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Sebring approves agreement for apartment complex

SEBRING — The Sebring City Council approved an amended development agreement related to a 529-unit apartment complex to be built on part of the “old Kenilworth Lodge Golf Course.”

The conceptual site plan for “Central Park Village — An Apartment Community” was submitted to the city in 2022.

Last year, developer Alexander Forkosh had requested and was granted a zoning and land use change for a 30.34-acre portion of a 116.85-acre property at 2838 U.S. Alt. 27.

The property is west of the southern portion of the Sebring Parkway with the property’s northern boundary generally across the Parkway from Yarbrough Tire.

The 116.85-acre property is one of several adjacent properties under the same ownership, Lake Jackson Holdings, LLC, totaling about 135 acres.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, City Administrator Scott Noethlich noted that in April and October of 2022, the owner of the property approached the City Council to rezone 30.34 acres of property for a 529-unit apartment complex and as a condition of that there was a 9.99-acre parcel that was priorly a planned development that was rezoned in October by the council to an R-1 parcel, low density residential (for the construction of 43 single-family dwellings).

There is also about 100 acres of that parcel that has not been rezoned with the city zoning and/or land use change yet, from county to city, he said.

The amended development agreement will govern the 30.34 acres and then the balance of the property from the perspective of – if they should develop that 100 acres they will need to come back to council for a land use and zoning change, Noethlich explained.

City Attorney Mike Swain said the existing development agreement that has been in place for a number of years prohibited the assignment by a developer to a future developer. The amended version does not have that provision, but does have a provision that requires the property owner, whomever it may be, to get the zoning before developing the balance of the property.

Mayor John Shoop said if a financial institution has to foreclose on this thing, they want to make sure they can get the assignment of all the rights that are underneath the development agreement so they don’t have to come back and fight to get it – it automatically transfers to them.

The City Council unanimously approved the fourth amendment and restatement of the the development agreement.

People encouraged to 'bid' add-ons for livestock

SEBRING — The Highlands County Fair holds its livestock auction tonight for all the hopeful young future farmers who’ve learned over the last few months how to raise an animal.

It’s not easy. Not every animal made minimum weight to get to the auction, and among those that did, it can be hard to recoup the cost of feeding and caring for that animal since October.

For example, 169 students started raising hogs last October, and 119 made it to auction, which means 50 did not.

“We try to tell people, it’s the same as a watermelon grower. The crop may not have a good yield. That’s agriculture,” said Lindsey Sebring, chair of the Highlands County Junior Livestock Committee.

Agriculture has a lot of gains and losses, but that’s life, and as Sebring said, “there’s no better business.”

It can be a lot of work, said County Commissioner Chris Campbell, whose two sons have both raised and exhibited hogs at the fair.

When a student takes on that project in October, they get an animal weighing between 36 to 72 pounds, Campbell said. They must provide enough feed and care to get the hog up to 235 pounds, minimum, for the auction.

County Commissioner Scott Kirouac said that’s a regimen of feeding twice a day, every day, provided the animal doesn’t get sick. Any kind of stomach or intestinal bug and the hog will get dehydrated and lose weight.

Of the 50 that didn’t make weight this year, 25 of them never even arrived at the fair, said Darin Hood, past chair of the Livestock Committee. They either didn’t get close to making weight or got sick and died past the Dec. 1 cutoff date to get another hog.

Past that point, there’s not enough time to feed and fatten a hog for the fair.

Sebring said auction weight requirements are 235 pounds for hogs, 30 pounds for goats, 750 pounds for heifers and 1,000 pounds for steers. Rules state all hogs and steers must go to slaughter.

On average, Hood said, 10% of all animals don’t make it into the auction each year, but because hogs are shipped south from more northern latitudes, they’re particularly susceptible to local infection.

Goats, steers and heifers are more hardy, Hood said, especially since the Livestock Committee stipulates that the cattle must be raised in Florida’s Heartland — here or in neighboring counties.

This year has a record number of animals, Hood said. The livestock auction starts tonight at 6 p.m., right after the 5 p.m. Buyer’s Dinner. A key part of the auction each year, Sebring said, are the add-on bids.

Anybody can place an add-on, which Sebring described as a donation separate from the bidding. It allows people who cannot afford to bid or who get outbid on an animal to still support the young exhibitor.

The 300 kids exhibiting in shows and/or auctions have invested a lot in their animals, Sebring said, many in more than one animal. The add-ons help defray the cost.

People can visit the Livestock Committee table tonight to set up those add-ons, or can email and follow up with a cash or check donation, Sebring said.

Those donations can be made en masse and divided up as the donor wishes, she said. The Livestock Committee charges a 3% fee on the entire amount.

