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GAINESVILLE ‒ Jason Thomas Hamm, 29, was arrested on Friday, June 10, after formal charges were filed against him for driving under the influence with serious bodily injury.

According to the warrant affidavit, an Alachua County Sheriff’s Deputy responded to a crash on Sept. 18, 2021, at 2:30 a.m. on State Road 20, west of County Road 234.

The deputy reported that Hamm’s vehicle had been traveling the wrong way in the eastbound lanes and struck another vehicle head-on, causing disabling damage to both vehicles. Hamm reportedly stated spontaneously to both deputies and paramedics that he had been drinking at a midtown bar.

The woman in the other car sustained extensive injuries. A Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) investigator reported that she was intubated when he arrived at the hospital. He wrote that hospital staff told him she had multiple broken bones and faced a long road to recovery.

The FHP investigator first made contact with Hamm at the hospital about eight hours after the accident, at which point he reportedly showed no signs of impairment. The investigator filed a sworn complaint on March 14, 2022, charging Hamm with DUI, DUI with property damage and DUI with serious bodily injury. Formal charges were filed on May 23, and an arrest warrant was issued. Hamm was arrested on June 10 and is being held on $75,000 bond.

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ALACHUA ‒ Two vacancies were filled on the City’s Planning & Zoning Board (P&Z) at the City of Alachua May 23 commission meeting. The P&Z serves as the City’s local planning agency and consists of five voting members and a non-voting School Board representative. The P&Z reviews new developments, planning, zoning and land use changes, and provide their recommendations to the City Commission for consideration.

The vacancies were filled by William Menadier, who was elected to fill a three-year term ending on June 12, 2025, and Dave Ferro, who will fill the remainder of newly elected Commissioner Ed Potts’ term ending Oct. 09, 2023.

In other city business, the Commission made board and committee appointments for the coming year. Mayor Coerper will represent the Commission at the Alachua County League of Cities, Alachua Chamber of Commerce, Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board, and the Florida League of Cities. Vice Mayor Jennifer Blalock will serve on the Florida Municipal Power Association and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Commissioner Shirley Green Brown will serve on the Affordable Housing Board, serve as the elected official for School Facility Planning and the Seniors Resources Advisory Board. Commissioner Dayna Miller will be on Youth Advisory Council and North Central Florida Regional Planning Council. Commissioner Ed Potts will represent the Commission at the Suwanee River Management District.

Students from Alachua’s O2B Kids were honored at the May 23 Alachua City Commission meeting. Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper and Brenda Reed presented certificates to the students who had their artwork featured on display in the foyer of City Hall.

In other business, the Commission approved a request on second and final reading to change both the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) Designation and Rezoning for a 121.1-acre property located southwest of the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and Northwest 43rd Street. Currently, the property includes two vacant commercial structures and one residential structure with several associated farm buildings. Part of the property contains conservation wetlands.

The FLUM changes the existing Commercial designation on 48.4 acres and Agriculture on 72.7 acres to Commercial on 14.4 acres, High Density Residential on 17.8 acres, Moderate Density Residential on 53.2 acres, and keeps a Conservation Area on 35.7 acres. The property zoning changes from Agricultural (“A”) and Commercial Intensive (“CI”) to Planned Development – Residential (“PD-R”) and Planned Development – Commercial (“PD-COMM”).

The Moderate Density Residential and High Density Residential FLUM Designations would allow for up to 479 residential houses in the area and the Commercial FLUM would allow a maximum of 627,264 square feet of commercial development adjoining U.S. Highway 441. The development would be constructed in one or more phases.

Speaking in opposition to the changes, Karen Arrington pointed to increased traffic issues related to the proposed development, saying, “There would be 9,918 additional external weekday trips. This volume would double traffic on 43rd Street, already a dangerous road.”

The Commission approved the requested FLUM and zoning changes, adding that concerns expressed by Arrington would be addressed prior to development approval.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - With high temperatures on the rise this weekend, Alachua County Fire Rescue would like to remind everyone to remain safe from the heat. Follow these tips to stay cool this summer. 

