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NEWBERRY – They City of Newberry may be offering property tax incentives for properties within the City’s historic district. At the Nov. 8 Newberry City Commission meeting, Assistant City Manager Dallas Lee sought direction from the Commission about a possible Historic Property Tax Incentive Program. The issue had previously been introduced during budget discussions.

Newberry is currently working to amend the historic district, but Lee presented a map of the current district for discussion purposes and provided an overview of a historic property tax incentive program and gave examples of how the program might work.

One option would be for the City to allow exemptions on the increase in value of approved improvements on a qualified historic property and could authorize up to 100 percent of the improved value of the tax increase for up to 10 years.

“Properties must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, be a contributing building in a National Register District or be designated under a local ordinance,” Lee said.

All of the properties within the current historic district would qualify. Renovation/rehabilitation work must be in accordance to federal guidelines and must be reviewed by the local preservation office or Division of Historic Resources. Property owners who are granted an exemption must enter into a covenant with the Florida Department of State, agreeing to maintain the architectural and historical integrity of the building.

The exemption would only apply to the amount of money spent on qualifying improvements resulting in an increase in assessed value.

Lee provided an example saying, “$25,000 in approved improvements times the approximate city millage rate of 0.006 equals $150 per year. If the City allowed an exemption for a period of up to 10 years, this would amount to a tax savings of $1,500 over that 10-year period.”

Lee added that Alachua County currently offers an exemption on the county’s taxes, which applies within the city.

The incentives are designed to encourage people to improve their properties in the downtown historic district. However, Lee said the program isn’t designed for small improvements like replacing the windows in a home and obtaining a $5 a year reduction in a property owner’s taxes.

Not all commissioners are on board with the idea as Commissioner Tim Marden said he wouldn’t be interested unless a threshold for a minimum amount of work was set that would make it worth the trouble of having staff implement the program.

The Commission didn’t discuss the length of time the tax credit would be allowed, although there was a brief mention that the Commission could pass an ordinance allowing a 50 percent exemption as opposed to a 100 percent, which is allowed by statute.

No formal action was taken on the matter, but Lee will develop a dollar threshold and present to the Commission at a future date.

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NEWBERRY – Two eighth grade girls recently completed a special project at Newberry Elementary School and at the same time earned a Silver Award from Girl Scouts of America. According to Troop Leader Lori Hilman, the Silver Award is one of three higher level awards in Girl Scouts.

Becca Noble, 14, of Howard Bishop Middle School and Brooklyn Hilman, 13, of Lincoln Middle School are both members of Girl Scout Troop 2177, High Springs. Spurring the girls into action was when they saw a Sensory Path online and thought creating one for elementary school-age children would be a perfect project for them.

A Sensory Path is a series of guided movements for kids to follow by markings on the ground or walls. As students follow the path and complete the movements, they work off excess energy and develop their gross motor skills. The various movements on a path are often designed to engage different parts of the body and brain, from frog hops to spins and wall pushes.

These paths can be especially effective for students who experience frustration, anger or other sensory overloads during a learning activity. “Sending them out to the hall to work off some of those emotions can help them re-focus when they return to their desk,” said the troop leader. “It’s an opportunity for kids to take a brain break and work out the wiggles.”

The pair decided to create their Sensory Path using comic book heroes as their theme to help engage the children in the various activities. The girls chose this particular project because, “We really like helping people,” said Brooklyn. “This seemed like a fun way to do that. Some kids have a difficult time focusing and we thought this would be a great way to help with that issue,” she said.

“All the kids that experience the Sensory Path are able to learn better because of this sustainable resource,” said Becca.

It took an entire year for the girls to plan the project, raise the funds to buy the materials, get approval and physically create the project. The pandemic also slowed things down a bit but, said Brooklyn, “It took a lot of planning to get all the elements just right.” The layout itself took approximately 10 – 15 hours to accomplish.

Some of the elements of their Sensory Path are handprints on the wall so kids can place their hands on the prints and do pushups, footprints on the floor so kids can walk like a super hero and a tall building painted on the wall so kids can jump up to save someone on top of the building.

“We also added a really cool tracing thing on the wall to help kids develop their fine motor skills,” said Becca. “At the end there is a section where the children got to fly like a super hero, which is really empowering and shows them they can do anything,” Becca said.

“It took the girls more than 70 hours to do the project,” said Troop Leader Hilman. “It came out great and the kids love it at the school.”

