A1 A1
Developer files appeal in protest with Sebring CRA

SEBRING — A Chicago real estate development group has filed an appeal, to go before the Sebring City Council, citing numerous violations of Florida Statues by the Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency.

Yan & Arp LLC (Grace (Yan) Cui and Cynthia Hopkins) had submitted a business proposal, one of two received, for the CRA-owned property at 209 Circle Park Drive. The CRA selection committee and CRA Board selected the proposal from Robert and Tiffany Cadzow, of Sebring, which called for an Irish pub on the ground floor with hotel rooms on the second floor.

Yan & Arp filed a protest in the decision, but the CRA stood by its decision. Yan & Arp’s appeal will go before the City Council at its June 15 meeting.

Hopkins stated in her appeal to the City Council, “as one of the two proposers for 209 Circle Park Drive, we would like to respectfully challenge the staff recommendation decision.

“Violations of various FL statutes and the Sebring Purchasing Policy established a ground to disqualify Mr. Bob Cadzow.”

As such, the RFP (request for proposal) process is not fair and inequitable to Yan & Arp LLC, a small business owned and managed by two Asian American women, she said.

“Your thorough, objective review is needed because the CRA’s administrative review to our protest contains numerous errors on facts. It was conducted without appropriate understanding of the legal and compliance framework,” Hopkins said.

She further claimed there was lobbying and influencing in violation of the Florida Sunshine Law.

Hopkins said Freedom of Information Act evidence shows that Mr. Cadzow initiated a private conversation with Mr. Leidel (CRA Board chair) to influence the public procurement selection process for “the Roanoke” (209 Circle Park). She said that conversation took place on April 6 at Cadzow’s restaurant, “the Faded.”

Leidel’s commentary on deal terms and contingencies about the conversation was captured on videos of two public meetings, Hopkins said.

Meetings of such a nature are subject to the Sunshine Law governing public meetings and records. There was no public notice or access for this conversation; neither was a record retained for public inspection, she said. In contrast, any communication between Yan & Arp and the CRA was conducted strictly via email, available for public inspection as required by the Sunshine Law.

Leidel said Thursday, “This is really an unnecessary endeavor in my opinion, because we had a selection committee put together; they (committee members) evaluated the proposals that were presented.

“They made their selection on the one that they thought would be the best and highest use for the downtown district and now we are just basically wasting time as we have to go through this process, which really only hurts the City in the long run because we have a vacant building that is not occupied.”

In a letter to Sebring City Administrator Scott Noethlich, Hopkins said, “I am officially filing the appeal statement for the CRA administrative review of our original protest statement for RFP 21-007.

“It is important to note that Yan & Arp LLC, as a proposer and unlike our competitor, is not asking for any preferential treatment. We follow the law and the procedures. We simply ask the City oversight body of the CRA to act in the best interest of taxpayers and enforce law & order by establishing a leveled playing field.

“Your transparency and objectivity are crucial to attract credible business investment and talents in order to secure long term economic growth for Sebring.”

Hopkins’ claims include: mismanagement of CRA meetings in violation of FL Statute 189, Uniform Special District Accountability Act; failure to follow the prescribed RFP Process in violation of FL Statute 163.380; multiple violations of FL Statute 163.380 Disposal of property in community redevelopment; and failed to disclose “all pertinent information” to Yan & Arp in violation of FL Statute 163.380(3)a.

Yan & Arp’s proposal for the 209 Circle Park Drive property includes a restaurant; a pop-up storefront to incubate local entrepreneurs and showcase local products; a high-end, mini laundry lounge for the tenants and the community, and five rental units on the second floor, fully rebuilt.

First 'Hero Brick' sold for 9/11 memorial

SEBRING — It was 20 years ago this past month that Highlands County’s various emergency agencies trained for a mass-casualty scenario.

Four months later, the whole nation had one with the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. In 2007, the West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department received a piece of the World Trade Center.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey sent a section of an I-beam from the building to the volunteer fire department. Scott Mann, retired volunteer chief, said it was one of 150 sent in answer to local department requests all over the United States, to have a piece of the tragedy to memorialize the civilians and first responders who died there.

