ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Alachua County Forever (ACF), the County’s environmental land acquisition program, has purchased 189 acres of land from Betty and Joel Matthews. The acquisition of this property protects over half a mile of frontage on the Santa Fe River. ACF purchases are funded by the Wild Spaces and Public Places initiative, which was re-authorized by voters in 2022. The one-half-cent sales tax provided funding for this $841,798 Matthews conservation land purchase. Since its inception Wild Spaces and Public Places has protected 32,879 acres in the county.

The Matthews property is the second Alachua County Forever acquisition of 2023 and is located west of CR 241 between Odom Preserve and Bonnet Lake Conservation Preserve along the Santa Fe River. According to ACF, protection of the Matthews property connects the family’s past history of land ownership in the County to the future and preserves their name to the conservation area. The Matthews family commitment to the protection of this land was critical to the conservation and purchase of this property.

This property protects the wetland floodplain forest and key uplands on the Santa Fe River’s south bank. The Santa Fe River is a unique, spring-fed system, the protection of which is one of the highest priorities of the Alachua County Forever program. Only one mile downstream from the property is an unnamed fourth-magnitude spring, and the first magnitude Santa Fe Spring is only 0.3 miles further. Protection of lands like the Matthews property helps to safeguard the drinking water supply of North Florida and protects the water quality of the river itself and the springs that flow into it.

Decades of efforts by public and private conservation partners have assembled an expanding corridor of protected land along the Santa Fe River which the purchase of this property helps secure further. The commitment of the Matthews family to the protection of this land was critical to the conservation of this property.

Future plans for the property include longleaf pine habitat restoration and nature-based public recreational access, highlighting a sweeping view over the floodplain forest into Union County and a pristine section of the Santa Fe River in Alachua County.

ACF was established in 2000 with the purpose of acquiring, improving, and managing environmentally significant lands that protect water resources, wildlife habitats and natural areas suitable for resource-based recreation. The preserves are purchased to protect and enhance the natural and cultural resources found on the properties. Some preserves own a variety of upland and wetland habitats, which provide wildlife habitat and support aquifer recharge. Some preserves are part of local and statewide efforts to protect and maintain significant wildlife corridors and protect areas of diverse habitats and relatively mature and diverse undisturbed forest within an area of Alachua County which is rapidly urbanizing and increasing in population.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Trevarios Nelson Oliver, 21, was arrested just before 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, in Newberry and charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. Oliver is on probation following a 2020 arrest for armed robbery.

An Alachua County sheriff’s deputy reported that he was in his patrol car at the intersection of County Road 235 and Newberry Lane at about 1:41 a.m. when he saw a blue sedan turn onto CR 235 and then turn into Newberry Oaks. The sedan reportedly stopped in the roadway on Northwest 2nd Lane, with the driver sitting inside the car.

The deputy turned on his lights to initiate a suspicious vehicle investigation and asked the driver, identified as Oliver, to step back to his patrol car. Oliver reportedly said he was in the area to pick up a friend and showed the deputy a text message from a friend. The deputy noted that the message had arrived at 5:20 p.m., about eight hours before his contact with Oliver.

Oliver provided the deputy with an ID card and reportedly advised that he did not have a driver’s license. The deputy wrote that he could smell marijuana coming from the car and asked Oliver if he had marijuana in the car. Oliver reportedly said there was a marijuana blunt in the car and that he did not have a medical marijuana card.

A search of Oliver reportedly produced a Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380 concealed in the front of his waistband with six rounds in the magazine. The serial number on the firearm was reported lost to the Alachua Police Department.

The deputy charged Oliver with unlawful possession of a concealed firearm. He was previously sentenced to six years of probation in 2021 as a youthful offender, with adjudication of guilt withheld, for armed robbery. About a month after the resolution of that case, 17 felony charges of burglary in 14 cases were dropped.

Bail is set at $50,000.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission on Feb. 9 approved nine mural applications. At the City Commission meeting, High Springs Planning Tech Kristy Adkins explained the location of each property, location of the intended mural on each building and showed renderings of the type of art that would be included in each mural.

The Historic Preservation Board reviewed each of the applications and voted to recommend approval to the City Commission with the specification that each one was to meet the size requirements specified in the City’s ordinance.

All of the applications were approved with varying votes and added caveats. The first mural will be located at 18555 Main Street and will feature train(s).