Kirouac said he has gotten 25 letters asking him to bid on a student’s animal, and if he can’t bid on an animal directly, he’ll spread out his support among the 25 with a single check.

It helps keep agriculture in the schools, he said.

Campbell said it can be hard on anyone who doesn’t sell an animal at auction. Either a private buyer will step in and take it off their hands or the parents will hold onto the animal to sell to the processors later.

When one of his sons’ hogs didn’t make weight one year, they kept it at home until the processors cleared out their contracts to process county fair livestock. By late July that year, they had a chance to take the hog to a processor in Arcadia, and by then it weighed 375 pounds.

The average person doesn’t have the option to keep the animal at home, Campbell said, which is why it’s so important for the community to come out and support the auction.

Zelenskyy visits UK for first time since Russia's invasion

LONDON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a rare trip out of his country Wednesday, daring to visit Britain in a bid for more advanced weapons as Kyiv braces for an expected Russian offensive and hatches its own plans to retake land held by Moscow’s forces.

Zelenskyy arrived on a Royal Air Force plane at London Stansted airport north of the U.K. capital. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted him on the tarmac, tweeting a photo of him embracing the Ukrainian leader.

“The United Kingdom was one of the first to come to Ukraine’s aid. And today I’m in London to personally thank the British people for their support,” Zelenskyy said on Instagram.

A large convoy of vehicles left the airport and headed straight to Downing Street in central London. Both leaders posed briefly for photos in front of the famous black door that leads into the U.K. prime minister’s residence.

Staff inside 10 Downing St. could be heard applauding as the Ukrainian leader entered.

At the start of the leaders’ meeting, Zelenskyy thanked Britain for its “big support from the first days of full-scale invasion.”

Zelenskyy will later address Parliament. It’s his first trip to the U.K. since Russia’s invasion began nearly a year ago and only his second confirmed journey outside Ukraine during the war.

Zelenskyy will also meet with King Charles III and U.K. military chiefs during his visit.

The U.K. is one of the biggest military backers of Ukraine and has sent the country more than 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) in weapons and equipment.

The visit comes as Sunak announced that Britain will train Ukrainian pilots on “NATO-standard fighter jets.” Ukraine has urged its allies to send jets, though the U.K. says it’s not practical to provide the Ukrainian military with British warplanes.

More than 10,000 Ukrainian troops have also been trained at bases in the U.K., some on the Challenger 2 tanks that Britain is sending.

“I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future,” Sunak said. “It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come.”

Coinciding with the visit, the U.K. government announced a new round of sanctions against six entities that the U.K. said supplied equipment to the Russian military.

CST, a manufacturer of Russian drones and parts for helicopters used against Ukraine, were among those sanctioned. Others targeted included five individuals linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s luxury residences, including Boris Titov and Aerostart owner Viktor Myachin.

Zelenskyy addressed the U.K. Parliament remotely in March, two weeks after the start of the invasion. He echoed World War II leader Winston Churchill’s famous “never surrender” speech, vowing that Ukrainians “will fight till the end at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost.”

Before Sunak took office, Zelenskyy had formed a bond with Boris Johnson, who was one of Ukraine’s most vocal backers while he was U.K. prime minister. Sunak took office in October and has pledged to maintain the U.K.’s support.

It will be Zelenskyy’s second known trip visit abroad since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. He visited the U.S. in December.

Zelenskyy may be seeking Western pledges of more advanced weapons before potential spring offensives by both Russia and Ukraine.

In Brussels, there were increasing expectations that the Ukrainian leader might also make his first visit to European Union institutions since the war began.

Leaders from 27-nation bloc will be gathering for a summit in Brussels on Thursday. That would enable Zelenskyy to meet with all major leaders of the bloc in one day. Zelenskyy has often addressed EU summits only through video calls from Ukraine.

The EU’s legislature has also slated a special plenary session in Brussels for Thursday in the hopes that Zelenskyy will come following his trip to Britain.

The London visit came as Russian forces blasted areas of eastern Ukraine with more artillery bombardments, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday, in what Kyiv authorities believe is part of a new thrust by the Kremlin’s forces before the invasion anniversary.

Russian forces over the past day launched major shelling attacks on areas near the front line in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, killing a 74-year-old woman and wounding a 16-year-old girl in the border town of Vovchansk, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said.

Russian forces in Ukraine are focusing their efforts on “waging a counteroffensive” in the country’s industrial east, with the aim of taking full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the Donbas, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.

Russian troops launched assaults near Bakhmut and Vuhledar, two mining towns in the Donetsk region that have been among Moscow’s key targets, Ukrainian officials said.