Explaining the various levels of Girl Scout awards, Hilman said, “Bronze Awards are for fourth and fifth graders and their project has to do with doing something in their community one time. It doesn’t need to be a sustainable project. Silver Awards are for girls in sixth - eighth grades and has to do with a more sustainable community level project. “The next level award is a Gold Award, which is for seniors. This is an award that has to be earned by one girl. It has to be sustainable and help more than just their community,” said Hilman.

Each project has to be approved by the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, which serves all of the surrounding communities. The girls had to run their project by the Council, which evaluated the project to see if it suited the criteria before they began. Becca and Brooklyn completed their project this past spring.

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NEWBERRY – Residents of a Newberry neighborhood have complained that a City-owned stormwater system isn’t doing its job, leading to water encroaching near homes, yard erosion and more.

Newberry’s Utilities and Public Works Director Jamie Jones used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the initial issues, reasons for, remediation of and costs to rectify two areas of stormwater runoff issues within the Country Way subdivision.

The Country Way residential development is located south of Southwest 15th Avenue and west of U.S. 27/41. It was constructed in phases over a 30-year period.

A portion of the stormwater-management system was constructed in rear yard easements, outside of public rights of way. Jones said, “These ‘back lot’ stormwater swales interconnected with stormwater piping and collection inlets both on the streets and behind the lots, which eventually convey stormwater to basins throughout the development.”

Residents of the subdivision complained that the stormwater system did not adequately handle large rainfall events. They said stormwater was encroaching near homes, causing yard erosion and sinkhole activity potentially related to the conveyance of stormwater.

The City retained CHW Engineers to evaluate the drainage facilities in the main areas of concern.

A brief summary of the engineering findings revealed that generally the stormwater piping system was installed in substantial conformance with the permitted drawings, although while the structures were present, the elevations may be off slightly from the design. The engineers reported that this should not affect the surface water flows. The study could not confirm that all the swales and mini retention basins were constructed in accordance with the permitted plans as they may have been constructed and then altered over the years.

Engineers found that many properties in the areas of concern now have sheds, gardens, decks, planters, hot tubs, concrete slabs, etc. in the 15-foot public utility easement along the rear lot lines, thus diverting the water flow. According to Jones, many homeowners didn’t realize there was a utility easement for stormwater drainage on their properties and built right over them.

The City has remediated the areas of concern, which Jones referred to as Phases 1 and 2. Engineering/surveying costs of both areas amount to $30,000. Construction costs for Phase 1 were $34,556. In an effort to save money, the City remediated Phase 2 with City staff. Phase 2 construction costs were $11,622. “The total project costs totaled up to $76,178,” Jones said, adding that everything had been completed.

Because the regulations at the time the project was approved and constructed were different than they are now and because the builder constructed the project in conformance with the permitted drawings, the City had no recourse to require the builder to remediate the stormwater runoff issues. The City of Newberry states that the issues are now resolved and the City is no longer receiving complaints from property owners in the subdivision.

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NEWBERRY ‒ For the fourth year in a row, Newberry has gone western. On the evenings of Nov. 19 and 20, the rodeo came to the city’s Country Way Town Square. Over 2,400 spectators came over the two-day event, most decked out in jeans, boots and cowboy hats, to watch rodeo cowboys and cowgirls compete in competitions for cash prizes and bragging rights.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboy (PRCA) sanctioned event featured competitions in Team Roping, Tie Down Roping, Steer Wrestling, Saddle Bronc Riding, Bareback Riding, Bull Riding and Barrel Racing. The top four riders in each competition won cash prizes.

The PRCA is a professional membership-based organization that sanctions approximately 600 rodeos annually with more than 30 million fans in the U.S. The PRCA’s membership includes more than 7,000 cowboys and performers. Unlike most other professional sports where contestants are paid salaries, cowboys generally pay to enter each rodeo. If they place high enough to win money, they can make a profit, but if they don’t, they’ve actually lost their entry fee and any travel expenses. Every entry is a gamble, pitting the chance for loss and physical injury against the chance for financial windfalls and athletic glory. Most Rodeo cowboys compete in multiple events per year.