Prevent illnesses that arise from the heat by taking breaks from the sun. The sun is at its strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so limit your exposure to the sun during these times. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when in the sun. Wear loose, light-colored clothing when outdoors. Consider wearing a hat with a brim and sunglasses with a high UV rating. The sun can cause burns or more harmful effects such as skin cancer without proper protection.

Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking a minimum of 64 ounces of water a day. Water consumption should be doubled if spending lots of time outdoors. Another way to stay healthy and hydrated is by eating fruits and vegetables. For example, tomatoes have lycopene that can protect your skin from sunburns, and munching on watermelons can help you stay hydrated.

Residents should make sure their pets are safe and comfortable, too. Apply pet-friendly sunscreen for cats and dogs. If walking your dog in the middle of the day, consider purchasing protective footwear for your dog’s paws. Additionally, never leave anyone or pets unattended in the car. Check the back seat for passengers each time you step out of your vehicle. Even if you make a quick stop for a few minutes, be sure that no one stays in the car.

Click here to get more information about heat safety for pets.

Follow these tips to stay cool, but also be aware of the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat strokes in an emergency. Find more tips here on how to stay cool and safe this summer.

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ALACHUA ‒ Several groups came together on June 3 to host “Wear Orange” events in communities including Gainesville and Alachua to elevate gun violence prevention efforts in a nationwide campaign. The “Wear Orange” event originated in 2015 to honor Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed on her 18th birthday in Chicago.

At 3:30 p.m., Alachua residents gathered at Westside Church of God in Christ to march to Maude Lewis Park, with an escort from the Zion Soldierz RC motorcycle club, to honor four local victims of gun violence, including one who was killed in the park. Organizers say they want lawmakers to hear their message that voters want changes to gun laws to help curb the violence and needless deaths from gun violence.

After the Awareness Walk to the park, the event featured speakers, food, giveaways, live entertainment, and a number of vendors from supportive organizations offering local services and education. Most of the organizations present were focused on mental health, education and job services. Organizations represented were CDS Family and Behavioral Health Services, Mending Pathways Counseling, Meridian Health and Santa Fe College with an emphasis on offering alternatives to violence and crime.

More than 110 Americans are shot and killed every day, as well as the hundreds more who are wounded. In 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the CDC. Most of the deaths are from murder and suicide, but in a uniquely American trend, mass shootings (three or more victims) have grown exponentially in the past two decades. Mass shootings often occur in easy targets like schools, churches, concerts and supermarkets. In this year alone, mass shootings have killed 256 people and injured 1,010 just through the end of May.

While the mass shootings dominate the news for the senseless slaughter of multiple innocent victims, they are only part of the toll. Gun murders have climbed sharply in recent years. The 19,384-gun murders that took place in 2020 were the most since at least 1968, exceeding the previous peak of 18,253 recorded by the CDC in 1993. The 2020 total represented a 34 percent increase from the year before, a 49 percent increase over five years and a 75 percent increase over 10 years. The number of gun suicides has also risen in recent years – climbing 10 percent over five years and 25 percent over 10 years, and is near its highest point on record. The 24,292-gun suicides that took place in 2020 were the most in any year except 2018, when there were 24,432.

The problem is complex and has a number of reasons and factors contributing to the rapid rise in the past decade. Some of the rise can be tied to COVID-19 and its effect on stress and mental health as 2020 and 2021 were two of the deadliest years on record for gun violence. Another factor is the number of firearms and the ease of attaining them. There are about 393 million firearms in the United States with a large uptick in gun purchases during the pandemic as Americans bought 18.9 million guns in 2021, the second highest annual total on record.

The current patchwork of state laws makes it easy for individuals to traffic firearms from states with weaker gun laws. Many guns used in criminal activity are imported from states with looser gun laws, background checks, mental health evaluations, waiting periods or age restriction on purchase of semi-automatic weapons.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On May 24, Troop Leader Kathy Bloodsworth and members of High Springs Boy Scout Troop 69 joined the High Springs Garden Club at their clubhouse, 19460 N.W. U.S. Highway 441, to make gifts to honor their fathers for Father’s Day. Bird houses were painted and decorated, and hand-made cards were written with personalized messages to go along with each gift to surprise their fathers on their special day.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission has approved on first reading an ordinance relating to the City’s Overlay District, which has been a focus of their attention since the beginning of the year.

