Last updateWed, 07 Dec 2016 9pm

Rezoning Raises Concerns

ALACHUA –  The Nov. 28 City of Alachua Commission meeting opened with a review of the financial health of the city. Finances and Administrative Services Director Robert Bonetti provided a detailed report on the city's budget and the expenditures during the fiscal year. Overall, the city came out ahead, with an anticipated surplus of funds at the years end.

There are six types of funds that make up the city budget. General Funds cover the cities operating expenses and salaries. This includes city government, police and fire, parks and recreation and public works. Special Revenue Funds are collected for special projects and can only be used for that particular project by law. Although they collected 106 percent of the funds needed, they only spent 78 percent, leaving a surplus. Debt Service Funds cover the debts owed by the city, and 100 percent of the debt projects were covered. Capitol Project Funds are used to maintain and fund long term programs with a lengthy investment portfolio. The other two types of funds in the city budget are Enterprise Funds which sell government services to the general public and Internal Service Funds which cover services billed internally between different government departments. Bonetti explained the income and expenditures for each of the six. In summary, he showed that the city’s annual budget amounted to $55,412,138.

Looking to the future, consulting firm CHW's Gerry Dedenbach gave a report on the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), which was requested by the city. The project seeks to analyze and identify transportation priorities and issues the city will likely face in the future. The study covers the next 20 years with the goal of relieving traffic issues on the city's roads due to increased traffic caused by a growing resident population and businesses. The report also took into account increased traffic from commercial traffic serving the growing population.  

A key issue is to ensure changes are integrated into the state roadway system and working with the Florida Department of Transportation on road improvement and repair. At present, there are approximately 10,000 people within Alachua's city boundaries and there is a 33 percent increase expected in the next 20 years. This will cause some of the main roadways to experience maximum capacity congestion and increase possible traffic accidents. Roadways that will experience 100 percent use and heavy congestion include Peggy Road, SR 235, U.S. Highway 441 and ramps on I-75. Repair on these roads will also increase. The report suggested that expansion of lanes and better traffic flow by use of signal and stop signs can help alleviate some of the issues. Much of the funding for these roads would come from county and state transportation budgets rather than City of Alachua funds.

Proposed improvements by the city would include downtown parking, sidewalk improvements, resurfacing city streets, neighborhood sidewalk construction and drainage ditch improvements. The cost to the city would be $1,982, 045. The project it still in the study stage and no funds have been allocated for these changes.

The next order of business involved a proposed subdivision in the 12000 block of Northwest 157th street, located west of I-75. Craig Brashier,ACIP, representing the interests of the developer and property owner, was requesting a change in the land use zoning designation for the area . The proposed changes would change the zoning of the area from Agricultural to Moderate Density Residential. Agricultural zoning density designates only one residence per five acres to help keep the land open for agricultural use. Moderate Density Residential would allow up to four residences per acre, thereby making it viable as a housing subdivision. However, a proposed amendment would limit the density to two residences per acre, limiting the housing project to 20 homes.

Four homeowners from the area spoke about their concerns about the project. Some of the issues raised were that they had bought their property with the intention of it staying under the Agricultural zoning to help limit housing to keep the area rural. They also expressed concerns about increased traffic and speeding on what is now a rural dirt road. The city has proposed paving it. Alachua Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari reported on the proposed road changes and their impacts. After hearing all parties concerned the commission voted to approve the housing subdivision to allow developers to build up to two residences per acre.

In other business, the commission discussed a proposed amendment that would authorize the commission to become the board of the Community Redevelopment Agency and establish an advisory board to oversee its operation.

The final order of business was good news for Alachua residents. Due to a new contract with Waste Pro, the company contracted to collect the waste within the city limits, residents will pay a little bit less for trash collection.

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Newberry Utility Services May Go High-Tech

NEWBERRY – In the near future, Newberry may become the smallest city in Florida to institute a new type of technology that would revolutionize their utility services. Once instituted, meter readers would not be required to travel throughout the city to read meters and the city would be able to tell their customers when they have a leak or some other problem the homeowner might not easily recognize.

