21
Wed, Oct
369 New Articles

NEWBERRY ‒ On Sept. 23, the City of Newberry Planning and Zoning Board heard a request for a Special Permit for a Temporary Use (STUP) to allow a one-time outdoor concert. Subsequently, they unanimously recommended approval.

The STUP, which is allowed by the City’s Land Development Regulations, was heard again in a quasi-judicial public hearing on Sept. 28, by the City Commission and, once again, received unanimous approval.

The presentation was made by Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas. However, Phil Benito, the concert promoter, was on hand to answer questions.

Billed as The Sister Hazel Drive-In Concert Series, the event is scheduled for Oct. 23, on property approximately 216 acres in size, which is owned by Pat Post. However, the concert and parking will take place on only nine acres of that property, which is located near the Alachua County/Gilchrist County line at 28957 W Newberry Rd., Newberry.

Benito said he anticipates parking 500 cars on the property with no more than six people in each vehicle. Each ticket is for four people in one vehicle. Security will check pre-paid tickets for the fifth or sixth additional person. Anyone under 18 years of age with a parent or guardian can attend. Parking of cars is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. with the concert beginning at 7:30 and ending by 10:30 p.m., which should pose little problem with noise.

Social distancing will be observed and each vehicle will have three spaces; one to park on, one to sit on with their own chairs, and a third one for distance between people. Benito said two local food trucks will provide food and drinks, but alcohol will not be sold at the event. In addition, no fires or overnight camping will be allowed. However, coolers will be allowed.

Anyone leaving their area to go to the restroom or to the food trucks will be required to wear a mask or some type of face covering. Restrooms will be monitored. VIP tickets ($169 plus fees/taxes) and will be lined in the first few rows of parking, while general admission tickets ($149 plus fees/taxes) will be behind this area and will be parked on a first come, first served basis with parking attendants directing where vehicles can be parked. Large trucks and oversized cars will be put off to the sides/back rows so they do not block views for attendees. No RVs or party bus parking is allowed.

Tickets, a map, directions to the location and all the pertinent information regarding this event can be found at https://www.eventliveus.com/event/sister-hazel-drive-in-series-.

Thomas said that the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office will provide security and will be on hand in various locations throughout the venue.

With no public comments or questions and all Commissioners’ questions answered, the application was easily approved.

#     #     #

Email cwalker@

alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous for the economy with multiple business restrictions and shutdowns including a six-week quarantine. It has especially been tough on small locally-owned businesses with little reserve funding. In pre-pandemic times these businesses operated on a thin profit margin and would anticipate when their slow seasonal times were and plan to make up for it with higher volume seasonal sales. Many small businesses have closed their doors permanently, while others continue to struggle to survive.

Despite hard times and an uncertain future, some entrepreneurs have opened new businesses or revived existing businesses. Julie's Pins & Needles and Ms. Jeanne's Hair & Co. are two entirely different business with the same goal—persevering to successfully come through the pandemic.

Julie's Pins & Needles opened for business in May 2014 on Main Street in Alachua. Owner Julie Tucker had wanted to open a quilting store in High Springs, but at the time there were no good locations. Tucker spent her career as an animal nurse caring for everything from dogs and horses to dolphins, and she had also been a quilter for years and sewing for as long as she can remember.

Quilters are a tightknit hobby society, corresponding with others throughout the country and internationally. When Tucker retired, she opened her quilting parlor to create a space for quilters to find supplies and also exchange ideas with quilters locally and visitors from throughout the world. In addition, she also taught classes for beginners and intermediate level sewers and made or repaired quilts for clients.

In December 2019 Tucker found a place closer to home and moved the shop to High Springs, opening in February after it was renovated. She didn't plan on opening a new business during a pandemic. “We were open for two weeks, with people just recognizing our business location and our regulars finding us when the state-wide shutdown occurred. In store business and visiting quilters from other areas disappeared in an instant,” Tucker said.

