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GAINESVILLE ‒ A 28-year-old Micanopy woman has been sentenced to 30 days in jail, three years of probation and 300 hours of community service on 20 charges of animal cruelty. Erin A. Douglas is also prohibited from having any animals.

Douglas was initially charged with 24 counts of aggravated animal abuse, all third-degree felonies, and five counts of improper disposal of a dead animal. She entered a plea of nolo contendere to 20 first-degree misdemeanor charges of tormenting or depriving animals.

Seven others were also charged after investigators found 19 malnourished dogs, two dead puppies, and three puppy skeletons. Dawson Hicks has also been sentenced to three years of probation on four misdemeanor charges and one felony charge, with adjudication of guilt withheld on the felony charge. The remaining cases are still pending.

Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies and Alachua County Animal Control responded to the 17400 block of Southwest County Road 234 on April 27 after a report of animal cruelty. At that time, they found a large number of dogs in “obviously frail and neglected condition.” They reported that “several dogs could be heard yelping and wailing in physical pain.”

They reported that they saw young puppies lying in the driveway, too weak to physically stand on their own. Other “extremely malnourished” dogs were around the house. All dogs also had a large number of fleas and ticks, “with flies circling them.”

According to the report, investigators found 19 dogs alive, along with five dead dogs, three of which were skeletal remains only. Three living puppies were found in a cage with the two dead puppies. The living puppies were lying on top of the dead animals, which were in the water bowl inside the cage. The cage and water bowl both had obvious mold on them. Two other dogs were found in cages in the woods without any food or water. One female dog had several puppies which were too weak to stand on their own. The female dog was malnourished and injured but was still trying to care for the puppies and pull them under a vehicle to get out of the rain.

Six more dogs were inside the house, which did not appear to have electricity or running water except in one bedroom, but the dogs did not have access to that room. According to the report, animal feces littered the house and there were holes in the flooring. Large amounts of trash littered the front yard. In addition, a camper on the property had an open waste line that poured human feces directly onto the ground.

Investigators concluded that all animals on the property showed signs of a long-term lack of care and the lack of food, water, clean or adequate shelter and veterinary care directly led to the condition of and death of several of the dogs on the property. All residents on the property were directly responsible for care of the animals, yet all failed to take action to protect the animals from death and unnecessary pain and suffering.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ They are sometimes called the “One Percent” because they make up under one percent of the country's population. They are the men and women who put their lives on hold to serve in the military to protect their fellow Americans. There were nearly 2.4 million military personnel in the five branches of the Armed Forces in 2020. Comparing this with the U.S. population of 329.5 million, active military only makes up 0.727 percent.

Military service can leave scars, both mental and physical, that can affect a veteran’s future once out of the military. There has always been a large number of veterans who fall on hard times and homelessness, and on any given night, 40,056 veterans are homeless. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only seven percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13 percent of the homeless adult population are veterans.

Additionally, a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.

In Alachua County, there is a group that offers support for all veterans and active military. The American Legion Auxiliary 16 (ALA) is comprised of spouses, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, and sisters of U.S. war veterans. They are a separate entity from the American Legion, which is a veteran’s organization, but share the same values and dedication to supporting those who served. For the past 10 years, the ALA has held an event for homeless or in transition veterans, providing a thanksgiving dinner, clothing and footwear donations and what’s called a “blessing bucket,” which contains needed household and sanitary supplies as well as blankets.

Most of the supplies are either donated by other veterans’ organizations or provided as monetary funds or supplies from sponsors such as Rural King, Sav A Lot, Winn Dixie, Home Depot and Sandy's Place. The veterans were also offered free haircuts provided by volunteer barbers.

This year’s event held in early November featured a number of veteran supporters, including local singer Josh Tayler who sang the National Anthem. ALA Chaplain and event coordinator Ronna Jackson spoke to the veterans, expressing that the ALA was honored to help these men who had served their country. Jackson, a gold star mother whose son, John Reiners, was killed in action, now dedicates much of her time supporting other servicemen and veterans.

Guest speaker Vicki Jackson-Herndon delivered a moving story of her veteran father who abandoned the family when she was 11 and how he lived in poverty, homelessness and substance abuse. Jackson-Herndon said that for years she hated her father for what he did, but after finding religion she reached out in her early twenties. Over the next few years, she saw the hard times her father suffered mentally, and they reconnected until his passing. Her message to veterans is that there are people who care about them, and they are not alone. In dedication to her father's memory, she created the Blessing Bucket program.

