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AP council in closed session on airport dealings

AVON PARK — The Avon Park City Council held a closed session Monday to discuss a potential lease agreement with Florida Airport Management, which seeks a long-term lease for the entire Avon Park Executive Airport.

Mayor Garrett Anderson said the City Council agreed to have another “exempt” meeting (closed session) so council can privately discuss the details of the lease, but it will eventually become public if any deals are agreed to or proposed.

Florida Airport Management (FAM) approached the city in 2020 with its offer to utilize the former Dumont Aircraft building for the manufacture of industrial hemp that would be grown by local farmers. The hemp would be trucked out of the city.

Also, the airport would be used as a staging area for emergency supplies (such as for hurricane relief), with helicopters and C-130 cargo planes using the airport.

After the FAM proposal, the city developed a “request for proposal” to see if there were any other other offers to lease the airport, but no other responses were received.

Anderson said council agreed to talk about it Monday and discuss some details and came up with some items to ask the FAM management about.

“I anticipate at our next meeting they will have their response of the things the council wanted to ask,” he said. “It will probably be a closed session again for that meeting.”

Anderson is not sure how many meetings it will take to reach an agreement, which would have to be approved by the FAA and the Florida Department of Transportation before council could actually approve it.

“It looks to be somewhat of a long process, but we are still going that way, but have no idea if it will actually come to a full agreement or not,” he said. “Hopefully, we can figure out something that will be good for the future of the airport.”

The next City Council meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, June 14.

VisitSebring marketing as ‘family-friendly’

SEBRING — With vaccinations up and restrictions reduced, people have begun to emerge from the pandemic looking for something to do.

VisitSebring has some ideas. The Highlands County Tourist Development Council has compiled a list of family-friendly events, activities and sights for the summer to bring in more tourists and give local residents a full list of things to do each weekend.

Some of the newest events include a GeoTour that consists of four geocaching GeoTrails: Ranch & Harvest, Parks & Recreation, Historic, and Art & Culture. A new Centennial GeoTrail will launch Sept. 25, celebrating the heritage of Sebring, Avon Park and Lake Placid, as part of the 100 years of Highlands County.

The TDC through VisitSebring recently launched a “Sips, Suds and Soda Trail” to showcase local and regional craft beverages, including a visit to the Sebring Soda & Ice Cream Works, with more than 300 different flavors of sodas from all over the world, and 50 flavors of super premium ice cream.

Also, the Children’s Museum of the Highlands has recently completed renovations with an expanded area for children to discover their world through interactive exhibits.

Other activities families have always had available include:

- Taking an airboat ride along Arbuckle Creek or Lake Istokpoga to find wild alligators, birds, and other animals.

- Jog, skate or cycle through natural Florida at Highlands Hammock State Park.

- Prospect for over 130 gems and crystals at the Lost Mines of Atlantis Gem Mine and Rock Shop, south of Sebring on U.S. 27.

- Paddle a canoe or kayak on Arbuckle Creek from Lake Arbuckle to Lake Istokpoga through diverse habitats including cypress swamp, grass prairie, ranch land and oak hammock.

- Visit Archbold Biological Station, an active scientific research and environmental field study station. You can sign up for a self-guided nature tour or call ahead to schedule a tour with a guide.

- Explore and enjoy history and culture at your own pace through the 50 life-size and larger-than-life paintings of the Lake Placid outdoor mural gallery.

- Charter a fishing captain to take you where trophy bass, speckled perch, bluegill, shell cracker and warmouth are biting.

- Take in a view of Lake Arbuckle from the observation tower and boardwalk at the Avon Park Air Force Range. Be sure and check the base’s weekly schedule online for other events.

- Enjoy fresh orange ice cream and pick up a must-have citrus-themed souvenir or two at Maxwell Groves, just east of Avon Park.

- Tee off on the Citrus Golf Trail using the newly launched Citrus Golf Trail Summer Savings Passport.

If you want to see some sports, June and July have you covered with the following events:

- Heartland Triathlon Youth Race: June 12-13

- Motosurf & Motoskate – July 17-18

- Bono Bilt Youth Wrestling – July 16-18

You should also mark your calendar on July 23-25 for the annual Lake Placid Caladium Festival, a celebration of the ornamental plant that grows so well in the Lake Istokpoga bayheads. The festival includes a car and bike show.

