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NEWBERRY ‒ It’s that time of year again as Christmas is a time of celebration, with festivities, reunions, gift giving and decorations on houses and along streets. While Christmas honors the birth of Christ, the December holiday season encompasses other activities, traditions and beliefs with the common thread of goodwill, compassion and love toward others.

Besides the popular traditional Christmas tree with colorful ornaments and twinkling lights, many people and businesses decorate their homes and buildings with lights, with some expending much time, effort and expense each year. The City of Newberry has joined in the holiday lights decorating tradition with a citywide contest for businesses and residences.

Light has been significant in Christmas celebrations for centuries and candles were lit to “signify the light of Jesus.” The tradition of electrical lights on trees and houses was first introduced to the holiday world in 1882 by Edward Johnson, a friend and partner of light-bulb inventor Thomas Edison. Lit fires presented a hazard, and Johnson’s idea was to replace the candles with a string of colored electric lights, which he did with eight bulky, pear-shaped bulbs on a single wire. The idea didn't really catch on in America until the 1920s when General Electric’s pre-assembled lights became more accessible and cheaper.

Over the years as electric and lighting technology advanced, so did the idea of creating a festive atmosphere in communities with a variety of lights to create a magical wonderland. People often spend weeks decorating the exterior of their houses and yards for others to enjoy. Towns decorate their Main Street areas for the month and businesses decorate their shops in the holiday spirit.

Alachua, High Springs and Newberry all decorated their towns in their unique style and each held a tree lighting and Christmas parade with visits from Santa Claus. Last year in 2020, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe kicked off “Light Up Newberry,” a contest for best building decoration for both businesses and residences. With the Covid restrictions in place, Jordan knew the contest was a community activity for the season that still maintained the safety precautions of social distancing. This year, “Light Up Newberry” entries were viewed by voters and a committee with the top three winners in each of three categories announced Dec. 19.

In the Business Front category, third place went to Glanzer Realty, second place went to Newberry Ace Hardware and first place went to Bosshardt Realty Service. In the Business Window category: third place went to Sugar, Refined, second place went to Rebecca's Hair Studio, and first place went to Beauty & Pain Solutions Massage. Finally, in the Residential category: third place went to Jason and Haley Ryan, second place went to Logan Euler, and first place went to Shawn and Angie Walker.

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NEWBERRY ‒ It was a good day in Newberry as the UF/IFAS extension complex officially opened with a ribbon cutting on Nov. 30 —two days after an inaugural event was held. The Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce invited Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried to address the group about agriculture issues in Alachua County.

By 2050, experts estimate that the world's population will grow to 9.5 billion people. However, current agricultural production is inadequate to provide enough food to sustain that many people. Fried discussed improving production and technology to make agriculture more productive to meet future needs.

Fried praised the new extension site, located in Newberry, saying that it will help train future farmers and ranchers to meet the challenges of a growing population. She also discussed the need to be environmentally sustainable in farming methods as the population grows and development takes more land. Fried said that the new extension site will serve as a hub for individuals in Alachua County to receive training and specializations in the agriculture field, as well as practical knowledge for gardening, pesticide use, and irrigation.

Fried also held a press conference to promote a new initiative to reduce Styrofoam use in businesses across the state.” Using alternative packaging can actually be good for business and drive new innovation and opportunity,” Fried said. “As both the consumer protection agency and our food safety agency for the State of Florida, we want to seize the opportunity to help consumers and companies make this responsible proactive change.”

Polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, is a plastic material commonly used in food packaging. Lately, it has come under fire for possible links to health issues such as cancer, birth defects, and liver and kidney damage, according to a department press release. Fried has made this a top-priority in recent months.

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HAWTHORNE ‒ Kevin Harse Pitts, 55, was arrested on Friday, Dec. 10, at his home in Hawthorne. He is charged with seven counts of possession of a weapon or ammunition by a convicted felon and one count of firing a missile into a dwelling.

An Alachua County Sheriff responded to the 6600 block of S.E. 175th Terrace, Hawthorne, following a report of a shots fired incident. The victim said he heard the sound of four or five shots being fired and some rounds had hit his home. At least one round entered the victim’s home and struck a filing cabinet. The victim said he was inside his home at the time. The victim said the rounds sounded like they came from his neighbor’s [Pitts] yard.

