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GAINESVILLE – An arraignment hearing for charges of criminal contempt of court against Charles Grapski was delayed Tuesday afternoon.  The delay came at the request of the Office of the State Attorney after Grapski filed two separate motions to dismiss the charges.

Judge James Nilon said Grapski’s motions would need to be considered at the same hearing with the arraignment.  Assistant State Attorney Brian S. Kramer said he could argue in general Tuesday, but not specifically, on the points of law cited by Grapski in the motions to dismiss.

Grapski has reportedly also filed a motion requesting a statement of particulars, a document with pertinent information regarding the alleged contemptuous behavior.

One of those motions to dismiss essentially challenges the accuracy of the charge.

“The order shows that Grapski’s allegedly contemptuous acts took place in open court with the Court on the Bench,” the motion states.  “If true, these acts constitute direct contempt and not indirect criminal contempt.”

The first motion to dismiss was not available as a public record as of press time.

Judge Nilon granted the motion to continue the hearing until a later date when the arraignment and consideration of the motions filed by Grapski could be considered.  That hearing is tentatively slated for Nov. 22.

A one-time State House and City of Alachua Commission Candidate, Grapski is being charged with indirect criminal contempt of court following his alleged actions and statements made on June 21 in Nilon’s courtroom.

In a September hearing, the judge granted Grapski’s motion to dismiss the original charges on the basis of procedural flaws.  The dismissal came after Grapski argued that a sworn affidavit of the alleged events did not accompany the charging documents and that the Assistant State Attorney filing the contempt charges was not witness to the June 21 events.

The petition alleging Grapski’s contemptuous behavior resulted from a June 21 violation of probation hearing in which it is reported that he approached the podium and told Assistant State Attorney Shawn Thompson to “get a real job.”

At a later hearing on the same day, Grapski allegedly approached the table of Thompson in an “aggressive manner,” pointed his finger at Thompson and stated to him, “you are a f---ing liar” not less than two times, the order alleges.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Excessive noise became a disturbance at the High Springs City Commission meeting Thursday.

Ironically, it was discussion of the city’s current noise ordinance that aroused fierce opinions among attendees. Commissioner Eric May said the ordinance is unclear and needs to be rethought.

“I believe we have a very archaic noise ordinance that is difficult for our staff to enforce,” he said.

The current ordinance, part of the land development code, requires enforcements on noise violations after 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Receiving a permit from the city allows events to be exempt from the ordinance.

May said he brought the issue to the commission because he has heard citizens’ complaints. He called for clear expectations to be put into place.

Thomas DePeter, city attorney, agreed with May, explaining that certain language in the ordinance is confusing.

“If you hear the noise, then they seem to be violating the regulation,” he said. “But it’s not just hearing the noise, it has to actually be a noise disturbance.”

Bob Bentz, owner of local restaurant Great Outdoors, said the city needs to set acceptable decibel levels.

Since a crucial part of his business is the live musical performances that take place on the patio of the restaurant, he bought a decibel meter. However, he does not know what the appropriate thresholds are.

“We don’t want to be bad neighbors to the community,” he said. “If they don’t tell us, we don’t know it.”

Bentz said a possible solution would be for commissioners to go down to the restaurant with him, stand in the street and determine an acceptable noise level with a decibel meter.

May said the important thing is agreeing upon what is tolerable in the community’s eyes.

“People are not going to be annoyed and businesses are not going to be unfairly harassed or anything like that, because there are set standards,” he said. “You know what to expect.”

DePeter said the ordinance is typically not enforced unless there’s a complaint. May agreed, calling the enforcement “probably close to zero.”

“We just need to get it done,” he said. “We want to give our officers and our code officers the actual tools to enforce the law.”

Bob Barnas, a citizen and city commission candidate, said if the police are not allowed to force people to unplug offending speakers, the officers cannot do anything about the problem.  He suggested adding a fine, saying that it “gives the officers the teeth to deal with those issues.”

May disagreed, saying people will simply take the fine into account when planning for an event. They will factor in the cost and take that as permission to ignore appropriate noise levels.

“Say there’s a big event with a big concert and you go hit them with a citation,” he said. “That’s just the cost of doing business. They’ll just do it.”

Mayor Larry Travis said the problem could be easily fixed with a combination of citations and a three-strike system. On a third violation over any period of time, an individual’s event would be shut down.

He also asked for a police directive to instruct officers in proper enforcement of the ordinance and to encourage them to be proactive about implementation.

