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ALACHUA ‒ A new development in the city of Alachua is poised to bring over a thousand households as well as science and technology research companies to the area.

Concept Companies and The Roberts Company broke ground on The Convergence, a 420-acre development. Anchored by Momentum Labs, the development will be located adjacent to Progress Park and is designed as a hub for major science and technology research companies. The development will feature a mixed-use sustainable community with residential housing adjacent to high tech businesses as well as miles of adjacent nature trails, sports facilities and adjacent community recreation amenities.

The Convergence is strategically located near Sid Martin Biotech incubator in Progress Park and will offer incubator employees, as well as employees of already established life sciences, biomedical research, medicine, and chemical sciences companies, an opportunity to live close to their work. The development will also attract additional high-tech industry by offering expanded research and development facilities and commercial space.

Officials from Gainesville and the City of Alachua as well as business leaders gathered on a chilly Friday, Jan. 7, to witness the groundbreaking ceremony and to hear about the development.

To emphasize the collaborative nature of The Convergence, in addition to the groundbreaking, San Felasco Research Ventures, a joint enterprise by Concept Companies and The Roberts Companies, organized a community concert headlining local favorite Sister Hazel and gave away 1,200 free tickets to the general public. Georgia songwriter Carly Burruss opened the show as the sun set and the temperature dropped. Despite the cold, the audience continued to build as Sister Hazel took the stage for an almost two-hour show.

“Our goal is to create a collaborative community where people can come together and work on their projects, live in the same place and really do extraordinary science without sacrificing lifestyle,” said Brian Crawford, CEO of Concept Companies. “We’re estimating approximately 1,000 households and as much as three thousand square feet of commercial space. That commercial space is mixed use so there’s predominately research type space but also community space for retail and fitness centers,” said Crawford.

“The addition of this project within Alachua will strengthen research and business activity in our biotechnology sector,” said City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, “With the combination of this new project and existing assets, our region is poised to become the epicenter of science, research and technology in the State of Florida.”

“It’s been a pleasure and an honor working with the City of Alachua on several critical projects in the region, including Copeland Park and Foundation Park,” said Crawford.

According to Crawford, they expect to start building homes and tech companies later this year. “There are lots of moving parts to a project of this size.”

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NEWBERRY – Greenfield East Pre-School is a step closer to expansion.  The City of Newberry Board of Adjustment (BOA) unanimously approved Resolution 2022-01 to allow expansion of Greenfield East Pre-School by special exception during a quasi-judicial public hearing.

Newberry planner Wendy Kinser-Maxwell presented the application to the BOA on behalf of applicant Jayme Tate, agent for GPS Newberry East LLC and the property owner.  Tate requested approval of expansion of the existing childcare facility on approximately 1.03 acres of land in Newberry’s Agricultural (A) Zoning District located at 21805 West Newberry Road.  

Greenfield East Pre-School has been operated as a childcare center since 2000, first under previous owners as “A Step Ahead Enrichment Center,” and then under the current ownership as Greenfield Preschool East since 2016.  Plans are to demolish a 460 square foot portion of the existing 2,550 square foot preschool and add approximately 3,600 square foot of new construction, resulting in a new preschool total square footage of 5,750.  The increased size will allow the school to expand its current ability to serve 58 children to 101.

On Jan. 3, the City’s Planning and Zoning Board unanimously voted to recommend approval to the BOA with one condition.  They requested that the applicant provide documentation from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) of compliance with state access requirements such as a traffic study, which may be applicable to the expanded childcare facility.

Kinser-Maxwell explained that a traffic study is not required as the preschool will not meet the FDOT threshold of 500 trips daily for a study to be required.

Existing ingress/egress points will remain the same with primary access on West Newberry Road and secondary access on Northwest 218th Street for emergency and parent parking access.  Greenfield East assists with maintenance of the Northwest 218th Street portion from West Newberry Road south to their access and will continue to do so. 

Tate said the preschool currently has a waitlist of over 100 children between the three Greenfield locations.  She expects the preschool east staff count will grow from 11 to approximately 20.  She also said she was attempting to break ground as soon as possible in order to build out Phase One of the project before Aug. 22, when school starts again.