“We had to reinvent our way of working and survived the shutdown by making masks for individuals and hospitals and online ‘no contact’ sales, placing the orders outside for customers to pick up,” said Tucker. “We got by, but are just beginning to see business return. It’s almost like opening a new business all over again. But overall, the quilting business took a hard hit and a lot of stores have closed down including Suwannee River Quilt in Trenton,” she said.

Quilters prefer a lot of fabric choices and often visit shops when traveling, which accounted for much of Tucker’s business. Because quilters like to have a variety of fabrics to work from, they maintain a surplus selection referred to as a “stash.”

All of these factors affected her business. “Due to the pandemic, we aren't seeing any travelers, and many of our regulars are elderly and more cautious about going out in the current conditions,” said Tucker. “Many quilters are just going through their “stash” and not buying fabric or supplies.” Tucker explained that the store closing in Trenton compounded the problem since they had to liquidate a huge fabric stockpile when they closed at discount prices.

“However, we are beginning to see more business as locals use up their stashes and we are expanding our services,” said Tucker. “We haven't started classes yet but will as soon as allowed by the state.”

In addition to fabric and supplies sales, Julie's Pins and Needles offers other services. The shop is equipped with a long arm sewing machine, which is used to sew together a quilt top, quilt batting and quilt backing into a finished quilt. The longarm sewing machine frame typically ranges from 10 feet to 14 feet in length. With this machine Tucker and her staff can make quilts for clients or repair existing ones in a much shorter and less costly time.

Tucker specializes in repairing heirloom quilts and hers is the only store in a multi-state area that does work on these family heirlooms, which are typically more than 75 years old.

Tucker also works on Memory quilts. These are quilts made from cloth or items that have a special memory for the customer, often comprised of clothing from a deceased loved one. “It’s interesting to do the Memory quilts. You often get to know the personality of the person they are in memory of, based on the items,” said Tucker. “

Julies Pins and Needles is now fully open for in-store business as well as website sales and is located at 18646 Main Street, Suite 10, High Springs. They can also be contacted by phone at 904-214-6633 or email at julspinsandneedles@gmail.com

Ms. Jeanne's Hair & Co.is located next door to Julie’s Pins and Needles and is a new business that opened as the restrictions eased. Located in a small standalone building facing U.S. Highway 27, Ms. Jeanne's Hair & Co. specializes in men and boys’ haircuts.

Jeanne Hodges is a licensed cosmologist and a barber of 24 years, always working for someone else. She was a barbershop manager in Brooksville when she met her husband, a sergeant in the National Guard who worked with a black hawk helicopter unit in Brooksville.

Todd Hodges was originally from High Springs and convinced Jeanne to move with him back to his hometown when he was transferred to Cecil Field in Jacksonville.

While Jeanne Hodges had always wanted to open her own shop, the opportunity never seemed right. “After we moved up here, we were having ice cream at the shop across the street during the shutdown and noticed this vacant renovated building across the street,” she said.

That building had been known for years as the Adventure Outpost, but it had closed the year before and the landlords totally renovate it.

“I had always dreamed of opening my own shop, but didn't plan on making such a decision during the pandemic, but we decided to take a chance,” said Jeanne Hodges. “When God provides an opportunity, you don't want to waste it, so we went for it.”

As it turns out, the pandemic gave them the time to turn the building into a two-chair barbershop that was ready to open as soon as the state allowed. “The regulations for opening didn't really affect our industry as far as health and sanitation, since the industry is already heavily regulated on sanitation and disinfecting between customers,” said Jeanne Hodges. “The main restrictions for us dealt with masks and social distancing.”

Other restrictions included having only one customer in the building at a time and to have 15 minutes between each customer, meaning they would work by appointment only, with no walk-ins. “This is still in place but may change as restrictions are lifted,” Hodges said.

She also said that business has picked up and she is getting repeat customers. “I feel it’s going well and it was a good decision. I finally have my own business.”

The Hodges intend to make High Springs their permanent home, and when Todd Hodges retires from a 20-year Army career, he has another career planned—he wants to become a barber.

Ms. Jeanne's Hair & Co. is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and open until 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. On Saturday she is open 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The shop is located in downtown High Springs next to the Women's Club at 23652 U.S. Highway 27. Appointments can be made by calling 386-454-0220.