According to the arrest report, when deputies arrived, the defendant met them outside. Deputies observed a gun barrel through a large hole in the defendant’s grill. Post Miranda, Pitts said he was a convicted felon and attempted to hide a .38 revolver inside the grill as law enforcement officers arrived. He denied firing the weapon. Pitts consented to a search of the grill. A large Army surplus-type of bag was inside. A barrel of a shotgun, a .38 revolver, multiple large hunting knives and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were inside. The ammunition included several different calibers, including .38 caliber.

Due to the multiple types of ammunition, deputies believed additional firearms may be inside. The defendant granted written consent to search his home. Two additional types of ammunition were found, but no additional firearms. Ammunition located included 12-gauge shotgun, 3030, .44 calibers, .22 calibers, 270 and .38 calibers.

Crime scene investigators recovered an intact bullet from the victim’s home. The bullet was the same color as the .38 caliber rounds inside the bag from the grill. Using trajectory rods it was determined that the rounds entered from the direction of Pitts’ home.

Further investigation revealed that Pitts is a convicted felon. Due to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, Pitts is being charged with seven counts of possession of a firearm or ammunition by a convicted felon and one count for the firearm and one count for each type of ammunition. In addition, he is also charged with one count of firing a deadly missile into a building.

He is currently in the Alachua County Jail. No bond has been set.

Pitts was found guilty on Nov. 2, 2021, in Putnam County on charges of possession of ammunition by a convicted felon and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to 20 days in jail and three years of drug offender probation.

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NEWBERRY ‒ During the City of Newberry Dec. 13 City Commission meeting, Commissioners approved two construction plans for Avalon Woods Mixed Use Development, four small-scale Comprehensive Plan Amendments and four changes to the Official Zoning Atlas.

Newberry Principal Planner Wendy Kinser-Maxwell introduced Resolution 2021-53/SD 21-02, an application by JBPro, agent for M3 Newberry, LLC, owner/developer of Avalon Woods Mixed Use Development for construction plan approval of Phase 1B of the development. The Phase 1B portion of the development is located east of U.S. Highway 27/SR 45 and south of Northwest 24th Avenue. Kinser-Maxwell said Application SD 21-02 was reviewed internally by the City’s Development Application Review Team (DART), and externally by eda Consultants, Inc. Several corrections and recommendations from the DART and eda reviews have all been satisfactorily addressed.

Upon approval of the Phase 1B construction plans, M3 Newberry, LLC, intends to complete the majority of the site infrastructure improvements prior to issuance of a surety device that would cover the remainder of the project. Once the surety has been approved by the City, the developer will seek approval of the final plat for phase 1B, which consists of 50 single-family residential lots.

Kinser-Maxwell also introduced Resolution 2021-54/SD 21-08, which is a second application by JBPro, on behalf of M3Newberry, LLC for construction plan approval of Phase 3 of Avalon Woods Mixed Use Development.

The Phase 3 portion of the development is located east of US 27/SR 45 and south and adjacent to the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex.

This application was also reviewed internally by the City’s DART team and externally by eda. Several corrections and recommendations from the DART and eda reviews were also satisfactorily addressed by the developer and resubmitted by JBPro. Corrections and revisions not satisfactorily addressed in the resubmittal are included as conditions in Attachment 1 of the resolution.

Upon approval of the Phase 3 construction plans, M3 Newberry, LLC, intends to complete the majority of the site infrastructure improvements prior to issuance of a surety device that would cover the remainder of the project. Once the surety has been approved by the City, the developer will seek approval of the final plat for phase 3, which consists of 133 single family residential lots.

Newberry City Planner Alayna Jackson introduced four ordinances for second reading, all of which were applications to amend the Future Land Use Plan Map of the Comprehensive Plan by changing the Future Land Use classification from Alachua County Rural/Agriculture to City of Newberry Agriculture on property previously voluntarily annexed into the City.

The first of the four applications was a public hearing to consider second reading of Ordinance 2021-59/CPA 21-22. The properties are identified as Alachua County Parcel Numbers 01834-004-000 and 01834-005-000, consisting of a total of approximately 40 acres, and are located on the east side of Northwest 298th Street and along Northwest 32nd Avenue. CPA 21-22 addresses the first step: changing the Future Land Use designation. This application was a request for a small-scale amendment (less than 50 acres) to the Comprehensive Plan.