Mayor Jordan Marlowe expressed concern about approving this application when the City hasn’t yet established requirements for the overlay district.  Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas and City Manager Mike New pointed out the difference between a special exception and other large-scale projects staff has asked developers to hold off on until the requirements are established.  Thomas said that construction would be on the back of the existing pre-school building and the front of the building would remain as it is.

Planning and Zoning Board Chair Naim Erched addressed the BOA and encouraged approval as a way to boost business growth in Newberry and support an existing business that is doing well in the community.

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L - R: Deputy Director of the Office of Ag Water Policy at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Chris Pettit; Florida Farm Bureau President Jeb Smith, 2021 CARES recipient Scott Emerson, Executive Director of Suwannee River Water Management District Hugh Thomas, Dean for UF/IFAS Extension Dr. Andra Johnson.

BLAND ‒ Scott Emerson of Emerson’s Little Dam Farm, Bland, Florida, has been recognized as a 2021 CARES recipient. Florida Farm Bureau’s County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship (CARES) program publicly recognizes Florida farmers and ranchers who demonstrate exemplary efforts to protect Florida’s natural resources by implementing Best Management Practices. The program highlights the many ways farmers and ranchers use best management practices to leave the land and its resources in better shape for the next generation.

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• City of Alachua Honors Educator

•  Wilford Will Not Seek Reelection

ALACHUA – Students at W.W. Irby Elementary School will soon benefit from a Catalyst for Change grant.  Mayor Gib Coerper presented Irby Elementary’s Shernee Bellamy with a Certificate of Appreciation for winning the Catalyst for Change grant competition.

The competitive grant program is for teachers and schools to implement projects that increase student engagement and provides opportunities for K-12 students that focus on improving literacy and raising student achievement. 

Bellamy is a second year media specialist at Irby Elementary who has been teaching animation to first grade students.  “The biggest problem has been to be able to get current equipment and technology for the students to be able to create their animation projects,” said Bellamy.  “Now, with this grant money I will have the opportunity to take those stories online, which will allow them to flourish with their own mediums through the lens of Stop Motion Animation.” The grant funds will enable the students to bring their projects to life with current technology.

In what was a surprise to many, Commissioner Robert Wilford announced he will not seek reelection in April.  Reading from a prepared statement, he said it was a hard decision accompanied by reflection, prayer and conversations with his family.  Wilford plans to relocate to St. Augustine where most of his family resides, and where he plans to do volunteer work once they settle into their new location. Wilford closed his remarks by saying he tried to make a difference, and “the end of an era is the start of a new beginning.”

In other business, city staff is currently updating the City of Alachua Comprehensive Plan to reflect recent changes in state law. The amendment to the city’s plan adds a Property Rights Element, as required by changes to the State of Florida Community Planning Act, which became effective July 1, 2021.

The Property Rights Element specifies that the City of Alachua will protect and judicially acknowledged private property rights, will consider private property rights as part of the decision-making process, and that the property owner has the right to physically possess and control his or her interests in the property, including easements, leases and mineral rights.

The property owner also has the right to use, maintain, develop, or improve their property for personal use or for the use of any other person they choose and the right to privacy and exclude others from the property to protect the owner's possessions and property. State law requires the Property Rights Element and the City Commission unanimously passed the amendment.

The Commission approved a request to amend the land use designation on a proposed 160-acre development that is part of the larger 420-acre The Convergence development. The 160-acre land, owned by the University of Florida Foundation, Inc., is adjacent to the Sid Martin Incubator, which is owned by the University of Florida and is focused on providing space for bio and medical technology startup companies. 

The requested land designation changes are for the Cellon Creek development that will be located south of the intersection of Northwest U.S. Highway 441 and Southern Precast Drive and east of Cellon Creek Boulevard. The property is currently undeveloped and is comprised of cleared pasture, and some naturally wooded areas located in the south-central portion of the property and along the south property line. 

The proposed amendment would change the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) designations into a single designation of Corporate Park, which allows for a mixed usage of residential, industry and commercial. Currently the property is divided into Commercial, Community Commercial, High Density Residential and Moderate Density Residential. The Corporate Park designation allows for mixed use throughout the property, paralleling plans for The Convergence.  