The second mural will be located at 23560 N.W. 185th Road, Suite 30 and will feature the old speedway, which several people were not aware had been a part of early High Springs.

The third mural will be located at 18487 Main Street and will feature diver(s). This application received unanimous approval with the caveat that the mural be painted on a panel and installed at a later time. The issue was that the City lists the property as residential, although the County Appraiser lists it as commercial. The property has been used as commercial as far back as anyone can recall and was the old post office in years gone by.

Stathatos said the City plans to correct the zoning to match the Future Land Use Map sometime this year. When that has been accomplished, the panel will be installed on the building.

The fourth mural will be located at 19064 N.W. U.S. Highway 441 and will feature the agricultural aspects of the City – primarily the tobacco crops that used to be grown by most farmers. Commissioner Byran Williams suggested the barn featured in the mural photo be changed to a tobacco barn.

Commissioner Katherine Weitz made a motion to remove the words on the mural which read, “Agricultural Roots.” The motion died for lack of a second. Another motion was made to approve the mural application which was approved 4 – 1, with Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

The fifth mural application was for property located at 18564 N.W. 238th Street. This mural featured the Santa Fe River and was approved with the caveat that the mural be reduced in size to meet the ordinance requirements.

Mural #6 will be located at 18767 Main Street and will feature Old Bellamy Road. It was pointed out that this road is the oldest road in Florida and should be included in a mural.

The next mural will be featured on the Duke Energy building located at 23074 N.W. 186th Avenue and will feature Florida cowboys. The mural depicted a cowboy on a horse with a whip in his hand, which was used to move cattle along. Commissioner Weitz thought the whip should be removed, but the mural was approved without that modification.

The eighth mural will be located at 18559 N.W. 237th Street on the Prohibition Pizza building next door to the Priest Theater and will feature the theater. The owner was on hand and made a couple of suggestions for additions.

The ninth mural will be located at 18578 N.W. 237th Street and will feature the Timucuans Indigenous People. This application garnered the most discussion. Commissioner Byran Williams said he was very disappointed that African Americans were not featured on any of the murals yet they had made major contributions to the area. “There was not enough dialogue with the African American community,” said Williams.

Heart of High Springs President Nancy Lavin said they were not able to obtain photos of Lily Springs, the location where African Americans were allowed to swim during segregation, or several other historical documents they wanted to find. She said that the group wanted to put murals of Essie Gassett and Tom Deedeman up, but the City refused to allow them to be installed on the City-owned buildings they felt would be most appropriate for them.

She said their murals were going to be painted on panels until the group could find a good location to install them. She said also that it would take some time to get permission to use the Community School building previously suggested by Weitz and, said Lavin, they were all volunteers and didn’t have enough time to get School Board permission. Commissioner Williams said that Catherine Taylor would have made a good subject for a mural.

Following discussion, the mural application was unanimously approved.

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ARCHER ‒ Julio Enrique Cambriere-Pabon, 48, of New York, was arrested at 3:24 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, after allegedly entering a house where a woman was sitting on the sofa with an infant. The woman alerted her husband after the man who said his name was “Julio” refused to leave the house. When the husband challenged him at gunpoint, the subject fled the residence down the driveway.

An Alachua County sheriff’s deputy responded to the home near Archer Road and Southwest 173rd Court after a caller reported that an unknown male was in the house. The couple provided a description of the man to the deputy and told him there were nine children in the house. The house is set about 200 yards back from the road and the door had been left unlocked.

Deputies made contact with a man walking down Archer Road about 150 yards from the address. The man fit the description given by the couple and he provided a New York ID card with the name Julio Cambier.

Post Miranda, he reportedly said he was in a dream and God told him to go to this house. He said that he knew nothing about the people who live there. When he was asked why he went inside the house, he reportedly said he “didn’t know.” He said he lives with his boss but could not recall his boss’ address or phone number.

Cambriere-Pabon has been charged with loitering/prowling. He has no local criminal history. Bail was set at $10,000 on first appearance. The suspect will be held for a mental health screening.

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NEWBERRY ‒ By a narrow margin, the City of Newberry Commission approved a 220-acre development that at build out will include over 600 homes and 140,000 square feet of commercial space. First reading of the ordinance to rezone the 220 +/- acres from Agricultural (A) to Planned Development (PD) was the most discussed item at the Newberry City Commission’s Feb. 13 meeting. The property is currently owned by Gary Weseman – Tanglewood Properties of Gainesville LLC.