DePeter said he will make small changes in the language of the resolution. It will be discussed at an upcoming meeting to modify the land development ordinance.

Whatever the solution, local resident Leda Carrero said something must be done. She said she called the police last year about the permit for an event held at Catherine Taylor Park. She asked for the volume to be turned down and was told that nothing could be done.

“There have been occasions where there’s a permit giving for them to have a 10 hour event, and the volume is so loud that I cannot sit on my porch and talk to someone next to me,” she said. “That’s excessive. And it doesn’t seem right to me to call and say look, ‘I don’t want to put up with this for 10 hours,’ and hear ‘there’s nothing we can do.’”

Vice Mayor Byran Williams responded to her comment, telling her she should notify the event’s planner about any noise issues.

“Me myself, every time I do something in the park over there, I’m the noise monitor,” he said. “I walk around. You can shake your head if you want to. Just, if you’ve got a problem, call and say, ‘Turn it down. I asked you to turn it down.’”

Carrero said, “I did.”

May said a citizen calling an event’s planner about a noise disturbance is “part of the problem we’re trying to eliminate.”

“There’s automatically going to be animosity between the two,” he said. “You want to call a neutral party like the police.”


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Alachua_Accident_10-18-11Two people were killed Tuesday morning when their vehicles collided on U.S. Highway 441 near Hague.

IALACHUA – Two people were killed Tuesday morning when their vehicles collided on U.S. Highway 441 near Hague.  No one else was injured.

The accident happened at the intersection of U.S. 441 and County Road 237 around 9 a.m.  According to preliminary reports, a 2007 Chrysler minivan being driven by Penny Wilkes, 59, of Gainesville, was headed northbound on U.S. 441, when a tan Lincoln Town Car being driven by 97-year-old Ellis Hitzing of Alachua failed to yield the right of way.

Hitzing, who had been traveling on CR 237, was reportedly attempting to cross over the northbound land of U.S. 441, but pulled into the path of Wilkes.  The minivan struck the driver’s side of the Linoln.

Paramedics arrived shortly after the accident occurred, but neither Wilkes nor Hitzing survived the crash.  There were no passengers involved.

Alachua Police Department (APD) Officer Jesse Sandusky said the accident investigation is still ongoing.

A man located across the street reportedly witnessed the accident, Sandusky said.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry is working with the University of Florida to hear Newberry residents’ opinions about the impact and use of its sports facilities.

Shannon Kerwin, UF assistant professor at the Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Sports Management, and one of the researchers conducting this study, said the survey will include 14 questions. Questions include how the sports facilities, Easton Newberry Sports Complex and Nations Baseball Park, are affecting the city economically and socially. She said she hopes to get 10 percent of the population to participate, around 300 residents.

“But if we don't get that at the town hall meeting on Thursday, then we are going to try to mail them those surveys to see if we can get more opinions from the community members," Kerwin said.

The team has previously interviewed residents about this subject, and a research report is expected to be released this year.

"We are hoping to have a report on the community perspective by the end of November or early December," Kerwin said.

Since five-member team has developed a relationship with city manager Keith Ashby and parks and recreation director Richard Blalock, Kerwin said they are going to provide the report along with recommendations, if issues needed to be addressed within the community.

Once everyone turns in their 10-minute paper surveys, the research team and Blalock will be present to answer questions.

One meeting was held Tuesday at the Easton complex.  The next meeting will be held Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Newberry Municipal Building, located at 25440 W Newberry Road in Newberry.

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HAWTHORNE – Hawthorne’s vacant fire department building may be renovated to bring money into the city.

Commissioner DeLoris Roberts brought this idea to the commission’s attention during a meeting on Tuesday. She said she thought this renovation could increase the city’s income without taxing residents.

“We got this building here that we don’t utilize,” she said. “”It would give us something to work towards to give us some money in our pockets.”

Hawthorne has been trying to reactivate the former city-run fire department and use its buildings and resources. However, Roberts’ plan to renovate the building may never come to fruition if this were to happen.

The city needs a backup plan if the fire department does not return, and this renovation could be the solution to bring income into the city, Roberts said.

All citizens could use the building for parties, banquets and meetings. She said there currently is a lack of locations in the city to host these types of events.

Roberts said using the fire department would give the city an advantage because the building site is already there to be used. Also, there is a kitchen, washer and dryer on the property that could be used during events.

Roberts said this renovation could revitalize the area and bring people into the area.