#     #     #

Email rcarson@

alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced on Sept. 25 that Florida will move into Phase 3 of reopening, a move that will roll back many of the restrictions put in place over the last six months of the coronavirus pandemic. That means all statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants will be removed, DeSantis said, and the changes will go into effect immediately.

“I think that this will be very, very important to the industry,” DeSantis said. “The order that I’m signing today will guarantee restaurants can operate and will not allow closures. They can operate at a minimum of 50 percent, regardless of local rule.”

While the governor said bars and restaurants can resume normal capacity, local governments can still put some restrictions in place as long as they allow at least 50 percent capacity.

Phase 3 also suspends all outstanding fines and penalties against people who violated city and county mask mandates and prohibits counties from collecting on any penalties going forward. "We need to get away from penalizing people for not social distancing," DeSantis said.

DeSantis has taken the social distancing issue even further. As Florida’s public universities work to protect students from COVID-19, DeSantis says he wants to protect students from their universities.

He said the state is exploring ways “to provide some type of bill of rights for students” who face discipline over social distancing rules intended to stem the spread of the virus. “I understand universities are trying to do the right thing, but I personally think it’s incredibly draconian that a student would get potentially expelled for going to a party, that’s what college kids do, and they’re at low risk,” DeSantis said.

Several large Florida public universities have seen a surge in cases since the school year started. Florida State University president John Thrasher sent a letter to students threatening to suspend those who continued to socialize after being asked to self-isolate or quarantine. During the first week of the semester, 11 people were arrested at a house party held by a banned fraternity. Florida State University has reported nearly 1,360 cases of the virus since that time.

Police officers in Tallahassee, home of Florida State University's 437-acre campus, responded to more than a dozen calls in reference to large crowds last weekend. One gathering at an off-campus apartment complex involved more than 1,000 people congregating outside, police said. At the University of Florida, students who don’t wear masks can be banned from classrooms, and repeated offenses can lead to expulsion. The university has reported 1,078 cases of COVID-19 since reopening.

While statewide figures have been declining after the July/August surge, Florida is still ranked third in overall cases with 704,568 cases, 43,855 hospitalizations and 14,313 deaths as of Sept.29. Daily positive cases for the same date were 3,259 for a positivity rate of 4.9 percent, which has remained steady with little decline.

Reopening fully with no restrictions could be a recipe for a fall resurgence even higher than the summer, now that schools are in session and no restrictions on gatherings, social distancing and masks. The demographics on who is catching the virus is also changing. The median statewide age has dropped to 40, but towns with large universities are seeing it reflect the age where social interaction and entertainment is most prominent.

In Alachua County there have been 8,230 cases with 406 hospitalizations and 56 deaths. With a county median age of 27, most cases are among the college age crowd accounting for twice the number of any other age group. While this age group is generally healthier and therefor does not develop as severe cases, the people they interact with are susceptible to infection as well, which is how the summer surge happened after Memorial Day.

While the vast majority of Alachua County cases are based around the college age population in Gainesville, outlying municipalities have widely varying rates. By zip code, the largest number outside of Gainesville is 32615 with 384 cases, but that covers a large area including parts of High Springs, Alachua, Newberry, Worthington Springs and La Crosse. The zip code that covers a single municipality is 32669 which covers Newberry with 338 cases. All other outlying zip codes have a rate under 150.

One area that has been fairly successful at containing the spread has been the public schools K -12. The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) set up rules and website information for parents and staff to help protect the students and minimize the threat prior to opening. Of the 37 schools in the district of 29,845 students, there have only been 46 students and 26 staff who tested positive in 11 schools. Most of those schools have had only one or two cases with the exceptions of Bishop Middle School and Buchholz High School each with five. The only school with a higher rate is Newberry High School which has reported 16 cases.