State of Florida ALA President Jane Hardacre expressed the state's support for veterans, and Ronna Jackson presented her with a stuffed plush rainbow pillow signed by all staff and veterans present. The meal was served by ALA staff, including several male veterans who were associated with ALA women members.

While there were donated shoes and clothes for veterans to take, one homeless veteran could not find a pair that fit to replace his worn-out shoes. A male staff member took off his own shoes to give him. Later, Taylor gathered the veterans in a circle to all sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” to show the camaraderie between all who served.

“We want them to know they are not forgotten and there are people here to lend a helping hand and support them,” Jackson said. “Everyone deserves a second chance, especially those that served their country.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ This year, Halloween is back, and in the days leading up to Oct. 31, Halloween festivities were in full swing. After a hiatus due to COVID, many people went full force on decorating, with yards filled with ghostly apparitions, frightening creatures of all sorts and haunting graveyards complete with spooky lighting and eerie sound effects.

Halloween is an ancient tradition. In Celtic Britain, it was the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which marked the end of summer harvest and the coming of winter. The roots of modern Halloween activities in America go back to the mid-19th century when large numbers of new immigrants, especially those fleeing the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, helped popularize Halloween. Over the years it evolved to a celebration of treats for children and dressing in costumes. Today, Halloween has become the nation’s second-largest commercial holiday with total Halloween spending expected to reach a record $10.6 billion.

Locally, in numerous neighborhoods, dimly lit decorations and spooky figures beckoned costumed trick or treaters to free candy and gifts Accompanied by parents, dozens of families came out in each neighborhood. The High Sprigs Police Department also had officers in each area of town to help with safety. Some, like Corporal Hampton, gave out candy as well at each stop.

For some residents like Darin Erskine, creating a spooky wonderland was a long-term project. “It’s been in the planning stage for a while and it took the month of October to put it all together,” Erskine said. “Building the graveyard fence took a full day and the rest was put up piece by piece over the month,”

Several of his neighbors had equally impressive displays. In Bailey Estates, the main road was lined with cars as large crowds wound through the neighborhood while multiple families set up tables and chairs in their driveways handing out treats. One of the most popular sites featured a grill with the homeowners offering free hot dogs. Not to be outdone, the High Springs Fire Department sponsored a haunted house in the fire station bays.

This year, these activities and celebrations returned to neighborhoods across America, and a holiday tradition has returned.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) has approved a request by the First Baptist Church of Newberry to demolish a residence. On Nov. 7 the Board approved a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish the residence located at 90 N.W. 255th Street, next door to the church.

The action came after concerns were raised that the building is a structure in the historic district and an example of a Craftsman architectural style. Initially, Newberry Principal Planner Jean-Paul Perez recommended against approval of the demolition, suggesting the church consider relocation of the single-family home.

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the City has worked with the owner for three years to relocate the building to another property. Although some people showed interest, none were able to either find a property to move the building to or couldn’t afford the cost of moving the structure and rehabilitating it at another location.

Church representative Bill Martin described the lengths to which the church has gone in an effort to get the building moved. Martin said that the building has serious termite infestation observed around the windows and that the back part of the building has already collapsed. He said it was not structurally sound and the church had already begun to remove the windows and some of the doors to repurpose them for other projects. Martin said he wasn’t aware that they needed to apply for a permit to dismantle the building as the church owned the structure.

Upon learning of the prior efforts to relocate the building, Perez reversed his recommendation from denial to approval. Board members unanimously approved the application to demolish the structure. The church plans to use the soon-be-vacant property for additional church parking.

A second request for approval of a Certificate of Appropriateness in the City’s Historic District did not end as well when the Board voted to delay the action until Dec. 5. Pat Post applied to construct a single-family home at 144 S.W. 258th Street. An artist’s rendering of the 1,258-square-foot home was included in the presentation. Although the City was able to request certain embellishments to the home to make it fit in better with the historic feel of the neighborhood, Board members deemed the structure “cookie cutter” in design.

They unanimously voted to table the item to the Dec. 5 meeting to establish what the guidelines should be for new additions in that district. Perez informed the Board that they could vote to extend again at that meeting if necessary.

In other business, Perez updated the Board on the funded State Small Matching Grant for an Historic Resources Survey. Perez said the grant has been fully executed, and staff is working to issue a Request for Proposals. The City last conducted an historic survey in 2011.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission on Oct. 27 approved rezoning 688 acres in a 3 – 1 vote with High Springs City Commissioner Katherine Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

The rezoning request remained a point of controversy for residents who oppose the proposed Bridlewood development and associated Ordinance 2022-18.

