HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Area residents may be getting their power from a solar array north of High Springs if Duke Energy is successful in negotiating a lease agreement with property owners. A presentation by Duke’s Renewables Manager Thomas Lawery and Director of Renewables Development Vanessa Goff kicked off the June 10 High Sprigs City Commission meeting.

The 720 acres under consideration for the solar power development is just north of High Springs. Duke estimates there would be tax revenue to Alachua County for a minimum of 30 years of more than $12 million. Although the property is just outside of the city limits, City Manager Ashley Stathatos said the current property owners may want to annex into High Springs.

During construction, which would take nine to 12 months to complete, Duke estimated that up to 200 local construction jobs would be created. Presenters were quick to point out that no public resources would be needed for the project. Trash collection, police, water and sewer would not be required reducing impact to local resources.

Asked about the 30-year timeframe, Goff said that often property owners do not want to sell their property, but will lease the property for 30 – 40 years. Fencing would surround the facility and a 150-foot buffer would surround it to block the visibility of the fencing. “The facility would include 30 acres of pollinator plantings,” said Goff. Connection to the utility grid would be underground from the facility to Duke Energy 230 kV Ginnie Substation in Gilchrist County.

Duke will be holding public meetings to let surrounding property owners and those who would benefit from the facility ask questions, see what is planned and help everyone understand the benefits of a program of this sort. Commissioners commented that they saw this solar array as a way to help protect the environment from development that might prove detrimental.

In other business, a text amendment to the Land Development Code concering food trucks was unanimously approved on first reading.

“In mid-2020, Florida Statute [Section 509] was passed limiting how local municipalities could regulate food trucks within their jurisdiction,” said Stathatos. “The biggest change shifted licensing solely to the state and prohibited cities from requiring licenses or permits from the owners of food trucks. However, the statute still allowed for the regulation of food trucks via zoning laws,” she said.

In an effort to comply with the state statute, the City is required to amend the existing Food Truck Ordinance, which was passed on Jan. 9, 2020.

The amendment lists notable ordinance changes describing where and under what circumstances food trucks can set up and also adds a section for Food Truck Parks detailing standards by which food trucks must comply. Stathatos said applications for food truck vendors would be included on the City’s web page. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said there would be inspections conducted to verify that the food trucks were operating in a safe manner and had addressed appropriate facilities requirements.

Commissioner Scott Jamison suggested a notification should be posted on the food truck stating that the truck owner and property owner had met all qualifications. Although that wasn’t included in the motion to approve, it is something that the City may choose to implement at some point.

Another text amendment to the Land Development Code received unanimous approval by Commissioners on first reading. This ordinance lists allowable uses and in which zoning districts they are allowed by right, by Special Use application, by Special Exception and by Conditional Use application.

“The table as a whole has been rewritten,” she said. “This includes adding new uses, amending certain uses to be reviewed at a higher/lower tier, deleting duplicate entries and correcting formatting issues.” She said it was obvious that these issues hadn’t been updated in some time and it was time for a review and updating. Commissioners agreed and voted to approve the proposed ordinance.

In other action, the Commission approved on first reading rezoning the City-owned public recreation facility known as Memorial Park from R1 (Residential) to P/SP (Public/Semi-Public). Rezoning the property more accurately reflects the use of the property and brings the zoning into compliance with the allowable uses table within the City’s Land Development Code.

Commissioners also approved Florida Rural Water Association (FRWA) specific assistance agreements to assist the City in planning for future water, wastewater and reclaimed water improvements. Gillingham said FRWA is in the process of preparing Critical Asset Evaluation and Management Plans for the City.

The plans will provide funding through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program and supply part of the required documentation for State Revolving Fund applications for financing needed infrastructure repairs and improvements. “The plan also equips the City with an inventory of the condition, age and performance of critical assets,” said Gillingham. The plan is expected to become completed in three to four months.

“The cost for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Loan Facility Plan is $33,000,” said Gillingham. “The cost for the Wastewater/Reclaimed State Revolving Fund Loan Facility Plan is $30,300. Both plans can be done in phases.”

The City will use money remaining in the Water and Sewer funds that are currently available in this fiscal year. Gillingham suggested that the Commission could consider budgeting to finish the projects as they address the next fiscal year’s budget.

Commissioners unanimously approved both agreements.

As a final act of the evening, Commissioners enthusiastically agreed to the appointment of Cassandra Davis to the vacant Parks and Recreation Advisory Board position. The position is set to expire in November 2021.

The Commissioners agreed to host Farm Share for food distribution again on either Aug. 21 or 28, depending on Farm Share’s schedule.

#     #     #

Email cwalker@