Under Governor DeSantis, in Phase 3 all restrictions on businesses are lifted to improve the economy and there is no mandate for fines or social distancing. While the concept is to help struggling businesses, open the economy and try to return to normal life prior to the pandemic, risks still exist. Like the summer surge, the results will be determined by the virus timeline of how fast and wide it spreads. First symptoms usually start about two weeks after infection, during which time they can spread. The illness can last for several weeks and varies in severity. If severe, hospitalization occurs two to four weeks later. The mortality rate goes up three to six weeks after hospitalization. The timeline is controlled by the virus, but it is affected by efforts to contain it. Time will tell whether Phase 3 was successful.

#     #     #

Email rcarson@

alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Once the pandemic arrived the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe no longer could help children in school. Many other projects and fundraisers also had to be cancelled. But that didn’t stop the club from pursuing its primary focus: young children.

It has been proven that young children learn better when they can see their teacher’s mouth as he/she speaks. The ability to see them speak helps the children with making the correct letter and word sounds and to understand what is said to them. With teachers (and others) required to wear a mask, this was a serious problem for these younger children.

Since the club had to cancel its primary fundraiser (a Murder Mystery dinner) due to the pandemic, they were short of funds for what they wanted to do.

The club was awarded a mini grant from the Florida Kiwanis Foundation to be able to purchase the masks. The Kiwanis club immediately determined the number of teachers and aides who taught Pre-K, K, 1st and 2nd graders in Irby Elementary and High Springs Community School.

They ordered clear masks for each of the educators. Those masks were delivered to the schools on Wednesday, Sept. 23. Both Irby Elementary Principal Tayna Floyd and High Springs Community School Principal Lynn McNeill were excited to receive them. Each of them has visited the club’s meeting to tell just how important such masks are and about the enthusiasm of the teachers who will be using them.

Kiwanis clubs around the world know that “Kids need Kiwanis.” By providing clear masks to these educators, one such need of the children has been met.

#     #     #

Email editor@

alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua City Commission at the Sept. 28 meeting approved the City’s budget of $45,346,264 for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The Commission authorized the final millage, final budgets and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2020 and ending Sept. 30, 2021. The millage rate, which is renewed for each budget year, determines the City budget as funded through General City Purpose Ad Valorem Taxes. The General Fund rolled-back rate is 5.1416 mills with the final millage rate set at 5.3900 mills. The final millage rate is more than the rolled-back rate by 4.83 percent.

Some streets in the city of Alachua may be resurfaced if the city is successful in receiving funds through a Community Development Block Grant. On Aug. 10, 2020, a Citizen Advisory Task Force (CATF) meeting was held to discuss Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding opportunities. A public hearing was subsequently held by the City Commission directing City staff to pursue applying for CDBG funding in the Neighborhood Revitalization category. At the Sept. 28 meeting a second and final public meeting was held before approving the application.

Grant funds must be used to prevent or eliminate slum or blight conditions and benefit low to moderate income residents. The $700,000 grant is funded through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the City must provide matching funds of $50,000.

The funding would be used to mill and repave approximately 9,000 linear feet of existing streets. Those streets include Northwest 167th Place, Northwest 142nd Terrace, Northwest 166th Place, Northwest 125th Street, Northwest 148th Avenue, Northwest 147th Lane, Northwest 122nd Lane, Northwest 121st Terrace, Northwest 121st Terrace, Northwest 148th Place, Northwest 147th Place, and Northwest 146th Terrace. The project will include any necessary risers for manhole adjustment and will provide for replaced driveway aprons, as necessary. The final project locations will be determined by project costs, income survey data, and eligibility of the area. At least 51 percent of the residents who benefit from the revitalization project have to have low to moderate income status.

The Commission approved the preliminary plat of the proposed Baywood Centre Lot 3 to provide better road access to future businesses and improve traffic flow. The proposed Baywood Centre subdivision is located north of U.S. Highway 441, south of Northwest 157th Lane, and west of the Campus USA Credit Union, Alachua Branch. The proposed road would come north off Highway 441and up to Northwest 157th Lane to provide direct access to Highway 441 for the Baywood Centre subdivision. It provides a 52-foot private ingress/egress and public utilities easement over the western portion of Lot 3. This easement would also serve Lots 2, 3 and 4 with additional access.