Newberry's staff has been evaluating automatic metering infrastructure (AMI) technology to determine whether it would be beneficial for implementation in Newberry. According to city records, the city has conducted two public workshops on the topic. In addition, staff has evaluated AMI that have been implemented in other cities. The City Commission has indicated that it supports continued evaluation of the technology.

An evaluation team consisting of Mayor Bill Conrad, Commissioner Jason McGehee, City Manager Mike New, Finance Director Dallas Lee and Jamie Jones, Director of Utilities and Public Works, traveled to Kings Mountain, North Carolina, to evaluate an AMI system that has been in operation for 22 months. Kings Mountain is similar to Newberry in many ways and their AMI system is similar to the system Newberry is considering through Leidos Engineering, Reston, Virginia.

New produced a power point presentation to help explain how an AMI system works, what they found out in their information-gathering trip to Kings Mountain and reasons why the city is considering implementing it.

“AMI technology includes meters that are smart and contain a computer motherboard for two-way communication between the meter and City Hall,” he said. “The benefit of this system is that we can ask the meter what the meter reading is or ask it to turn off service.”

Due to the relatively small number of city staff, the city is looking at a company called Smart Grid to help them evaluate the data coming from the meters. In Kings Mountain, New pointed out that their meter readers were retrained to be able to access the data and evaluate important patterns and problems like neighborhood wide data outages.

New said the city would work on funding and ways to move through the competitive process. “Staff will be working on identifying a plan to move through the competitive process and developing a financing plan,” he said. “We will come back to the commission in early 2017 with that information so you can evaluate what we find out and tell staff how the commission wants us to proceed or what further information is needed.”

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Newberry Heralds fall with Street Festival

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Youngsters enjoyed the many activites geared toward children at the festival. The inflatable hamster wheel, above, proved to be a popular attraction. (Today photo/RAINA BARNETT)


NEWBERRY – Giant inflated hamster wheels powered by eager toddlers floated across the water in an inflatable pool in downtown Newberry on Saturday, Nov. 5.

The Newberry Fall Festival, an annual event that brings together local vendors, artists and families, was made possible in large part by Jean Marie Evans, the director and president of the Main Street Newberry Association.

“The goal [of this event] is to help develop economic growth in Newberry,” she said. “We hope people will stop by to visit the festival, get to see our town, meet our friendly residents and decide to come back again.”

“This is our 10th annual festival and it gets bigger every year,” said Evans. “The number of vendors participating this year is 78, which is up from last year's vendor list of 52. Although we didn't have a counter last year to gauge the number of attendees, this year we did and had approximately 1,400 visitors,” she said.

Handmade knives, homemade beef jerky, handcrafted children’s clothes and home baked sweets were just a few of the available items for sale.

Trey Whidden, a teacher and Newberry resident, sat in the shade with his family enjoying snow cones.

“We were just passing through,” he said. “We naturally gravitated towards the kids’ activities.”

One of the most popular attractions was the “Walking on Water,” activity for kids.

Kay Simonds, owner of “Ma and Pa’s Funtime,” said she was inspired by the idea of giant hamster wheels.

“These things can hold up to 450 pounds,” she said. “After three minutes of playing around in them, the little kids are all tired out.”

Amid the aroma of freshly grilled hot dogs, the lure of sweet treats and unique goods for sale, Newberry locals and visitors alike enjoyed the beautiful and breezy November weather.

“We hope everyone has a good time,” Evans said. “This is a place where people can stop and just have good conversation.”

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Alachua Elementary Students Honor Veterans

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Students performed several patriotic songs during the ceremony. (Today photo/RAINA BARNETT)

ALACHUA – Patriotic music,speeches dedicated to veterans and American hymns sung by tiny voices all came together to honor about 50 veterans at Alachua Elementary School on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 10.