Although the developer, upon learning that Mayor Byran Williams would not be present at the Oct. 27 meeting, requested consideration of the proposed Bridlewood development be rescheduled to the November meeting, citizens requested that the issue go ahead as planned. The ordinance rezones the 687.81 acres from PD-1, Planned Development, and R-1, Residential, to PD-12 Planned Development. The property is located in the southern sector of the City east of U.S. Highway 41 near the City’s wastewater treatment plant.

Residents had earlier complained that the subdivision was too large and would cause traffic congestion and increase crime in the city.

At the Oct. 27 meeting, one citizen proposed that a referendum be voted on by residents instead of five people sitting as a Commission making a decision that affects all the citizens. He also said he wanted the City to use an independent engineer and not the developer’s engineer to “school” the Commission.

City Manager Ashley Stathatos responded that there have been several meetings open to the public at the Commission level and also at workshops at the Civic Center. “State statutes deal with how to deal with property rights and planning and zoning items, said Stathatos. “You cannot do a referendum on planning and zoning items, and we have had more meetings than I can count.”

The intent of the rezoning request is to develop the property as a master planned, mixed-use development consisting of single-family, multi-family, senior living facilities, nonresidential (commercial) uses, school facilities and public facilities.

Currently there are three existing plats on the property, Tamiami Gardens No. 3, 5 and 6 consisting of approximately 1,440 residential lots to which the developer has entitlements.

The Planned Development proposes 1,437 single-family lots ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 square feet. A maximum of 250 multi-family units and 200 senior living facilities are also proposed. Acreage for a school site, public facilities and non-residential development is included as well.

Another concern raised by a resident at the Oct. 27 meeting was reuse water being applied to lawns. The developer’s consultant, JBPro, Inc. Engineer Chris Potts, said that while the EPA has no regulations on this in the state of Florida, water coming out of a wastewater treatment plant is regulated more stringently than potable (drinking) water. Potts also said that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) prefer to use alternative methods for irrigation so that potable water can be extended further and that all state agencies will be applied to for permits included the Florida Department of Transportation, SRWMD and FDEP at the appropriate point in the process.

High Springs City Commissioner Katherine Weitz disagreed, saying that regulations on reuse water do not address nitrogen and phosphorus as well as other pollutants.

According to Weitz, the scope of the development and the rezoning is fairly new to people in town and she is in favor of another public meeting so citizens could have input. Stathatos responded that there have been numerous Commission meetings, Planning and Zoning Board meetings and workshops that have been above and beyond what the City would normally require. “I think we’re getting into dangerous territory to ask for more, more and more after three renditions of this application and changes that the developer has made based on previous citizen input,” Stathatos said. “I think we need to make a decision at this or the next meeting.”

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NEWBERRY ‒ On Oct. 24 the Newberry Board of Adjustment considered and approved three issues in quasi-judicial public hearings.

A Special Exception for a Small-Scale Rural Subdivision for the Lakota development was unanimously approved. The 45.53 +/- acre site located at 17512 S.W. 15th Avenue, northwest of the intersection of Southwest 15th Avenue and Southwest 170th Street, is in the Agricultural (A) zoning district.

Small-Scale Rural Subdivisions permit the subdivision of land at a density of one dwelling unit per two acres, greater than the standard one dwelling per five acres allowed in the Agricultural zoning classification.

The property owner proposes 15 lots of an average density of one unit per three acres and lots ranging from two to four acres. Access is provided on Southwest 15th Avenue and the privately-owned access driveway will be built to City standards. Perpetual maintenance of this access driveway will be the responsibility of the Lakota Subdivision homeowner’s association (HOA).

A platted 50-foot undisturbed buffer exists along the southern plat limit abutting Southwest 15th Avenue and a 25-foot perimeter undisturbed buffer is provided along the remaining plat limits. The property owner is voluntarily providing a 40-foot undisturbed buffer along the western plat limits encumbering Lots Five – Eight, which has been made a condition of approval for the companion Preliminary Plat petition (SD 22-04) at the request of the owner.

The property will be serviced by Clay Electric and potable and wastewater services will be provided on-site through well and septic systems.

North of the Lakota property is the recently approved Barrington subdivision. While Barrington also provides for lot sizes less than that permitted by the Agricultural (A) zoning district, it was approved prior to the City’s adoption and implementation of the Small-Scale Rural Subdivision regulations. Barrington cannot be considered a Small-Scale Rural Subdivision under the rules by which it was approved. As required by the Land Development Regulations, a HOA will be established.

