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Former councilman files for AP seat

AVON PARK — The City of Avon Park has thus far received one letter of interest to be appointed to the City Council to fill the remainder of the term of Stanley Spurlock, who passed away Dec. 12.

Former councilman and former mayoral candidate Al Joe Hinson filed a letter of interest with the City last week.

Highlands News-Sun asked Hinson about his interest in the Council seat.

Hinson responded, “The city will miss Stanley Spurlock because of his commitment to the entire city and his commitment to the whole city.

“As a man who loves this city and the people in it, we need people on our council that care about the entire city and not just downtown. I have placed my name in for that reason and hope that others that care about this city will do the same.”

Hinson ran for mayor against incumbent Garrett Anderson in November 2019, but Anderson won the election. Hinson was defeated by Anderson in the 2016 mayoral race.

Hinson was elected to the city council in November 2007 and served one term having been defeated in his re-election bid by Parke Sutherland.

Councilman Jim Barnard said the Council has stated that someone with previous experience on the Council would be a benefit.

In a couple of months the Council will be talking about the budget, so it would be nice to have somebody with some recent experience on the Council or a City board who is civic minded and wants to serve the community, he said.

Before the holidays a few people said they were going to apply, but they will have to wait and see who puts their names in the hat, Barnard said. Some will do it right away while others may wait until the last day.

If there are others who apply, the Council with four members will be choosing someone with only four votes, he said. So someone would have to be approved by three or four “yes” votes.

It would be nice to have multiple options or at least two or more who have shown interest in serving the City, Barnard said.

Councilwoman Brenda Gray said some Council members have stated they are looking for someone who had served before on the Council and Hinson would qualify and he is community minded.

The Council should consider Hinson’s application, but she would also like to see some younger people apply for the position so they can get the experience in how a City operates, she said.

The homepage of the City’s website includes a link to the announcement that states: The City Council of Avon Park is seeking qualified candidates for appointment by the Council to the office of City Councilmember to serve out a term of the late Stanley Spurlock, which term ends upon election of a new councilmember in the Nov. 2, 2021 election.

Letters of interest and qualifications, or questions regarding this appointment, may be sent to: Kim Gay, City Clerk, at 110 E. Main Street, Avon Park, FL 33825, by fax to 863-452-4413, or by email at kgay@avonpark.cc.

The City Councilmember qualifications include residency within the City limits for at least one year immediately prior to appointment and must be a registered voter of the City of Avon Park.

The City will take submittals until Jan. 20, so that an appointment can be made at the Feb. 8, Council meeting.

Reduced speed limit on Ponce de Leon

SEBRING — Officials for Sun ‘N Lake of Sebring Special Improvement District have changed the speed limits on Ponce de Leon Boulevard.

Everything south of Nadena Drive will be 25 mph, which includes the Sun ‘N Lake Elementary School school bus entrance, Covenant Presbyterian Church and the AdventHealth Sebring daycare, all of which are in close proximity to each other.

The rest of the road, north from Nadena to the U.S. 27 junction across from Wild Turkey Tavern, will be 30 mph, according to district staff when they presented the plan to the Board of Supervisors, who all consented in favor of the plan on Friday.

The change came about as a result of a previous board meeting in December, where Board President Neal Hotelling discussed how the speed limit had already been changed on Ponce de Leon from 30 mph to 25 mph. He and other board members asked that all future speed limit proposals come to them first before any changes are made.

The Board also asked Facilities and Security Director Mike Hurley — who fields the majority of residents’ speed complaints — to bring back a recommendation regarding the speed on Ponce de Leon. Last Friday, he said his recommendation was based on the higher amount of pedestrian traffic on Ponce de Leon, south of Nadena.

Other “spine” roads in the Sun ‘N Lake Special Improvement District also saw speed limit reductions from 30 mph to 25 mph, such as Columbus Boulevard, Minorca Drive, Granada Avenue, Cortez Boulevard, Balboa Boulevard and Ortega Street. Each one has 10-foot lanes with drop curbs in a 70-foot right of way.

When Traffic Planning and Design (TPD) did a study of the District in August 2019, those roads were 30 mph, but Cortez, Columbus, Granada and Minorca speed limits got changed in the last year to 25 mph. District General Manager Tanya Cannady told supervisors those roads would soon return to 30 mph.

However, discussion of Columbus Boulevard at the last meeting indicated that supervisors may be OK with keeping Columbus at 25 mph, after Hurley explained that the road has heavy golf cart traffic and children walking to a bus stop.

“If we can keep the speed down, it would be safer for everyone,” Hurley said.

Supervisors also brought up concerns about some people going around the speed bumps on some roads, usually in golf carts, and having to put up traffic bollards to keep people from running their vehicles into the grass.

Tom Kosty, resident, asked if traffic engineers were asked to do an “80th percentile” study on the roads to determine what was the most commonly-driven speed. They had not.

Kosty then asked about a $20,000 speed detection cart that the District had purchased and asked whether or not it was in use or its data was being factored into new speed limits. In the end, he said he didn’t believe they were utilizing it.

Bill Norcross, another resident, said Columbus was 35 mph approximately 15 years ago and is a lot safer at 25 mph, but said the real problem comes from the “shotgun starts” at the golf course each morning. It would be good to tell people in the carts to avoid Columbus during early morning commute times.