Summer camps, for kids either cooped up from at-home school or just ready to get out of the classroom, consist of the following:

- Highlands County Tennis Association Summer Junior Camp — weekly from June 1 to July 30.

- The Grateful HeARTs for Youth Summer Camp week (arts and crafts) — June 1-4.

- Dragon’s Lair Super Summer Camp for martial arts and similar activities — June 1 through July 30.

- Junior Golf Camp — three separate weeks from June 21 through July 30.

For more details on these and any other on family-friendly local events, contact Tanya Churchmuch at tanya@muchpr.com or Casey Hartt at Casey@visitsebring.com.

Sebring CRA responds to developer's protest

SEBRING — A Chicago real estate development group, whose proposal for 209 Circle Park Drive lost out to a local proposal, claims “certain individuals and the bid evaluation process” violated the Florida Sunshine Law as well as other Florida Statutes governing intergovernmental programs.

The proposal from Yan & Arp LLC, of Chicago (Grace (Yan) Cui and Cynthia Hopkins) for the Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency’s property on the Circle included 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.

The CRA 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’s formal protest letter states, “We strongly urge the Community Redevelopment Agency Board to reject Mr. Bob Cadzow’s proposal on the ground that he violated the ethics code of the Purchasing Policy, specifically Anti-Lobbying and Non-Disclosure Information.

“Moreover, we urge the CRA Board to accept the proposal by Yan & Arp LLC for the benefit of public interest of Sebring taxpayers, of which the majority could be better informed of the terms and financial capabilities outlined in both proposals.

“Facts, irregularities, and rationale detailed in the enclosure demonstrate certain individual(s) and the bid evaluation process for the request for proposal violated the Florida Sunshine Law as well as other Florida Statutes governing intergovernmental programs,” according to Yan & Arp.

Yan & Arp then outlined what it called the Scoring Process Violation and the Sunshine Law.

“An email from the CRA Director to Yan & Arp on April 7, confirmed the recommendation decisions were made by the Selection Committee where ‘no scoring is required for the disposition of property process.’” It is worth noting that scoring is a mandatory methodology prescribed in the RFP package.

After Yan & Arp’s multiple enquiries, “scoring meetings were finally held, for three CRA requests for proposals, by the Selection Committees without sufficient public notice. They are perfunctory in nature, especially noting the CRA Board had voted for and approved the recommendations of of two of the RFP’s in the April 12 CRA Board meeting, again, without scoring,” according to Yan & Arp.

Yan & Arp stated its proposal with a multi-family dwelling received punitive ratings in both categories of “Vision” and “Development Concept” despite it closely followed the RFP guidelines.

The peculiar bias of the Selection Committee continues in the “Legal and Financial Capability” category of the scoring sheets, according to Yan & Arp. Yan & Arp’s proposal did not require any taxpayer’s funding. In contrast, Cadzow’s “lack of funding makes his proposal financially inexecutable.”

In fact, during at least two public meetings, David Leidel (CRA board chair) commented on certain deal “terms and contract contingencies” that were already in negotiation with Cadzow “before” the CRA Board and the City Council procedurally approve the disposition transaction, according to Yan & Arp.

These favorable terms to Cadzow were discussed in private conversations in violation of the Sunshine Law and the Purchasing Policy, Yan & Arp claims.

CRA Executive Director Kristie Vazquez responded to Yan & Arp with a letter denying the claimed improprieties with the CRA’s selection process.

Vazquez noted Yan & Arps claim of a violation of the city’s Purchasing Policy provision regarding Anti-Lobbying.

“Since there was no staff recommendation, any communication between CRA staff or Board members and the proposers could be considered a violation,” Vazquez stated. “You reference a time when Mr. Leidel spoke with Mr. Cadzow as violating this provision, but since representatives from Yan & Arp LLC also communicated with CRA staff and Mr. Leidel, this technical violation should not be held against either respondent.”

“I administratively deny your protest,” Vazquez stated. “If you do not agree with this administrative decision, you may appeal the decision in writing to Scott Noethlich, as City Administrator, within five business days of the date of this letter. If you choose to do so, Mr. Noethlich will place your appeal on the next available agenda to be heard by City Council.

Leidel said Thursday the CRA had some misinformation on how the process was supposed to unfold.