In a separate matter, a petition for a variance to allow a pool in the side yard of a property within the Newberry Place Planned Residential Development was also approved in a 3 – 1 vote with Board Member Monty Farnsworth casting the dissenting vote.

Property owner Wilfredo Gonzalez Valentin requested a variance to “Accessory uses and structures” of the City’s ordinances to allow an in-ground pool in the side yard of a developed single-family lot. The property is located at 649 S.W. 242nd Terrace in a Planned Residential Development zoning district and has a future land use designation of Residential Low Density of four dwelling units per acre.

The property is Lot 87, which is located on the corner of Southwest 6th Place and Southwest 242nd Terrace. This street corner incorporates a cul-de-sac-like turnaround into the design of the street corner. Due to the location of Lot 87 and the design of the street corner, the lot’s corners are not right-angles or comparable to a typical interior lot within the same subdivision. When considering lot shape, typical house size and the required 20-foot front yard and 15-foot rear yard setbacks, the footprint of the home fills the buildable area of the lot and does not leave sufficient room in the rear yard for a pool. The owner is requesting a variance to place an in-ground pool within the side yard.

“The owner has demonstrated a unique hardship that is not self-imposed,” said Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas. “Pools are an amenity commonly enjoyed by other residents within the same subdivision. However, a majority of the pools are located on interior lots with right-angled corners and sufficient rear yards,” said Thomas. Thomas said that granting this variance would not negatively impact the public health, safety or welfare.

A third petition was also a variance request related to pool construction. The petition was by property owners Jacob D. and Gilberto M. Gonzalez-Welker for a variance to allow an eight-foot encroachment into the required 10-foot rear yard setback. This property is located at 24647 S.W. 21st Circle, Lot 128 in CountryWay at Newberry, Phase 3, on the interior of the arc of Southwest 21st Circle. The site-built home is of a common size within the subdivision and has a covered porch in the rear yard. Due to the lot being located on the southern interior arc of the bend of Southwest 21 Circle, the lot has an unusually large street frontage and a significant portion of the lot is dedicated to the front yard setback. The atypical lot shape required the developer to place the building footprint further into the rear corner of the lot. The lot is pie-shaped and encumbered by a 20-foot front yard setback. While it was always the intent of the owner to construct a pool, the form boards for the foundation were placed too close to the rear yard. This error did not leave sufficient area to place a pool in the rear yard.

“When also considering the lot shape, depth and location, standard size of the home and the required 20-foot front yard and 10-foot rear yard setbacks, the owners adequately demonstrate a hardship that was not self-imposed,” said Newberry Principal Planner Jean-Paul Perez. “Furthermore, pools are an amenity commonly enjoyed by other residents of the neighborhood.”

This item was unanimously approved with the setback at five feet from the fence line for the pool water edge, not including the decking.

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ALACHUA ‒ Kobe Deon Delima, 20, of Newberry, was arrested on Oct. 18 and charged with aggravated fleeing and hit and run with property damage after allegedly fleeing a traffic stop and crashing into a fence on private property, then fleeing on foot. Two handguns were reportedly found in the car.

An Alachua Police Department (APD) officer reported that he attempted a traffic stop on a Kia Soul at about 3 a.m. on Tuesday near the intersection of Northwest 151st Boulevard and Northwest 147th Drive after the car ran a stop sign. The officer noted that the car immediately accelerated so quickly that it became airborne when it hit the railroad tracks near Peggy Road. The car was found a few minutes later in a private yard, with both airbags deployed and both front doors open. The officer wrote that the driver lost control on Northwest 142nd Terrace, ran through the ditch on the east side of the road and crashed into a fence.

The officer reported that a search of the vehicle produced two loaded handguns, one on top of the center console and the other on the passenger side floorboard. Delima’s wallet was also reportedly in the center console and contained his driver’s license and bank cards showing his name.

Investigators identified Delima as the suspect and interviewed him at APD. During the interview, Delima was reportedly unable to provide a coherent explanation of the events of the previous night and provided inconsistent answers. Delima also reportedly had injuries consistent with airbag deployment.

Delima has been charged with aggravated fleeing with damage and hit and run with property damage. He has no criminal history, but he was arrested in 2020 for stealing a weed eater and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. The agreement was revoked for failure to comply with conditions and the case was scheduled for a change of plea, but the charge was dropped and the hearing was canceled.

Judge Thomas Jaworski set bail in the current case at $30,000. The judge also ordered that Delima may not drive or possess firearms while on pre-trial release.

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