Supervisors questioned who would be informed of that, and how. Early morning golfers, they said, could be residents but might also be visitors who do not get the District newsletter, but conceded that that information could be passed out to people who rent the carts upon sign up that morning.

Sun ‘N Lake is a golf cart community, meaning people on golf carts are allowed to use the main roads within the District and motorists must give them equal consideration. However, golf cart riders may not take their carts onto roads outside the District.

Way paved for new businesses

LAKE PLACID — During the regular meeting of the Lake Placid Town Council on Monday evening, council approved and adopted (with amendments) Special Exception Request LPTC.21.002. The special exception would allow for Open Yard Storage to exceed 50% of the enclosed building with a special exception approval and site plan. Tractor Supply Co. is the proposed business that would like to lease the remainder of the former Winn Dixie building at 70 Tower Plaza.

Because of the nature of the company, western wear and large equipment, the company utilizes outdoor storage. The interior business would be about 24,380 square feet. The proposed Open Yard Storage is some 18,424 square feet, which would require a special exception.

The Board of Adjustments had six conditions before it would give its approval and the Town Council had 10 conditions, including the six from the Board of Adjustments. The storage had to meet local, state and federal requirements, and was only applicable to Tractor Supply Company, not the entire shopping plaza. The outdoor footage could not exceed 18,242 square feet. The area had to remain junk free. Any changes would have to go before the council. Horticulture and irrigation, screening etc. has to remain in good condition. The fencing has to be black chain link or vinyl fencing.

On the eighth condition, County Planner Dana Riddell broke the development stage into three phases that gives shopping center owner Eric Royal specific time frames to make changes in landscaping, drainage and curb cuts for Americans with Disabilities Act compatibility, etc.

The town did not want landscaping in the right-of-way. The exception was to be effective immediately. If the time restraints were not met, the exception would be considered null and void.

The council also approved the request to reduce 55 parking spaces to accommodate the Open Yard Storage.

Mayor John Holbrook asked Royal what the plans were for the massive mural that is painted on the building’s southern wall. Royal assured the mayor and council that he told TSC that they are not to touch the mural or block it from the public’s view.

In other actions, the council approved a waiver to reduce parking requirements at 27 and 29 Rainer Dr., which will be Sapp Storage. Councilman Greg Sapp abstained from voting.

The council also approved and adopted an amendment to the Official Zoning Map for a Highway Commercial PD District. The property is about 1.06 acre on W. Interlake Boulevard and N. Tangerine Avenue. The previous permit use was for a bank, professional offices, retail and convenience store with fuel station. The applicant Mike Weymouth, has asked the council and the Local Planning Agency for approval to change the convenience store with restaurant use.

County COVID reports much improved
  • Updated

SEBRING — Highlands County had a much better day in regards to its COVID-19 reports released by the Florida Department of Health on Wednesday. New cases and the daily positivity rate were down dramatically from Tuesday and there were no new deaths.

The county added 36 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, which was major difference from the previous day’s 75 cases. This brings the overall cases to 5,668 with 5,610 residents infected and 58 non-residents who tested positive. There have been 407 cases in the past seven days for an average of 58.14 cases per day.

The total county deaths remain at 225 or 4% of all cases. Florida’s deaths are 2% of all the cases.

The positivity rate took a nose dive as well. While still higher than the World Health Organization would want, the 8.33% reported on Wednesday stands in sharp contrast to the 22.25% of Tuesday.

Hospitalizations have reached 463 cases in the county, which is 8% of all cases. Florida’s hospitalization rate is half of the county’s at 4%. According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, there were 56 people hospitalized as of 3:02 p.m. on Wednesday. AHCA showed an ICU bed census of 26 with one bed open, or 3.70% availability. That is one more bed available than the previous day. The regular bed census for the county was 262 with 12 available, or 4.41% available. The FDOH report shows 57 deaths from long-term health care facilities, either residents or staff.

The county’s daily median age was 55 on Wednesday and the overall median age is 51.

Statewide, Florida added 13,990 new cases for a new total of 1,517,472 cases of infections. Of those cases, 1,490,148 come from residents and 27,324 are from non-residents.

Florida’s deaths rose by 174 people to bring the cumulative total to 23,759. Of those whose deaths are attributed to COVID, 23,396 have been residents and 363 have been non-residents.

The state processed 134,777 tests with 121,117 negative results. The positivity rate for Wednesday was 10.17%, slightly better than Tuesday’s rate of 10.62%.

Deaths shot up in the United States, as the country saw more than 4,000 deaths for the second day in a week, while the other metrics weren’t quite so bad.

There were 213,885 new cases, according to the COVID Tracking Project’s Tuesday evening update, while tests were at 1,871,244, which is a little lower than the seven-day average. That yields a positivity rate of 11.4% for the day.

Hospitalizations inched back up over the 130,000 mark, as there were 131,326 hospitalized, which is 1,500 more than the previous day.

The death total was 4,056 and there was a wide range of numbers, with Alaska, Hawaii and Kansas each reporting no deaths and California reporting 548, with Arizona reporting 335 and Alabama, Texas, Missouri and Pennsylvania all above 200.

Early numbers for Wednesday weren’t looking too promising, as California reported 33,751 new cases, which is nearly 7,000 fewer cases than the state’s rolling 14-day average, but also 589 new deaths, which is quite a bit higher than the 14-day average of 439.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the U.S. has now seen 22.9 million cases and had 382,120 deaths.

Globally, there have been 91.9 million cases and the death toll hit 1.97 million.