The Newberry Rodeo event was not just a rodeo competition as other activities were offered including young children competing in a Mutton Bustin' contest, featuring young children competing to ride and hold on to a sheep for as long as possible. Most of the children fell off quickly, but several managed to hold on as the sheep trotted around the ring. The winner of the Mutton Bustin' was Kalani Hardy. The Country Way Town Square Rodeo also gave away two bicycles during the event. The winners were Ashlynn Berry and Eli Fleming.

Before any of the competitions took place, the PRCA honored the 13 soldiers killed in the Afghanistan withdrawal as 13 flag-draped horses with empty saddles were led through the arena as each name was called.

The event is organized by the Newberry Lions Club to raise funds for the charity projects the club sponsors such as diabetes research and expanding access to care and prevention. The club provides funding and awareness of programs to help fight pediatric cancer, access to vision screenings, recycle eyeglasses, build clinics and support the blind and visually impaired through technology and vocational training programs.

Since 2018, Tripp Norfleet has sponsored the rodeo, covering all costs in cooperation with the Lions Club organizing and staffing the event. In its first year, Norfleet put up $30,000 to cover the events costs, charging admission and supplying vendors and food trucks. That year the event saw a profit of about $1,800 donated to the Lions Club and Norfleet donated an additional $2,500.

“We had a good event this year and every year it grows” said Christianna Norfleet, of Norfleet's Country Way Town Square. “We had over 100 sponsors who provided funding for the event and had 2,400 spectators fill all the bleachers, plus vendors selling food and western themed items. We try to make this a fun event for the whole family and community.”

The cost for an evening’s entertainment and rodeo competitions was $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 5–12 and most spectators considered it a small price for the western themed event.

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ALACHUA ‒ Nov. 14 was the perfect day for a festival. After several cloudy, damp and cold days, Sunday brought clear blue skies with mild temperatures in the 60s. Main Street in Alachua was closed down at both ends as over 200 vendors set up along the street promoting their products, services or expertise. The Alachua Main Street Harvest Festival has been one of the city’s signature events since 2003, bringing thousands of visitors to Main Street in Alachua to enjoy vendors, a variety of food, music and activities for adults and children. And this year, they came out for the weather as well.

The Alachua Business League (ABL) has been hosting two festivals a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, with the exception of 2020 due to the pandemic. The festivals promote local businesses directly to the public and show off Alachua's historic downtown district.

The ABL’s mission is to promote business-to-business support, organize events and activities to promote local business, maintain a business network among local businesses, and welcome all new businesses into the area.

The lively festival also brings the community together with entertainment, activities, and vendors selling a diverse selection of items including clothes, jewelry, art, plants and services. The festival is especially family-friendly, with lots for kids to do, and true to its name as a fall harvest festival, there was a wide range of available food options.

This year for many locals it was a chance to get out and mingle with others after months of limited contact, bringing back a sense of familiarity on a sunny fall day. The ABL has expanded the festival over the years, diversifying the type of businesses and vendors participating, bringing in more charitable organizations and general entertainment for both adults and kids.

Fun, food and entertainment are important features of the festival, but the event has a serious purpose as well. The Alachua Business League is a nonprofit organization that also sponsors two $2,500 scholarships for local high school students from Santa Fe High School. The scholarships are awarded to students who show a strong entrepreneur ability and are interested in starting or promoting a business locally after college. The scholarships are awarded for tuition and books to help the selected students with college expenses

The ABL membership consists of over 75 businesses in the Alachua area. The cost of joining is kept low to help encourage membership. Each business pays $75 a year, which provides a number of services including social media exposure, networking and workshops, as well as a booth at both festivals. For nonmembers, booth fees at the festival are also kept low to encourage participation. Vendor booth fees are $75 for general vendors, $125 for ride areas and $150 for food vendors. All fees go toward festival expenses to help keep the event free to the public as well as fund the two scholarships.

By all accounts, this year’s festival was a great success that surely left both ABL members and the public looking forward to next year’s celebration.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission on Nov. 8 approved on first reading development agreements for Phases 1B and 3 of the Avalon Woods Mixed-Used Development.

Phase 1B of the development is located to the east of State Road 45 and on the south side of Northwest 24th Avenue, which is identified as Alachua County Parcel Number 01874-200-000. The property consists of approximately 9.44 acres with a proposed population density of approximately 10 persons per acre, with a building density of four per acre. The maximum building height is 35 feet.

The Commission approved with a vote of 4-0. Commissioner Mark Clark was not in attendance at this meeting.