The building’s interior and exterior have not been maintained throughout the years. The roof needs to be fixed, and areas of the building will need to be reconstructed since it is not up to code.

Also, furniture will need to be bought, and there would be annual operation costs once the property is functional.

Mayor Matthew Surrency said it is a good idea to consider this option if they are unsuccessful in bringing the fire services back to the city.

Hawthorne resident Leonard Jones said this idea might not be the answer to the city’s attempt to bring money into the local economy.

“We may be chasing a dream concerning that fire station,” he said. “Is it really important?”

He also said the utilities are still on in the building even though it is vacant, and there is personal property from local residents being stored there.

Although this issue was only brought up for discussion during the meeting, commissioners will discuss the idea further at a later date.

Commissioner Roberts said this building might help the city’s current financial situation.

“We have to capitalize on our resources. We have to utilize what we have to make our finances better.”

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NEWBERRY – As the City of Newberry seeks to build an identity centered around sports, Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad has reached out to Gatorback Cycle Park with a proposal about possibly annexing the company into the city limits.

Conrad and Wyrn Kern, event promoter for Gatorback, met several weeks ago and discussed how the cycle park could help Newberry further develop its sports image.

While the meeting failed to result in Gatorback’s agreement to voluntarily annex into the city, the cycle park did offer support to the Newberry community.

"What they want us to do is to push Gatorback as part of Newberry so people would go to Newberry, [its] restaurant, hotels or whatever they have," Kern said.

He added, “The only way we would promote Newberry is through our customers."

Conrad expressed his interest during the Oct. 10 city commission meeting, saying that Gatorback could possibly buy land in the future.

"He told me about his desire to have more land, to buy a second location where he can run more different types of races," Conrad said.

However, Kern said Gatorback is not interested in buying land in Newberry anytime soon.

Conrad said he hopes the business considers annexing in the future, adding that Gatorback is closer to Newberry than to Alachua – with only one parcel of land between Newberry’s city limits. The cycle park is five miles from Newberry City Hall, three miles closer than Alachua, according to Conrad.

Gatorback has been in the motocross business for around 40 years, and it offers four events a year, attracting over 1,000 people to the area, Conrad said. He said the city is currently in talks with several hotel chains, and including sports venues such as Canterbury Equestrian Center and Easton Sports Complex into what he calls a “sports event package,” would help attract hotel chains to Newberry.

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GAINESVILLE – Members of the Alachua County Tourist Development Council (TDC) voted Wednesday against funding a project that would expand the Hal Brady Recreation Complex in the City of Alachua through the purchase of an adjacent 105 acres of land currently zoned for a large residential development.

Despite the TDC’s vote, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is still set to consider on Tuesday the City’s request for $500,000 in funding from the bed tax, fees collected on hotel, motel, campground and similar rentals.

The 6-2 vote of the TDC followed a lengthy discussion among board members, some who raised concerns that the $500,000 request was subverting the typical request process.  Other board members, however, were in favor of the expansion the plan.  Council member Lucie Regensdorf, owner and operator of The Grady House Bed and Breakfast in High Springs, was supportive of Alachua’s bid for the funding.

Dubbed ‘Project Legacy,’ the expansion plan was presented to the BOCC in September, but commissioners declined to decide on it until further details were presented.

At the request of the county commissioners, Assistant to City Manager Adam Boukari discussed the plans in front of the TDC Wednesday. The complex, which is currently 25 acres, would include an additional 105 acres of land if approved at a county commission meeting set for Oct. 25.

The City is currently sitting on a contract with an option to buy the 105-acre parcel of land from a Kissimmee-based private developer.  That contract expires Dec. 31, after which time, the opportunity to purchase would reportedly be lost and the land is slated for use as a residential development containing 215 homes.

Although the city is requesting $500,000 in tourist development tax funds. The total cost of the land is $1.2 million.  The city has already raised the majority of the money required for the purchase.

With the expansion, the sports complex would have three multi-purpose arenas and the ability to host large-scale tournaments, including for lacrosse, an emerging sport. Those tournaments, city officials say, would generate money through the bed tax.

The Hal Brady Recreation Complex was selected to host the 2012 Babe Ruth Softball 12U World Series. In attracting 20 teams, the event would bring in approximately $3,562.50 in bed taxes alone based on an estimated 950 hotel room nights at $75 per room.

The BOCC is set to consider the City of Alachua’s request at the Oct. 25 commission meeting.

 

 

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