“I think this is something that lets the students put a face to the meaning of Veteran’s Day,” Assistant Principal Alberta Bing said. “It also gives teachers an opportunity to teach them about it.”

The annual ceremony dates back 20 years, becoming a reality thanks to Alachua resident and D-Day veteran, the late Glynn Markham, according to a Nov. 11, 2011 edition of Alachua County Today. Although Markham passed away in May 2007, his legacy lives on in the numerous veterans’ memorials and services he saw to fruition.

Students were asked by their teachers to request veterans they knew to attend the event.

As the children settled into their seats, Uncle Sam, portrayed by fifth-grade teacher Rick Thomas, fist-bumped and high-fived students.

Another teacher handed out miniature American flags to the children to wave during The Star-Spangled Banner and other patriotic tunes.

A small program bearing the artwork of students Josiah Ashley and Zoe Jeter circulated among attendees. The artwork by Ashley depicted a soldier saluting in front of the American flag and the illustration by Jeter featured citizens decked out in stars and stripes saluting an American eagle soaring over the American flag, complete with fireworks exploding in the air.

University of Florida’s Naval ROTC Color Guard proudly presented colors, followed by the pledge of allegiance.

A short dissertation on the history of Veteran’s Day was delivered by Uncle Sam.

Numerous tunes, including the catchy and upbeat “Oh, I Love America,” were sung by students during and after the event.

The ceremony came to an end with a moment of silence followed by the playing of “Taps” to honor and remember veterans.

“This is just one small way we can honor those here today and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Bing.

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Two Separate Accidents Claim Lives of Three

ALACHUA – Separate vehicle accidents Friday and Saturday proved fatal for three area residents. An angular head-on collision between two vehicles resulted in two deaths and three others in critical to serious condition early Friday morning, Oct. 28, according to a Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) report.

A 2015 Volkswagon Jetta driven by 29-year-old Johana Lee Klinger, of Okeechobee, Florida, was traveling south in the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 441 at approximately 1 a.m. when her vehicle crashed into a 2004 Toyota Scion heading north in the northbound lane.

The incident occurred at the intersection of Southwest 56th Place and U.S. Hwy. 441, in unincorporated Alachua County.

Klinger's only passenger, 10-year-old Joseph Beal, Jr., was in critical condition following the crash.

The driver of the Scion was 27-year-old Goytia Diaz, of Wesley Chapel, Florida. Both Diaz and one of her passengers, 4-year-old Iyanna Williams, of Micanopy, were pronounced dead. Another passenger, 19-year-old Bryanna Georgia Williams, also from Micanopy, suffered critical injuries.

All survivors were taken to UF Health-Shands Hospital.

The accident is still under investigation and charges are pending. At the time the report was written, it was unknown whether alcohol played a part in the crash.

On Oct. 29, a Suwannee County crash on Saturday afternoon resulted in the death of an Alachua resident, and serious injuries to the driver and passenger of a second vehicle according to a Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) report.

Ronald Irvin Emerson, Alachua, was traveling southbound on 77th Road approaching State Road 247 in his 1993 Toyota Tacoma when he attempted to cross S.R. 247. A 2012 Ford F150, driven by 47-year-old Joseph Walter Wood, Jr., White Springs, was pulling a boat as he traveled eastbound on S.R. 247.

According to FHP documents, Emerson pulled into the path of Wood's truck and boat. The front right side of Emerson's Tacoma collided with the front left side of Wood's vehicle. The Tacoma rotated counter clock-wise coming to a final rest facing in a northwesterly direction. Wood's truck slid off the south shoulder of the roadway and the front of Emerson's vehicle collided with a tree. The boat being pulled by Wood's truck detached from its trailer and lunged forward into the truck's cab.

Woods and his passenger, 45-year-old Shannan Michelle Thomas, also from White Springs, were flown to UF Health-Shands Hospital for treatment. Both were listed in serious condition.

Emerson was pronounced deceased at the scene by Suwannee County rescue personnel.

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