On Sept. 11 this year, West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department will have the I-beam set as a memorial at Station 10 on Hammock Road, fully accessible from the Hammock Road Trail. Fundraising began in earnest last year.

This week, the department added a “Hero Brick” sale for people to buy one of 343 bricks to honor each of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighters who died in the fire and collapse of the World Trade Center.

On Memorial Day weekend, on Sunday, West Sebring Fire sold a brick for the largely-unknown 344th firefighter: Fire Patrolman Keith Roma lost his life on Sept. 11, 2001, after saving 200 lives by making four separate trips up Tower 1 of the World Trade Center.

The New York Fire Patrol (NYFP) was a smaller-scale operation tasked with protecting property by covering valuable items with tarps during a fire incident and pumping excess water from buildings, according to FireRescue1.com. Both FDNY and NYFP worked together to save lives and livelihoods, and aside from the color of their helmets, there was little difference.

Six-year fire patrolman Keith Roma loved his job, FireRescue1.com states. En route to the World Trade Center, he called his father, Arnold Roma, a former patrolman, who also decided to grab his fire gear and head over to the towers to assist.

Keith Roma’s last words to his father were, “I’ll see you there.”

FireRescue1.com states that a photographer caught a photo of Keith Roma leading a group of evacuees down a flight of stairs with another fire patrolman. At one point, he reportedly carried a barefoot woman through the glass-strewn lobby.

He was last seen alive at the FDNY command post of Tower 1, and was found on Christmas Eve, surrounded by nine more evacuees he was attempting to escort to safety.

His name will be on the Hammock Road memorial, said Billy Kingston, a member of West Sebring Fire and full-time battalion chief for Highlands County Fire Rescue, of which West Sebring Station 10 is a part.

“This is not a West Sebring memorial. This is about a memorial for Highlands County to remember what happened on 9/11,” Kingston said. “What better place than on the multi-use path on Hammock Road?”

Kingston said local firefighters and their supporters will honor Roma and the other 343 on Sept. 11 with the Fallen Firefighters Stair Climb in the morning at Sebring International Raceway — to commemorate the 110 flights of stairs up the tower — followed by the memorial dedication that afternoon.

Between now and then, people can sign up to honor the fallen firefighters at $35 per person to participate in the stair climb and varying amounts to purchase a brick:

- A four-by-eight-inch brick for an individual ($50), business ($100) or featuring a firefighter hero’s name ($100).

- An eight-inch-square brick for an individual ($100), business ($200) or featuring a firefighter hero’s name ($200)

“Obviously we want to sell some [bricks],” Kingston said.

Each West Sebring member has a goal of selling 20 bricks each, Kingston said.

“We’ve got a pretty good response, so far,” Kingston said, including one who will lay the bricks at no cost. “We’ve got a couple more in the pipe that we’re looking at and still looking for more.”

Bricks can be purchased at www.bricksrus.com/order/westsebring/.

County sees six new cases Wednesday

Highlands County saw six new cases of COVID-19, according to Wednesday’s numbers released by the Florida Department of Health.

The county’s total climbed to 8,781, with 8,683 being resident cases and the remaining 103 non-resident cases.

There were 158 resident tests processed on Tuesday, which yielded a positivity rate of 3.80% for the day. The county has been below 5% for eight straight days.

The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) reports that current hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are at 14, up three from Tuesday. The county has seen 681 hospitalizations since the pandemic started, according to the Florida Department of Health.

There were no additional deaths for the county, which keeps the total at 366.

On Wednesday, the state shows there were 99 vaccines given in the county, although it typically takes several days for all of the numbers to come in from various locations.

So far, there have been 46,304 people in the county vaccinated, according to FDOH. There have been 11,539 people who have received the first dose and 34,765 who have gotten both shots in the series.

In the state, there was an increase of 2,018 cases, bringing the total to 2,329,987 cases. There have been 2,286,332 cases involving residents and 43,535 non-resident cases.

The state processed 59,466 resident tests and had 57,594 negative tests, which resulted in a positivity rate of 3.15%, making it 14 straight days with a positivity rate under 5%.

There were an additional 52 deaths reported, which raises the overall total to 37,717, of which 36,973 have been resident deaths and 744 have been non-resident deaths.