Developers are recommending building a secondary road parallel to U.S. Highway 441 to connect it to Progress Park and The Convergence to limit traffic increase on that road due to the expected 1,000 new residential houses from both developments. 

In other business, the Commission considered and approved transmission and tariff agreements between Florida Power & Light (FPL) Company and the City of Alachua.  The agreements provide for the FPL sale and the City’s purchase of power and energy to meet the power supply needs of Alachua Substation No.1. The transaction agreement is to arrange and schedule transmission of purchased power over FPL lines, with the cost absorbed by FPL.

Power purchased by the City also travels over GRU transmission lines to connect to Alachua Substation No. 1.  The agreement with GRU to complete the transmission of FPL power and energy is expected to be completed and presented to the City Commission in February. 

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ALACHUA COUNTY – The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office kicked off its annual visits to the county's seven public high schools with a visit to Hawthorne Middle/High School on Wednesday, January 12. Students learned about the voting process and had an opportunity to pre-register or register to vote.
 
The Supervisor of Elections has conducted an annual school outreach program since 1993.
 
In Florida, prospective voters can pre-register to vote beginning at 16. When a pre-registered voter turns 18, his or her voter registration activates automatically.
 
As part of its annual school outreach program, the Supervisor of Elections Office will present to the following schools on the following dates:
 
  • Jan. 12: Hawthorne Middle/High School
  • Jan. 31: Eastside High School
  • Feb. 2: Buchholz High School (Virtual)
  • Feb. 3: Gainesville High School
  • Feb. 7: Newberry High School
  • Feb. 9: Loften High School
  • Feb. 10: Santa Fe High School
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ALACHUA COUNTY – Wesley Glen Addison, 21, Alexandria Mariana Mihelic, 27 and Alan Bruce Manning, 27, have all been arrested in connection with a November theft from ArchAngel Gunsmithing and Outfitters, 25720 W. Newberry Road, Newberry, and a string of other vehicle, firearm and ATM thefts and burglaries that spanned at least four counties.

Addison was arrested on Dec. 15, and at the time, all details of the case were fully redacted in the court records because Manning had not yet been arrested. A number of documents are still fully redacted and the motion requesting that the records be sealed is also fully redacted. The warrant for that arrest lists five counts of grand theft of a firearm and charges for possession of burglary tools, armed burglary and using a vehicle in a burglary.

Additional charges in two more cases were added on Dec. 21. The arrest report in the first case alleges that Addison and Manning stole a car from a house in a neighborhood off Southwest 24th Avenue on Nov. 23 and then drove that vehicle to attempt to rob an ATM at the Renasant Bank, 4373 W. Newberry Road, Gainesville.

Both suspects were wearing masks in the ATM surveillance video, but they were wearing distinctive clothes that also appeared in social media posts made by the suspects. The GPS of the stolen vehicle showed that it was driven to Addison’s home in Alachua for a brief time, it was then driven around, including making a stop at the Renasant Bank. The vehicle was then abandoned near Manning’s house.

Other burglaries from vehicles in the same neighborhood were reported on that date and surveillance video from houses in the neighborhood shows two white men wearing the same distinctive clothing that is shown on the Renasant Bank video.

The arrest report in the second case alleges that on Nov. 9, Addison and Manning opened two vehicles parked at a home in Micanopy and stole a Ruger 22 firearm, a Gucci purse, cologne, a key fob, a cooler and about $300 in cash. They then walked behind the home and stole a four-wheeler. The total estimated value of the stolen property was about $5,570.

A sworn complaint in a fourth case, added on Jan. 3, adds charges for possession of burglary tools and burglary of an unoccupied structure for the ATM robbery at Renasant Bank. The complaint states that the two suspects were unsuccessful in getting any money from the ATM. License plate readers in the area of the bank noted a second car, a red sedan, near the stolen car at three different locations. That car is owned by someone closely associated with Addison, and Addison was driving it on Aug. 10 in Bradford County when he had contact with law enforcement there.

That sworn complaint also notes that on Nov. 26, Certified Hydraulics in Branford (Suwannee County) was burglarized and a work truck and tools were stolen at that time. That vehicle was equipped with a GPS transponder, and the transponder recorded everywhere the truck went after it was stolen. The stolen truck was driven to the VyStar Credit Union in Lake Butler (Union County), where video showed two male subjects attempting to rob the ATM by first using pry bars and then attempting to break the machine open with a tow rope attached to the truck.