The second item was a public hearing to consider second reading of Ordinance 2021-63/CPA 21-20. The property, Parcel Number 04273-001-000, consisting of approximately 40 acres, is located approximately .72 mile north of West Newberry Road and approximately .75 mile west of Northwest 170th Street. CPA 21-20 addresses the first step: changing the Future Land Use designation. This application was also a request for a small-scale amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

The third public hearing was held to consider second reading of Ordinance 2021-67/CPA 21-19. The property is Parcel Number 02696-010-007, consisting of approximately 5.06 acres located on the west side of Southwest 282nd Street, approximately one-half mile south of Southwest 95th Road. CPA 21-19 addresses the first step: changing the Future Land Use designation. This application was also a request for a small-scale amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

The fourth public hearing was held to consider second reading of Ordinance 2021-69/CPA 21-21. The properties are identified as Parcel Numbers 01925-009-000 and 01925-009-001, consisting of approximately 12.26 acres located on Southwest 226th Street and eight-tenths of a mile south of Newberry Road. CPA 21-21 addresses the first step: changing the Future Land Use designation. As with the previous three applications, this is also a small-scale amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

Following approval of the previous four Comprehensive Plan Amendments, the next step was to amend the City’s Official Zoning Atlas to change the zoning on the same four properties from Alachua County Rural/Agriculture (A) to City of Newberry Agricultural (A). This was accomplished in four separate quasi-judicial public hearings.

Jackson introduced each of the next four items beginning with second reading of Ordinance 2021-60/LDR 21-31. This public hearing addressed Parcel Numbers 01834-004-000 and 01834-005-000, which together consist of approximately 40 acres. These properties are located on the east side of Northwest 298th Street (county line) and along Northwest 32nd Avenue.

Jackson introduced the next item which was second reading of Ordinance 2021-64/LDR 21-29. This public hearing addressed Parcel Number 04273-001-000, which consists of approximately 40 acres. This property is located approximately .72 mile north of West Newberry Road and approximately .75 mile west of Northwest 170th Street.

The third item in this series was also introduced by Jackson and is second reading of Ordinance 2021-68/LDR 21-28. This public hearing addressed Parcel Number 02696-010-007, which consists of approximately 5.06 acres. This property is located on the west side of Southwest 282nd Street, approximately one-half mile south of Southwest 95th Road.

Jackson introduced the fourth and last item in this series, which was second reading of Ordinance 2021-70/LDR 21-30. This public hearing addressed Parcel Numbers 01925-009-000 and 01925-009-001, consisting of approximately 12.26 acres. These properties are located on Southwest 226th Street and eight-tenths of a mile south of Newberry Road.

This was the last scheduled meeting for the City Commission for 2021. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2022. Due to the length of the anticipated agenda, the meeting will begin at 6 p.m. instead of the usual 7 p.m. start time.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Two veteran educators have been chosen by their peers to represent Alachua County Public Schools in Florida’s Principal and Assistant Principal of the Year programs.

Dr. Beth LeClear, the current principal at Lake Forest Elementary School, was selected by her fellow principals as the district’s Principal of the Year. LeClear has been the principal at Lake Forest since the beginning of the 2021 school year. She has also served as principal at Terwilliger Elementary, Rawlings Elementary and Santa Fe High.

LeClear spent 12 years as an assistant principal at schools in Alachua County and another district in Florida. She began her career in education as a music teacher for students with disabilities, and also taught middle school math.

LeClear says being recognized by her fellow principals is very special.

“I’ve been in this county 26 years, and I’ve worked with some of them the entire time,” she said. “They’re all amazing and all focused on putting children first, so this is quite an honor.”

Kanapaha Middle School Assistant Principal for Curriculum Ginger Stanford has been chosen by her peers as ACPS’ Assistant Principal of the Year. Stanford has been an educator for nearly 30 years. She began her career as a science teacher. She has also worked as a teacher of gifted students, a district science coach and as the coordinator of a science partnership between the University of Florida and local middle schools. In addition to her tenure at Kanapaha, Stanford has also served as an assistant principal at Westwood Middle School and Shell Elementary School.