The Overlay District refers to the main corridors leading into Newberry, which are State Road 26/Newberry Road and U.S. Highway 27/41. The Overlay District will set forth design guidelines to promote attractive properties that are functional, but are also are aesthetically pleasing. Citizens participating in earlier workshops stressed that they want to keep the small-town charm of the community.

The Overlay District is designed to help maintain a balance between retaining the quaintness of the community while also welcoming business and residential development.

Elements of the ordinance deal with tasteful signage, attractive landscaping/screening along roadways, tasteful and effective signage, architectural character, land use and building form, and positioning of parking areas and building designs that minimize the visibility of loading docks and parking areas.

In approving the measure, commissioners were clear they didn’t want to prohibit creatively-designed businesses that might normally not be considered attractive, such as car washes, storage facilities and auto repair shops. They also were mindful that placement of certain types of businesses that might be disturbing to neighbors like dog kennels or loud machine shops should be limited in residential areas.

Ultimately, Commissioners approved the ordinance on first reading and asked that suggested changes be incorporated into the ordinance for review prior to second reading.

The Commission also approved on first reading Ordinance 2022-23/Application CPA 22-02 which will, when approved on second reading, change the Future Land Use Map from Agriculture to Planned Development on 5.75 +/- acres (Parcel No. 02544-003-006). This is an application by Christopher Potts, P.E., agent for Norfleet Properties, LLLP, Owners.

This property, which is vacant agricultural land, is located immediately north of the Newberry Town Center Planned Development - south of Southwest 15th Avenue, east of State Road 45.

Members of the Planning and Zoning Board considered this application at their May 2 meeting and voted unanimously to recommend approval to the City Commission.

A quasi-judicial public hearing was held on first reading of Ordinance 2022-24/LDR 22-04, on the same 5.75 +/- acres listed above. This property will be added to the acreage to the Country Way at Newberry Town Square Planned Development, amending the Preliminary Master Plan and the associated Development Order and Developer’s Agreement.

Although this ordinance was also approved by the City Commission on first reading, it is contingent upon approval of the change in the Future Land Use Map on second reading at an upcoming meeting.

In quasi-judicial public hearings, Commissioners approved four ordinances on first reading to voluntarily annex six parcels of land into the city.

Joshua P. and Tracie A. Blackford, owners of Parcel No. 01859-001-000 consisting of 1.25 acres +/- and Parcel No. 01806-001-000 consisting of 21.50 +/- acres petitioned to voluntary annex their property located on the west side of Northwest County Road 235 at the terminus of Northwest 46th Avenue, west of the Gatorback Cycle Park.

Richard Marion Fowler III, owner of Parcel No. 01928-005-000, consisting of 20.68 +/- acres, petitioned to voluntary annex his property located on the southwest corner of West Newberry Road/SR 26 and Southwest 226th Street.

Todd and Lori Martin, owners of Parcel No. 01834-008-000, consisting of 20 +/- acres, and Parcel No. 01834-012-000, consisting of 20 +/- acres, petitioned to voluntary annex their properties located on the east side of Northwest 298th Street (county line), approximately 1,200 feet north of Northwest 32nd Avenue.

Clifton A. and Shari D. Brown, owners of Parcel No. 01887-050-000, consisting of 4.35 +/- acres, petitioned to voluntary their property located on the east side of Northwest 32nd Avenue, approximately 2,500 feet east of Northwest 298th Street (county line).

In other business, the Commission authorized City Manager Mike New to submit a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) application to the state of Florida to apply for a matching neighborhood revitalization grant for paving streets in the downtown area. The City maintains a number of unpaved roads in its downtown district and CDBF funding for this type of project is typically for $700,000 in improvements.