The Commission also approved ratification of FY 2020-21Alachua Police Department (APD) Collective Bargaining Agreement between the City and the APD. The contract includes merit increases for those who qualify in all APD Bargaining Unit ranks and classifications.

The Commission also accepted Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funding of $16,488. APD will use the funds to purchase of law enforcement equipment.

#     #     #

Email rcarson@

alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

NEWBERRY ‒ The cities of Newberry and Archer voted to file suit in circuit court against Alachua County during Monday’s City Commission meetings. A proposed charter amendment on the Nov. 3 general election ballot, if approved, would significantly change how growth is managed countywide.

The amendment has been opposed via resolution by the cities of Melrose, Archer, High Springs and Newberry and, in addition, the City of Alachua already filed suit on Monday, Sept. 21, in opposition to the ballot measure.

One reason for the dispute is that the proposed title, “County Charter Amendment Establishing a County Growth Management Area” sounds innocuous to voters, but if approved, the amendment would limit each city’s ability to determine zoning and land use in their own community – effectively challenging a municipality’s right to Home Rule.

Florida Statutes Chapter 166 gives powers of Municipal Home Rule to municipalities by the Florida Constitution. The contention of the various cities challenging the County’s proposed Charter Amendment is that approval of this amendment would mean municipal governments would no longer be able to have a say in how property annexed into their cities could be zoned or used by the property owners.

In addition, if voters approve the language in the proposed County Charter, only the voters, at a subsequent general election, can vote to remove it.

Currently, each municipality has established their own procedure for allowing annexations and changing the zoning and land use to comport with their municipal regulations. A map of what the County is calling the Growth Management Area shows that a very large portion of Alachua County is within that area. As it stands now, any property not annexed into a city is already governed by Alachua County. If this amendment is approved, the County will not only govern those lands, but also lands within the various municipalities, thus undermining Home Rule.

City Attorney Scott Walker commented that the map is not really well defined as to how additional property will be encompassed or deleted from the map. “It actually says there will be additional ordinances to govern that process. So, what does that mean?” asked Walker.

Walker also said that the potential for confusion based on the language and summary will mean that some voters won’t really understand what their voting on. “Basically, this masquerades as a growth management measure when at its heart, it is taking home rule power from the cities.”

On Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe’s Facebook post following Monday night’s meeting he commented, “Tonight, the City of Archer and the City of Newberry both moved to file suit against the BOCC for the egregious ballot initiative that would rob every municipality of its Home Rule inside our County.

“This is a sad moment for me. Although I believe we should pursue our legal rights, and I agree with the action the Commission is taking, it is always disappointing when we can’t work with our County government to find a resolution. Every city has asked the BOCC not to go down this road. They have ignored us all.

“Disappointing.”

The election to consider approval of this and other County amendments is Nov. 3.

#     #     #

Email cwalker@

alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

ALACHUA ‒ The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) was called to the scene of a two-truck crash at 11:06 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 29. The incident occurred at the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and County Road 235A in front of Santa Fe High School.

A dump truck, driven by a 73-year-old Apopka man was traveling east on U.S. Highway 441 in the left lane. A tractor-trailer, driven by a 58-year-old Nicholasville, Kentucky man, was traveling north in the left turn lane of CR 235A in preparation to turn onto U.S. Hwy 441.

The FHP report indicates that for unknown reason(s) the dump truck driver failed to stop for the red traffic signal and continued through the intersection. The front of his truck struck the front of the tractor-trailer. The sound of impact was heard as far as classrooms at Santa Fe High School.

After the initial collision, the dump truck overturned onto its left side. The tractor-trailer came to a final rest facing a southeast direction.

The Apopka dump truck driver was pronounced deceased on the scene by Alachua County Fire Rescue. The Kentucky tractor-trailer driver was transported to Shands in Gainesville with serious injuries.

It is unknown whether either driver was using a seat belt at the time of the crash.

Traffic was detoured around the crash site for hours as southbound lanes were blocked while authorities worked the scene.

#     #     #

Email cwalker@

alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

More Articles ...