“If we ran into any walls or made any mistakes, we went back and corrected them,” he said. “We said we were going to score it in the proposal and we were told for the disposition of property, you don’t have to score stuff.

But, since the scoring was stated in the Request For Proposal, it needs to be done, Leidel said. So they had the meeting again.

The folks who are protesting are not happy that they weren’t chosen, he said.

“But, it is like I told them, their concept was not the best concept,” Leidel said. They changed their restaurant idea three times. The best use for the upstairs was not apartments. The popup shops and laundromat were not things the selection committee thought would be successful.

They just refused to see that the committee did not like their proposal, he said.

Leidel said, 90% of what they are accusing the CRA of in their protest is not factual, which the City Attorney addresses in Vazuez’s response.

Leidel believes that from the way they have been doing this, Yan & Arp will take it to the next level with an appeal to the City Council.

County sees 8 new COVID cases

Highlands County saw eight new cases of COVID-19, according to Monday’s numbers released by the Florida Department of Health. This was the most since Friday. Three of the new cases were age 15-24.

The eight new cases bring the county’s total to 8,737, with 8,640 being resident cases and the remaining 97 non-resident cases.

There were 237 resident tests processed on Monday, with the eight positive tests, which yielded a positivity rate of 2.97% for the day.

The state is showing an increase of one death for the county, which puts the total at 364.

The state shows there were 62 vaccines given in the county on Monday, although it typically takes several days for all of the numbers to come in from various locations.

So far, there have been 45,612 people in the county vaccinated, according to FDOH. There have been 11,765 people to have received the first dose and 33,847 to have gotten both shots in the series.

In the state, there was an increase of 1,874 cases, bringing the total to 2,313,815 cases. There have been 2,270,571 cases involving residents and 43,244 non-resident cases.

The state processed 50,609 resident tests and had 48,735 negative tests, which resulted in a positivity rate of 3.75%, making it two straight weeks with a positivity rate under 5%.

There were an additional 81 deaths reported, which raises the overall total to 37,235, of which 36,581 have been resident deaths and 735 have been non-resident deaths.

Vaccinations in the state were the lowest they have been in the last two weeks, with FDOH reporting 31,530 doses given on Monday, although that number will likely increase some over the next few days.

There have now been 10,075,311 million people in Florida vaccinated, with 8,038,941 having received both doses and 2,036,370 people having received the first dose.

The U.S. is approaching the 50% vaccination mark, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as 164,378,258 people have received at least one, which is 49.5% of the population. The percentage of the country that is considered fully vaccinated is 39.5%.

Among those 12 and over, the percentage climbs to 58.6%, while 61.6% 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 85.3% of those 65 and over having received at least one dose and 73.9% of seniors having been fully vaccinated.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the U.S. has now had a total of 33.15 million cases and had 590,586 deaths.

Globally, there have been 167.5 million cases and 3.58 million deaths.

Man hit, killed on U.S. 27 near Highway Park

SEBRING — An unidentified man was hit Tuesday morning by a semi-trailer on U.S. 27 near Highway Park and later died from his injuries.

The Florida Highway Patrol spent the morning and part of the afternoon investigating the scene, and was still at the scene after sending out a preliminary report.

The incident took place at 8:06 a.m. at Vision Street. A 74-year-old Lake Placid man was walking north on the northbound shoulder, just south of Vision Street.

The semi-trailer, driven by a 40-year-old man from Venus, was in the right-hand lane, FHP reports state. The driver tried to pass the pedestrian but the right side of the trailer hit the pedestrian.

Medical Unit 36-1 and fire crews from Highlands County Fire Rescue Stations 36 and 41 responded to the wreck, along with Battalion Chief 2. According to Highlands County Sheriff’s Office officials, Emergency Medical Services transported the pedestrian with intention of airlifting him to a trauma center, but he died before reaching the helicopter.

According to unofficials records kept by the Highlands News-Sun, his death is the 13th traffic fatality this year compared to 10 at this time last year. Those numbers include this pedestrian and one cyclist. All others were in vehicles.

He also is the fourth person to die this month on local roads from just two separate, unrelated incidents, both in the Lake Placid area.

More than 600 young people in Highlands County will be graduating this weekend as high school seniors. Look inside Friday’s edition for our 2021 Grads.

Coming Friday