The application process is competitive and funding matches are beneficial. Applications are awarded points in a number of areas. One area to receive points is by establishing a Citizen’s Advisory Task Force (CATF), as defined in State Statute. As part of this grant application process, Commissioners approved Resolution 2022-24 to create a CATF. The CATF will review projects and recommend a project for consideration to the City Commission.

The City received applications from a number or residents interested in serving on the CAFT. Board members appointed are Pastor Jess Carter, Pastor Lewis King, Linda Woodcock, Peggy Loy and Catherine Allen. All members will serve three-year terms to end Dec. 31, 2025.

In other business, the Commission authorized the city manager to sign a permitting and project management software proposal a cost of $ 69,833. Over the last several months staff has been evaluating new software programs for the Building, Planning and Code Enforcement departments and selected SmartGov for the city’s government permitting and project management. Of the cost, approximately $59,000 is installation, migration of data out of ADG, workflow customization for four departments, system integration and staff training, while $11,000 is for the first-year license agreement. After year one, the annual license renewal fee is approximately $15,000, with a total commitment period of three years. The initial setup cost will be spread approximately evenly between the current and next fiscal years.

Commissioners also authorized the city manager to execute a contract with Cumberland International Truck for $158,670 to purchase a new 2024 International HV Dump Truck. As part of the vote, they also authorized him to approve cost adjustments due to inflation for up to 10 percent from original purchase price.

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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua is celebrating the completion of a long-awaited project to protect the Mill Creek Sink system. The Mill Creek Sink Water Quality Improvement Project began several years ago and the finished natural stormwater management system includes a filtration system that collects and treats runoff from the nearby interstate and existing commercial business drainage structures.

On May 31, City of Alachua commissioners and staff along with representatives from SRWMD gathered with the public to celebrate completion of the project with a ribbon cutting ceremony and tours of the completed wetlands project. Offering comments were Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, Interim City Manager Mike DaRoza and Alachua Public Services Director Rodolfo Valladares. They were joined by Alachua City Commissioners Ed Potts, Dana Miller, Shirley Green Brown and SRWMD Governing Board Chair Virginia Johns to cut the ribbon and officially open the natural wetlands collection barrier system.

Located behind Sonny's Restaurant on U.S. Highway 44, the Mill Creek Sink system is an algae-covered placid sinkhole that is a virtual open window into the Floridan Aquifer, an 82,000-square-mile reservoir that holds billions of gallons of the state’s fresh drinking water. Mill Creek Sink, downhill from I-75, collects streams of rainfall runoff laden with nitrate-nitrogen pollutants, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and an array of suspended solids. In addition to runoff from I-75, which accommodates upwards of 65,000 vehicles through the area every day, runoff from nearby commercial business parking lots also drain, unimpeded, into the area leading directly to the sink.

Although the aquifer water lies hundreds of feet below the ground, it is not entirely protected from sources of pollution at the surface, which seep into the water supply through sinks like Mill Creek. Wetlands on the surface help filter the water that will end up in the aquifer and help protect springs and drinking water. Groundwater in the Floridan Aquifer is the source for more than 1,000 springs in North and Central Florida and provides water for over 90 percent of the people who live here.

The Mill Creek Sink Water Quality Improvement Project had its beginnings as City of Alachua officials, County officials, environmental engineers and the team at the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) began formulating a voluntary state-of-the-art avoidance, minimization and mitigation plan. The project’s goal was to create a collection barrier between these contaminants and Mill Creek Sink, providing nature time to do what it does best—slowly filter groundwater by percolating through loose, sandy soils and porous limestone bedrock.

The project provides a natural stormwater management system to create additional treatment for runoff flowing into the Mill Creek Sink system through three lined conveyance swales, two pre-treatment basins and a treatment wetland basin designed to collect and treat runoff from the nearby interstate and existing commercial business drainage structures. Also adding to the filtration system are the 1.2 acres of 15,000 planted native vegetation species to process nutrients as well as provide appropriate habitat for use by wildlife species.

Along the northern limits of the project, three basins provide additional stabilization, surface water containment and access for management activities and public educational and recreational viewing on several trails surrounding the project. The innovative water treatment system provides a natural and low-maintenance process to improve the health of the sink and the water supply

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