The second Development Agreement hit a few stumbling blocks on its way to approval. The 43.38 acres Phase 3 of the Avalon Woods Mixed-Use Development is located on the east side of State Road 45 and to the south of Northwest 16th Avenue and is identified as a portion of Parcel Number 01897-000-000.

The proposed population density of the residential portion of Phase 3 is approximately 10 persons per acre with a building density of four per acre. The maximum building height is also 35 feet.

Commissioners expressed concern about differences between the original preliminary master plan, referred to as the bubble plan, and the current map showing the location of Phase 3.

An item not evident in the Phase 3 map was connectivity between the commercial portion of the development and the residential properties.

David McDaniel of M3 said there have been no changes to the commercial portion of the development and talked about locations for ingress and egress. He also said that some of the people living in the residential portion of the development may wish to work in the commercial areas and that there would be connectivity.

Questions about whether the developer would make improvements to the roadway were addressed by Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas who said that the traffic study did not call for changes to the roadway for this project.

The first Commission vote on this issue resulted in a tie with Commissioners Tim Marden and Rick Coleman voting aye and Commissioners Monty Farnsworth and Tony Mazon voting nay.

Mayor Jordan Marlowe explained that the first development agreement, which had been approved earlier in the meeting, described what the developers would do as part of their agreement, while the second developers agreement dealt with what the City agreed to do. “If I had realized this would not be approved,” said Marlowe, “I would have suggested the developers wait until we had a full five commissioners here so this would not end in a tie vote.”

City Attorney Scott Walker explained that one of the dissenting voters could make a motion to reconsider the issue or one of the dissenting voters could make a motion to table the item until all five commissioners were present.

Mazon made a motion to reconsider, which was seconded by Marden. City Manager Mike New explained that the construction plans meet the Land Development Regulations and he believed that if the City Commission didn’t approve this agreement, a judge would likely allow the developers to build anyway.

The agreement calls for the developers to provide ingress/egress to 16th Avenue during construction and also stub out the utilities, which would benefit the City. The City would pay for an upsizing of the electrical circuit to make it more dependable, which would help bring more reliability and faster hook ups in case of an outage. City Manager Mike New said the developer would be reimbursing the City for the cost of doing so at an agreed upon time. The developers also agreed to build certain aspects of other improvements to the adjacent park.

Ultimately, the Development Agreement for Phase 3 was unanimously approved following a motion by Coleman, which was seconded by Marden.

Both Development Agreements will be heard again on second reading at the Nov. 22 meeting.

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FORT MYERS, FL ‒ The Santa Fe High School Lady Raider Volleyball team has won its first state championship in the history of the school. The Raiders claimed the title Wednesday afternoon defeating Calvary Christian Academy, Fort Lauderdale, (25-16, 25-17, 25-14) in three straight sets at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida. Santa Fe was ranked Number 4 in the nation heading into the championship game and didn’t drop a single set during the state playoff run.

The team was led by Co-Captains Jalyn Stout and Rylie Tam. Rounding out the championship team are Miya Thomas, Anisa Dorlouis, Sarah Falck, Faith Marquis, Joselynn Sanjurjo, Cameron Bendel, Riley Steen, Olivia Beavers, Gracie Hardacre, Alyssa Moneypenny, and Kimberly Daniels. The Lady Raiders coaching staff is led by Coach Eric Marshall with Assistant Coaches Nicole Stout and Kayla Hess.

The third time was a charm for Santa Fe as this was the third time in the last four years that the Raiders reached the state championship match.

“This is so huge not only the girls, but for the school and the entire community,” said Santa Fe High School Athletic Director Michele Faulk. “This team works so hard and they are great girls. I’m so proud as the athletic director, but being the former volleyball coach and watching Eric Marshall, a raider alumnus, get these girls here and to win it all, is just so special.”

Reflecting on the win, Marshall said, “First one in Santa Fe history—that’s hard to say out loud. That’s hard to say with all the great teams Santa Fe has had over the years.” Marshall should know, as a high school student at Santa Fe High School, he was a ball boy for the Santa Fe Lady Raider Volleyball team.

“We have incredible support from the administration, Dr. Tim Wright and Athletic Director Michele Faulk,” added Marshall.

Over 50 “Rowdy Raiders” witnessed the historic win as they rode the spirit bus, coordinated by Kelly Hodsdon, to the championship game.

Plans are underway for a celebration of the championship win with details to be announced later.

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