The application was brought on behalf of the owner by Gerry Dedenbach of Causseaux, Hewett and Walpole, Inc. (CHW), who addressed the Commission during the quasi-judicial hearing.

Dedenbach presented a four-phased plan for development, which is to occur over a 20-year period. The project is expected to include 636 detached and attached homes and 140,000 square feet of commercial properties. The property is located south of West Newberry Road/State Road 26 and west of Southwest 202nd Street.

A small amount of commercial development will be included in Phase One of the development with a larger portion of commercial development to occur in Phases three and four. The developer will install a municipal water tower on the property.

“A homeowners association is planned to take care of maintenance of the entrance and open areas,” said Dedenbach. “A commercial area association will be created to maintain the commercial areas as well.”

The water management district will require all water to be addressed within the development, Dedenbach explained. Notifying potential homebuyers of the location of Tropic Traditions Nursery, located next to Phase One of the development, as well as the possibility of agricultural smells, use of pesticides and fertilizers and the location of the nearby mine would all be included in the residential homebuyer’s information and final paperwork, he said.

City Manager Mike New addressed concerns about how and when commercial development would take place by suggesting that commercial development should occur when 75 percent of the residential properties in each phase were under contract.

The rezoning application was approved by a vote of 3 – 2 with Commissioners Marty Farnsworth and Tony Mazon in dissent.

Second reading of an ordinance to change the Future Land Use Map classification from Agriculture to Planned Development on the property was also approved by a 3 – 2 vote with Commissioners Marty Farnsworth and Tony Mazon in dissent.

Public Facilities Zoning District

The Newberry City Commission will now have final approval authority on some projects. Newberry has established a Public Facilities “PF” zoning district to align existing and proposed public buildings and uses with the public future land use classification.

The PF classification consists of areas which are used for public buildings and grounds, other public facilities including sewer facilities, solid waste facilities, drainage facilities and potable water facilities, public health facilities, solar energy facilities (commonly referred to as solar farms) and educational uses.

“The proposed text amendment modifies the site and development plan process to require City Commission, in lieu of the Board of Adjustment, approval of proposed development within the Public Facilities zoning district,” said City of Newberry Principal Planner Jean-Paul Perez.

The Planning and Zoning Board will still serve as a recommending body. This allows the City Commission to have final approval authority on City projects which may have budgetary implications and history, and development by other governmental agencies and entities such as county, state, and federal. This district may only be applied to government owned or leased land which serves a public purpose.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Design

Newberry is one step closer to a new wastewater treatment plant facility. Assistant City Manager Dallas Lee presented the ranking results of seven firms that responded to the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for design engineering services for the facility. The highest-ranked firm was Adkins North America, Inc., Tampa. The Commission authorized the city manager to begin negotiations with Adkins to enter into an agreement for engineering design services. Should the negotiation not be successful, the city manager is authorized to begin negotiating with the second ranked firm.

Wild Spaces Funding

The Newberry City Commission has weighed in on how the Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) one percent surtax should be divided between Alachua County’s nine municipalities. The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved the WSPP surtax initiative in 2022, which authorized a $3 million grant for all cities to share. The authorization did not identify actual funding levels for each city, although the City of Gainesville is slated to receive an additional $3 million above any additional distribution of the shared $3 million.

County commissioners indicated they would consider a unanimous agreement by the nine cities as to how to divide the funds. The cities met several times to discuss and developed five different methods for distributing the funds. Although the cities have not reached unanimous agreement, allocation option four – division of funds equally at $333,333 to each city, was the consensus.

There was also support for allocation option five as it would be a more equitable division of funds with the eight smaller cities receiving $375,000 each if the City of Gainesville were to opt out of receiving an additional portion of the shared $3 million.

The Newberry City Commission voted unanimously for allocation option five, but asked that the resolution be written to accept allocation four as a second preference.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 27, at 6:30 p.m.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs is moving along with the roadway projects planned for this month.

Already completed are the “Northwest 237th Street section that runs by the High Springs Brewery and the roadway on the north side of Bailey Estates,” said High Springs Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan.