Seizing Bakhmut could severely disrupt Ukraine’s military supply routes. It would also open a door for Moscow’s forces to drive toward key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.

Ukrainian authorities say the Kremlin’s goal is to complete full control of the Donbas, an expansive industrial area bordering Russia. That would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a major battlefield success after months of setbacks and help him rally public opinion behind the war.

Military analysts say that after a Ukrainian counteroffensive that started last summer and recaptured large areas from Russia, the war has been largely static in recent months.

Moscow, meanwhile, believes Ukraine is preparing its own battlefield push.

The Russian-installed leader of the occupied Luhansk region said Wednesday the situation in some areas is “very difficult” because Kyiv is mustering forces for a counterattack.

Leonid Pasechnik told Russian state TV that the situation is “very difficult” in areas around a key Russian supply route. “Unfortunately, the enemy is accumulating sufficient reserves there, forces to counterattack, to return the lost territories,” he said.

It wasn’t possible to verify the claims by the two sides.

Raf Casert contributed to this report from Brussels.

Forestry: Open burning allowed, under certain rules

SEBRING — Monday saw fires in two separate municipalities start from backyard burning.

One in Sebring, possibly accidental, got put out quickly, while the other in an urban-scrub interface area of Highway Park got out of control. It required a full response from Highlands County Fire Rescue, including a tanker to bring extra water.

Florida Forest Service arrived at the afternoon fire just as HCFR crews had doused it, established a perimeter and had mopped up hot spots. Both Forestry and Fire Rescue want people to take care when burning backyard debris.

If the conditions aren’t ideal to do it safely, officials said, people should not burn. It’s too great of a risk.

Central Florida is entering a season of less rainfall, more wind and cooler nighttime temperatures, all of which will make brush and scrub more flammable. People can burn as long as no local agencies or governments have instituted a burn ban.

That said, Florida Forestry has established set rules for people to make sure they can burn safely, keep the fire under control and prevent damage.

Open burning, basically burning in a way that smoke goes directly into the air and not through a stack or chimney, is permitted. However, there are restrictions on what, where and how you can burn.

You need Florida Forestry authorization to do burning, and the debris to be burned must have come from that site. It cannot be hauled in.

You can burn vegetative debris, but you cannot burn biological waste, hazardous waste, devices or materials that contain asbestos or mercury, pharmaceuticals, tires, rubber material, residual oil, used oil, asphalt, roofing material, tar, treated wood, plastics, garbage or trash.

Yard debrisFlorida Forestry permits burning yard waste without prior authorization, but officials advise you to find out the burn conditions – including wind speed and direction – before burning, to see if it’s safe.

All material must be generated from the place where it’s being burned.

You can only burn between 9 a.m. EST and one hour before sunset. You must burn in a noncombustible container no more than eight feet wide.

You can only burn if the fire is 150 feet from an occupied building, 50 feet from a paved public roadway and 25 feet from any wild lands, brush or combustible substance.

Clearing storm debrisLand-clearing, tree-cutting or storm-generated debris follows similar rules and yard waste. The main difference tends to be that a company, contractor and/or government entity may be conducting the burning.

That said, those overseeing the burn must follow the same safety rules. It’s also preferable that they check the moisture content of the vegetative debris to ensure it won’t produce too much smoke, which can be a health and safety hazard, especially near roads.

For further questions on large vegetative burns, contact the Florida Forestry Service or visit for a document of these rules.

Campfire pitsFlorida Forestry does allow “recreational burning,” such as open burning of vegetative debris and untreated wood in a campfire, ceremonial bonfire, outdoor fireplace or other contained outdoor heating or cooking device.

Again, the key element is that it’s only certain materials and both contained and monitored.

GarbageTo quote the “Know Fire Law” pamphlet on open burning from the Florida Forest Service, “it is illegal to burn household garbage (including paper products), treated lumber, plastics, rubber materials, tires, pesticides, paint and aerosol containers.”

State officials don’t make any distinction between burning materials in a pile, a pit or a steel drum-type container. Such materials are either explosive, highly reactive, produce toxic smoke, burn too hot to control or produce large amounts of airborne embers that drift far distances, setting blazes downrange from the garbage fire.

Highlands County Fire Rescue Chief of Operations Mark Ellis said Monday that, in addition to getting out of control, the Highway Park fire spread into an area where people had dumped tires. The burning tires created the large column of black smoke neighbors saw and made extinguishing the fire that much more difficult.

The Florida Forest Service cautions that anyone who conducts an open burn and loses control of it, can and will be held liable for property damage and suppression costs.