Vaccinations in the state were the second lowest they have been in the last two weeks, with FDOH reporting 22,490 doses given on Wednesday, although that number will likely increase some over the next few days.

There have now been 10,367,299 million people in Florida vaccinated, with 8,393,060 having received both doses and 2,004,239 people having received the first dose.

The FDOH reported as of Wednesday, the number of people fully vaccinated by age group:

- Ages 12 to 14: 410 people

- Ages 15 to 24: 519,348 people

- Ages 25 to 34: 738,278 people

- Ages 35 to 44: 945,725 people

- Ages 45 to 54: 1,211,204 people

- Ages 55 to 64: 1,673,943 people

- Ages 65 to 74: 1,887,402 people

- Ages 75 to 84: 1,064,532 people

- Ages 85 and older: 352,218 people

The U.S. has surpassed the 50% vaccination mark, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as 169,090,262 people have received at least one, which is 50.9% of the population. The percentage of the country that is considered fully vaccinated is 41.2%.

Among those 12 and over, the percentage climbs to 60.3%, while 63% of all adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Seniors have been getting vaccinated at a higher rate than any other group, with 86% of those 65 and over having received at least one dose and 75% of seniors having been fully vaccinated.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the U.S. has now had a total of 33.31 million cases and had 596,022 deaths.

Globally, there have been 171.79 million cases and 3.69 million deaths.

Hurricane Expo is Saturday
  • Updated

SEBRING — Hurricane season is here. Are you ready? Do you have your disaster plan updated? Have you bought the supplies to fill your hurricane kit? Are you prepared in case you need to shutter your windows?

If these questions leave you feeling a little panicky, don’t worry. The Hurricane Preparedness Expo can help you find solutions and it’s scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 5 at the Lakeshore Mall.

The Highlands News-Sun has partnered with the Highlands County Board of County Commission, Lakeshore Mall and the county’s Emergency Operations Center to create this family-friendly event. You’ll be able to gather information to help you better prepare for this hurricane season, as well as have a little fun, too.

NBC News Channel 8 Meteorologist Rebecca Barry will be taking center stage at 11 a.m. to share her experience and expertise with Florida weather.

This year’s event features a Kids Zone, sponsored by Aaron’s Carts; a Bingo Hall, sponsored by Alan Jay Automotive Network; and live entertainment on the Outdoor Stage. The Hurricane Map sponsor is Bowman Steel.

Entertaining from the indoor center stage will be Highlands News-Sun’s Erica White at 10:15 a.m.; Mariah Ruth at 1:15 p.m.; a demonstration by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Canine Unit is set to start at 2:15 p.m.; Anna Marie Feeney at 3:20 p.m. and Ashton Dennison at 4:15 p.m.

Center stage, where speakers and demonstrations will be featured, is sponsored by Southwood Garage Doors.

Featured on the outdoor stage from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. will be Raisin’ Cain, with Shannon Reed performing from 4:45-5:30 p.m. and Hard Candy following from 6-9 p.m. The outdoor stage is sponsored by Duke Energy.

About 20 vendors will be educating guests on the latest products and services to help local residents prepare personal property like homes and vehicles for storm season.

Vendors will run the gamut from A to Z and include damage mitigation, generators, roof protection and more. Other vendors will explain how to best protect property with proper insurance. Vendors will have products and resources available for the public to preview to help prepare for potential storms, including protection during storms and home repair for after storms.

Also from center stage, Highlands County officials will share how to stay up-to-date on weather conditions, curfews, evacuations and more by signing up for cell phone applications and using hand-crank weather radios in the event of a power outage. Speakers include Highlands County Fire Rescue Public Safety Director Marc Bashoor at 1 p.m.; Gloria Rybinski and Karen Clogston from the Public Information Office at 2 p.m.; and Latosha Reiss from Emergency Management at 3 p.m.

Other speakers will include someone from Southwood Garage Doors at 10 a.m. and noon, and American Institute of Dermatology at 12:15 p.m.

The Kids Zone will be a special place for the kids to play games, explore and, well, be kids.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a ”near-normal” season and unfortunately, only a 10% chance of a season that is below normal.