On the verge of completion is Northwest 244th Street between Northwest 199th Lane and U.S. Highway 441 and the entrance to the Civic Center. City staff has worked closely with school administration and contractors to minimize impacts on student drop-off and pick-up at First Christian Academy as much as possible.

Still to be completed is the stretch of road on Northwest 238th Street that leads to the High Springs Sports Complex. Although no firm completion date is set, this road project is anticipated to be completed following the Northwest 244th Street and Civic Center projects, said Mangan. As with all road construction, drivers are advised to slow down and do not drive too fast for conditions, be alert and pay attention to the signs and be patient.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission has voted to terminate its agreement with its waste hauler. The action was taken at the Feb. 9 Commission meeting. The ongoing lack of responsiveness from GFL Environmental Problems has plagued High Springs’ residents and City staff for some time. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said there have been multiple instances of repeated problems with GFL.

During a 20-month period, 343 complaints have been lodged by citizens and five were still not rectified within 30 days. “There are instances of whole subdivisions missed [for waste pickups],” he said. “One issue was so bad that the Health Department had to get involved. A second company has been contacted and they are ready to come into the City as soon as they get the word to do so,” said Gillingham.

The Commission unanimously passed Resolution 2023-B, putting GFL on notice that the City intends to terminate the solid waste franchise agreement with GFL Environmental effective upon adoption on Feb. 9, 2023.

County Surtax Split

A discussion on the County’s new Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) and Infrastructure Sales Surtax was led by City Manager Ashley Stathatos. The tax will likely generate $12 million in revenue over the taxable period. Of that amount, $3 million will go directly to Gainesville for WSPP projects. Another $3 million will go directly to Gainesville for Infrastructure projects.

The nine Alachua County municipalities will get $3 million toward a grant program for WSPP projects and $3 million toward a grant program for infrastructure projects.

The nine municipalities include Gainesville, Alachua, Newberry, High Springs, Hawthorne, Archer, Waldo, Micanopy and LaCrosse.

The County tasked the nine municipalities with coming to a mutually agreeable split for each of the $3 million grant programs. As $6 million is going directly to Gainesville, the Alachua County League of Cities approved a $375,000 split for each of the cities, excluding Gainesville. At a second meeting, a Gainesville commissioner was present and said he would go back to his Commission to discuss a more equitable split than one based on population. Discussion will continue after receiving feedback from all of the cities’ elected officials.

Commissioners directed City staff to prepare two resolutions for consideration at the next meeting. One would split the $6 million between the smaller eight cities to the exclusion of Gainesville. The second would include an equal split between all nine of the cities.

Meanwhile, Commissioners plan to contact county commissioners to discuss this issue further prior to deciding which resolution they will approve at their next meeting.

Road Projects

The Commission has awarded the bid for Phase 2 road repair and replacement to Live Oak Management Group, LLC at a cost of $111,000. The roads that will be repaired or replaced include Railroad Avenue and Northwest 184th Street, Box Car Court, Northwest 184th Road, Northwest 198th Avenue and 230th Street and Northwest 238th Street, Sports Complex area. Five bids were received with Live Oak as the lowest bidder.

Santa Fe Watershed

Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) Office of Agriculture and Environmental Projects Mary Diaz was on hand to announce that a Santa Fe Watershed Study Area map has been created to help determine flood risks in this part of Florida.

She said that there would be three opportunities to meet directly with Water Management District personnel to discuss specific parcels and explain what the flood risk is determined to be for those parcels. The meetings will be held in Starke on Feb. 21, Alachua on Feb. 22 and Lake City on Feb. 23. The Alachua meeting will take place from 5 – 9 p.m. in the James A. Lewis Chambers, Alachua City Hall.

For people unable to make the meetings a virtual tour has been created and can be located through any search engine by typing in the words, SRWMD Virtual Tour. The public has 30 days for input. All meetings are open to the public.

In other City business, the elevator project at City Hall has been completed and Commissioners report that it is a vast improvement over the original elevator.

An issue of concern for some time has been the need for an additional City water well. The third well has now been installed and the City is waiting for power to be installed by Duke Energy.

In other business, Juniors Disc Golf Tournament director Chris Clark spoke about the potential economic impact to the community if the City would allocate more disc golf sites in High Springs. He said there will be well over 100 participants at the upcoming weekend’s tournament. People interested in learning more about disc golf can contact the High Springs Parks and Recreation Department.

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