The two subjects wore some of the same distinctive clothes that were caught on the Renasant Bank ATM video and other clothes matched clothing worn in Addison’s social media posts. A tattoo seen on the VyStar video matched a tattoo in Manning’s social media posts. A red sedan similar to the second car observed in Gainesville was also seen in the VyStar video. The arrest report notes, “It is believed that a third occupant was inside of the red sedan acting as a lookout and chase vehicle operator.”

After leaving Lake Butler, the truck proceeded toward Gainesville and then stopped briefly near a church along State Road 121, where discarded tools were reported as having been found by a citizen on Nov. 26. The truck was then tracked to ArchAngel Gunsmithing and Outfitters in Newberry, where video surveillance showed the two subjects pulling the doors off that business with a rope tied to the stolen work truck, while armed with at least one handgun.

Five AR-15-style rifles, valued at more than $8,900, were stolen from ArchAngel. After leaving ArchAngel, the truck was driven to the area of Southwest 85th Avenue, where it was set on fire and completely destroyed.

On Dec. 7, another vehicle was reported stolen from a home off Northwest 78th Avenue in Alachua. A license plate reader in Flagler County gave an alert and deputies from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office pursued the vehicle. Four occupants fled after the vehicle was stopped and two black men were arrested. A handgun was found on the floor of the vehicle that matched a gun held by Addison in a social media photograph. A knit cap matching the one seen on the Renasant Bank video was also found in the vehicle.

Search warrants for Addison’s and Manning’s homes found clothing worn during the crimes and, post Miranda, Addison confessed to his role in the ArchAngel burglary and at least one of the vehicle thefts.

Warrants were issued for Manning’s arrest, and Mihelic’s arrest report alleges that both she and Manning knew about the warrants because Manning had spoken with the Sheriff’s office about the warrants.

Manning was arrested on Jan. 7 at Mihelic’s residence. The arrest report notes, “Mihelic was aware of this criminal investigation and pending charges, however she still chose to assist Alan Manning to evade arrest by allowing him to reside with her at her apartment.”

The report further states that Mihelic cooperated with investigators and confessed post-Miranda to acting as the chase vehicle and look-out during the ArchAngel burglary. She also allegedly helped transport the rifles stolen from ArchAngel, which were placed in the trunk of the vehicle she was driving. She allegedly followed Addison and Manning down a dirt road in Newberry, where they moved items from the stolen work trunk to the vehicle she was driving before setting the truck on fire.

Mihelic has been charged with armed burglary, five counts of grand theft of a firearm, using a vehicle to cause damage to a structure and unarmed burglary of an unoccupied structure. She is being held on $50,000 bond.

Addison and Manning both have documented criminal histories including burglary, vehicle theft and firearms possession for Manning and drug and property crimes for Addison.

Addison was on probation at the time of the alleged crimes. Addison is being held without bond on the ArchAngel robbery charges and on $400,000 bond on the charges related to the two vehicle thefts. Manning is being held on $155,000 bond on the various cases.

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GAINESVILLE –  Cassidy Klein, a high school English language arts teacher at the A. Quinn Jones Center, was tabbed as the recipient of the 2022 Division for Emotional & Behavioral Health (DEBH) Region 8 Teacher of the Year award.

The award is presented annually by the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders. Region 8 represents Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Klein, who is in her fourth year at A. Quinn Jones and was the center’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, said that a passion for working with her students made receiving the DEBH award very special.

“I feel very passionate about students with emotional and behavioral disabilities,” Klein said. “It’s definitely my passion, so any time you’re recognized for something you really care about, it feels good.”

Having now earned teacher of the year honors in 2021 and 2022, Klein believes that her students have made her a better instructor.

“All of my students have different learning styles, different backgrounds and their experiences with school are different than mine,” Klein said. “They’ve shown me ways to look at curriculum differently. I’ve had to learn how to view something that’s made for every high schooler in the district and adapt it to fit my students’ needs.”

Klein will be presented with her award during the DEBH General Business Meeting at the CEC Convention and Expo in Orlando on Jan. 17.

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