Stanford is also excited about the opportunity to represent her peers in the state program.

“There are so many wonderful administrators in this district and we rely so much on each other,” she said. “It’s an honor to be chosen to represent them and everything we all do to support teachers and students.”

In January, the 2022 finalists for both Principal and Assistant Principal of the Year honors will be identified by a state selection committee. The names of the statewide winners are scheduled to be announced in February or March.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The Heart of High Springs Inc., a local 501c3 nonprofit, has received a Challenge Pledge for its Gateway Signs project.  A local business that wishes to remain anonymous has offered up to $5,000 in matching funds for any donations that are received by Dec. 31, 2021.

High Springs, Florida has hosted visitors from all over the world. The city’s gateway signs welcome weary travelers, excited shoppers and explorers and returning residents alike.  This year, Heart of High Springs has committed to updating these signs at gateways to the community as a positive reminder of the pride and investment in the community. The signs are expected to cost about $60,000 for creating and placing at these strategic locations.

If you or your business or organization are interested in participating in this Gateway Signs Challenge, please contact Sharon Yeago at 352-256-8115 or email theheartofhighsprings@gmail.com.

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ALACHUA ‒ On Main Street in Alachua stands a magnificent Victorian Mansion known as the Williams-Leroy House. Registered in the National Historic Registry, it stands three stories tall, covering over 7,000 square feet with four bedrooms, five dining areas, six toilets and baths, a commercial kitchen, and a peaceful courtyard complete with a gazebo and a waterfall. Built in 1902, the house's history is entwined in the beginnings of Alachua and has seen a number of owners.

The original owner, Furman B. Williams, is credited with helping establish the town of Alachua with his brothers, Charles and Jack. In 1998 a wealthy business man from Philadelphia bought the house from the family. He was a member of the Hare Krishna religion and turned the house over to a local chapter to create both a vegetarian restaurant for the public and a meditation center for the local Krishna community. The Govinda's Vegetarian Restaurant opened in in 1999 and continued until 2007.

When it closed, Marjorie (Mimi) Hale and her daughters leased the place for the Ivy House Restaurant. The restaurant was a local favorite until it closed in 2012. In 2018, Mike Case and Kim Heniger bought the property with plans to open an event venue and restaurant. The house and kitchen needed major renovations and they put a significant amount of money into their dream, but ultimately, the COVID pandemic took its toll and their dream came to an end.

Today the Manor is coming back to life with a new owner, transforming the house to its former glory and creating a unique historic event venue and restaurant. Owner Salvie Andreola has come a long way. Orphaned at the age of six, Salvia and her siblings survived by receiving financial support for school and daily food from the local Baptist Church through a benevolent international sponsor. When she was old enough, she worked to support herself and siblings. Working first as a housemaid from a young age, Andreola continued her education learning new jobs and careers, first in the Philippines, then Singapore and eventually Hawaii.

In Maui, she began fresh as a bank teller and later transitioned into a billing encoder at a local hospital. After her husband passed away, Andreola assumed the family business. “It was a challenge being a single parent of a minor child. I was managing a high-volume revenue-clientele of a merchant credit card processing company,” Andreola said. “It was a very stressful time.” Given the high cost of living in paradise and raising a child by herself, Andreola moved to Gainesville, where she started a new ambitious venture as a real estate investor.

She currently owns and manages luxury properties both domestically and internationally. From homelessness to home building, and now, on to historic restoration, Andreola’s life story demonstrates her willingness to take risks, endure long hours of hard work, and triumph in life’s struggles.

Now, she is again heading in a new direction with her vision for the Manor on Main. “Now, I am booking for weddings, parties, corporate meetings, and cultural events currently operating as a venue rental,” said Andreola. Her long-term plan is to hand over the operational business management.

“The manor was once a well-known restaurant, which the people in the community profoundly enjoyed and greatly miss,” Andreola said. “My ultimate dream for the manor is to make this place a destination where people look forward to coming at the end of a hard-working day to listen to live music, sip a glass of wine, unwind, and enjoy the company of friends and family.”

The Manor on Main is located at 14603 Main Street and will have an official ribbon cutting on Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. That evening, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. there will be an open house with refreshments and live music to welcome the community to the revitalized mansion.

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