 7904 N.W. 170th Street, Alachua.

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LACROSSE ‒ A small home was destroyed by fire in LaCrosse early Sunday, Dec. 19. Alachua County and Gainesville Fire Rescue as well as the LaCrosse Fire Department responded to the home located at 12720 N.W. County Road 231 to find the house 50 percent engulfed in flames.

The single-story wood framed structure was unoccupied and being used for storage. Nobody was injured in the blaze.

Crews were able to quickly put out the fire, but the building was a total loss. The cause of the fire was determined to be accidental.

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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua City Commission met on Dec. 13 at its final commission meeting of the year, reviewing the City’s financial standing. Finance and Administrative Services Director Robert Bonetti reported that the City’s budget is in good shape with more sources of funding than was used during the year.

At the end of the budget period, which began Oct. 1, 2020 and ended Sept. 30, 2021, funds for the city totaled $46,311,081 with funding sources totaling 103 percent and funds usage totaling 88 percent. Funds available to the City include an investment portfolio of $1,615,080 and cash holdings of 17,720,995.

In other business, developers of Savannah Station Phase 2B requested final plat approval for the subdivision of a 15.64-acre property into 64 lots, with associated right-of-way and common areas. The proposed development is located north of Savannah Station Phase I and Pilot Forest subdivisions, west of the Shady Lane Acres unrecorded survey and Interstate 75, and east of Northwest County Road 235. Construction Plans for Savannah Station Phases 2B and 2C were approved administratively on Oct. 28. Each approval was based on completion of the previous plats infrastructure and a surety deposit totaling 10 percent of the infrastructure cost, which must be covered by the developer.

To meet the City’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs), the approved Construction Plans for Savannah Station Phase 2B and 2C proposes to provide a total of 184 replacement trees onsite. The City's LDRs require new trees to be installed to replace healthy regulated trees that are removed for the subdivision on a one-for-one basis. If the tree replacement cannot be located on the proposed development, the LDRs allow for off-site mitigation. Off-site mitigation trees may be planted in City-owned properties and parks, City rights-of-way, conservation areas owned by the City, and within medians of State and County roads. Heritage and champion trees must be replaced on an inch-for-inch basis.

The number of trees proposed for removal would require 214 additional replacement trees to be planted to compensate for trees that are removed. The remaining off-site trees will cost $33,932, an amount that must be paid to the City prior to issuing a building permit for new construction associated with the final plat.

The preliminary plat for Savannah Station Phase II was approved by the City Commission on Feb. 12, 2019 and the Final Plat for Savannah Station Phase 2A, Unit 2 was approved March 8, 2021. The infrastructure for Savannah Station Phase 2A, Unit 1 was completed in accordance with the Subdividers Agreement and the City’s Land Development Regulations on Oct. 15, 2020.

In other business, the City has awarded contracts totaling $54,000 after the formal bidding process for labor and materials for mowing and landscaping services for the Municipal Complex/Swick House, Skinner Park/Alachua Lions Club & TK Basin. For companies responded with bids. The Municipal Complex/Swick House and TK Basin portions of RFB 2022-01 was awarded to SAS Lawncare, Inc. for $3,500 monthly. The Skinner Park/Lions Club portion of RFB 2022-01 was awarded to Royal Grounds Solutions, LLC for $1,000 monthly.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ High Springs is annexing over 735 acres into the city, property that may be used for a solar farm. Commissioners voted on three ordinances annexing a total of approximately 735.17 acres into High Springs at the Dec. 9 City Commission meeting.

Ordinance 2021-09 was approved on second reading in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Katherine Weitz casting the dissenting vote. This action was brought by property owners Bernard C. and Vivian L. Arndt. Their annexation request consisted of approximately 80 acres and approximately 237.81 acres for a total of approximately 317.81 acres.

Ordinance 2021-10 was also approved on second reading in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Katherine Weitz casting the dissenting vote. This action was brought by property owner Larry Eugene Jones. His annexation request consisted of approximately 160 acres.

Ordinance 2021-11 was also approved on second reading in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Katherine Weitz casting the dissenting vote. This action was brought by property owner Patrick McKenzie Post for three pieces of property. His annexation request consisted of approximately 42.36 acres, approximately 160 acres, and approximately 55 acres for a total of approximately 257.36 acres.

All three ordinances were presented by Jerry Dedenbach, CHW Professional Consultants, acting on behalf of Duke Energy Renewables. Although the ordinances did not specify the intended use of the properties, the staff report indicated the eventual use would be for a solar array for Duke Energy.

Two items of concern were brought up during the presentation and voting of these three ordinances. First was that Alachua County had sent a letter to the City with a potential question about a portion of the annexation which they believed caused a finger area serpentine projection.

Dedenbach addressed this concern by showing a map highlighting the one-mile contiguous boundary adjacent to the city limits of High Springs. “It is a reasonably compact area, doesn’t create an enclave nor a pocket and doesn’t create a finger area serpentine projection as Alachua County is stating in their letter,” said Dedenbach. The property in question is accessible via Northwest 142nd Avenue. “It will remain accessible via Northwest 142nd Avenue,” Dedenbach said. In addition, he emphasized that the acreage being added to the City “is only five percent of the City in size and is adjacent to the City limits.”

Dedenbach said he had spoken with the city attorney and North Central Florida Regional Planning Council and the Planning Council forwarded the annexation requests to the City with a recommendation to approve. Dedenbach doesn’t think the County will oppose it and he also said he had contacted the County, but had not heard back by the time of the meeting.

Weitz voiced a concern, saying, “I am not opposed to extra tax revenue for the City by any means. I’m just trying to look forward to where the train is going. What we’re proposing is that the people in High Springs Estates will have a wastewater treatment plant on their southern border and a solar facility on their western border. My concern would be for them in terms of property values,” she said.

Duke Energy’s Dorothy Perno said that they had held a previous workshop and invited everyone for 1.5 miles from the property perimeter to attend. She said they were planning another workshop in January and this time have noticed everyone within 1,320 feet from the property’s perimeter. She said that the public workshops are open to anyone who wants to attend.

In other city business, the Commission considered a request for authorization to begin contract negotiations with Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures, the only company that responded to a request for proposals, for the operation of the Santa Fe Canoe Outpost.

City Manager Ashley Stathatos reminded the Commission that the City was “piggybacking” on a contract with Alachua County to have Anderson operate the facility on an interim basis.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose said he was abstaining from voting on this issue due to a conflict of interest, but the city attorney had said he could participate in the discussion. Ambrose said the proposal submitted by Anderson was “a little lopsided for what we’re [the City] providing.” He suggested that during negotiations something could be worked out to make the agreement “a little more equitable for the investment the citizens are making in maintaining that property.”

Anderson’s proposal for the operation of the Santa Fe Canoe Outpost consists of a contract for a 10-year term beginning Feb. 1, 2022 and ending Jan. 31, 2032. They also specified Commission/Fees at $1,500 base fee per year with an additional three percent on the difference of gross revenue exceeding $ 200,000 a year. They propose to operate a minimum of five days a week year-round with closures on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve. The services they will provide include paddling, water craft rentals, merchandise sales, shuttle services and events.

Stathatos said there are some “economies of scale there where I think we can do some awesome things together,” because they operate other facilities along the Santa Fe River. She too said she believed their proposal was a bit lopsided, but they could work through that.

Ambrose said his company was providing portable restrooms to another Anderson location and thought that was enough of a reason to abstain.

Although Commissioners did not vote on this issue, they indicated by consensus their approval for staff to enter into negotiations and bring a contract back to the Commission for approval at a later date.

Regarding the waterline project, Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said, “They are still doing the lateral connections.” He also stated that paving was scheduled for Dec. 15. A Rails to Trails meeting was scheduled for Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. and said the new telephone system was going in throughout the city on Dec. 16.

Mayor Williams said another Farm Share was scheduled for Jan. 29. However, the location is still being determined.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for Jan. 13, 2022, at 6:30 p.m.

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NEWBERRY ‒ A Newberry man is in jail after allegedly discharging a weapon. Michael Troy Roland, 34, was arrested on Dec. 26 after allegedly firing a bullet into the ground outside a Newberry home.

According to the arrest report, Roland had been arguing all day with a female individual over the phone. When she returned home at about 5:15 p.m., she and Roland continued arguing in the front yard of the home. Roland then allegedly produced a pistol and fired a single round into the ground near the victim.

The victim also said that after shooting into the ground, Roland pointed the gun at his own head and threatened suicide but then threw the gun down and left. The victim was not injured but was visibly shaken and afraid that Roland might return. The pistol was recovered by law enforcement.

During a search of Roland’s vehicle, deputies found 24.1 grams of marijuana. Following the reading of his rights by law enforcement, Roland denied firing a weapon in the presence of the victim. He has been charged with domestic aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of over 20 grams of marijuana. The suspect is currently being held in the Alachua County Jail on $30,000 bond.

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ALACHUA ‒ The Gainesville based professional ballet company Dance Alive National Ballet (DANB) has been performing the Nutcracker for 55 years with over 200 touring performances and 30 school programs in the Continental United States. Over the past four years it has also become a traditional show in Alachua as well.

The Nutcracker is an important part of the company’s history, and even in 2020 when many entertainment performances were canceled, the Nutcracker performance went on in the new Legacy Park Outdoor Amphitheater where social distancing could be observed.

This year, there was a change of venues due to concerns about possible rain and the performance was moved indoors to the Legacy Park Multipurpose center. Neither the threat of bad weather nor the change of venue deterred an enthusiastic audience. All interior bleachers were filled with additional viewers either bringing lawn chairs or standing on either side of the bleachers watching more than 30 dancers perform in the almost two-hour show.

Dance Alive is a dance academy and professional dance troupe that has always been the heart and soul of the Pofahl family. In 1966 Mary Ellen Pofahl, a professional dancer and teacher, founded the DANB company and it has continued through the talents and efforts of her daughters, Judy Skinner and Kim Tuttle serves as Artistic Director and Skinner is Choreographer-In-Residence.

Pofahl Studios is the official school of DANB, and the faculty have been selected for their professional knowledge of a particular dance discipline as well as the ability to teach a particular age or ability level. The instructors also take part in performances by the DANB. Many of the school's students have gone on to professional dance careers throughout the world.

Both Skinner and Tuttle actively teach at the school as well as run the DANB. The Nutcracker performance is one of their best known and attended shows. During December, the company will perform the Nutcracker at a variety of venues, combining music and dance with one of the best-known Christmas stories, while keeping alive a half century tradition.

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