The Newberry City Commission heard concepts for a veterans memorial and a historic society at its regular meeting on Monday, and both projects will continue forward.
Commissioner Mark Clark, a former Marine, and former state Rep. Debbie Boyd, D-District 11, who the city hired to work on special projects, spearheaded the memorial effort. They formed an ad hoc committee of mostly veterans and examined neighboring memorials in Gainesville, Williston, Stark and Trenton.
Boyd presented the memorial concept to the commission and said the group hopes to cut the ribbon by Veterans Day 2024. The project still lacks a final location and set budget, and Boyd said the group has a marathon of work to finish in a relatively short time frame.
The memorial would include columns and granite monuments with bronze emblems that portray the six military branches. These would encircle a flagpole.
Boyd said the design would include engraved bricks throughout the walkway for community members to buy in honor of a loved one. The memorial would also include the veterans monument currently in front of City Hall.
The committee has considered five locations and leans toward Lois Forte Park. Boyd said an initial website will launch on Saturday for the memorial with ways for community members to pitch in, and a Facebook page has already been set up.
Possible funding sources, Boyd said, could include the Wild Spaces Public Places surtax, grant opportunities and the city. She said selling memorial bricks wouldn’t be enough to cut the check.
Clark said on Monday that the committee is looking for 40,000-foot level feedback. Commissioners heard the preliminary plan and voiced support.
“As we get closer, we’ll get into more of the money,” Clark said. “We’ve got a lot of [requests for proposals] out there.”
He added that the committee has already talked with local businesses about partnerships and said the committee has been meeting each week.
“We’re going forward and pretty fast,” Clark said.
On the second item, Mayor Jordan Marlowe presented the idea of the city creating a Newberry Historic Society. He said community attempts had started and stopped over the years and looked at other cities for models.
Marlowe said some cities have made their historic society as rigid as a formal board like the Planning and Zoning Board while others have only a loose city tie like Newberry’s Opioid Task Force. However, he said he thinks the society needs some city connection in order to sustain it.
"We’ve had a lot of conversation recently about historic buildings, we’ve had a lot of conversation about historic people, and we need to codify that history somehow, someway,” Marlowe said.
Commissioners Tim Marden and Marty Farnsworth said the city should have some part. Marden said the group should be relatively autonomous but with some sort of staff liaison to help with information flow.
Clark also warned against too much city involvement.
“Don’t bog this [society] down in red tape when they want to do something or tie their hands at the government level because people out here do a whole lot better and faster job than going through the red tape of the government,” Clark said.
Marlowe said he would take the commission’s feedback and work with city staff to craft a proposal.
Besides these two items, the Newberry commission also approved a $13,872 fee refund for BIM Fitness Center at the Newberry Town Center. The city started the refund program in 2018 to help stimulate economic growth.
The commission heard from Erico Lopez, project director for Florida Renewable Partners. Earlier in March, the company purchased around 700 acres in the city for a potential solar farm. Lopez said the company, an affiliate of Florida Power and Light along with NextStar Energy, currently has two projects permitted in Gilchrist County with one under construction.
Lopez said the company has already received questions and concerns from neighboring landowners. He said he’s already had conversations with some of those neighbors and wanted to informally introduce himself and the company at the city meeting.
Marlowe asked if the project remains only a potential project for the company. Lopez said the company never wants to assume it’ll receive permits or that the land will pass the required checks, so the company refers to it as a potential project.
Marlowe said the city will place its solar farm regulations on the agenda for April 10 to ensure community concerns are met.
One resident who borders the land said the commission needs to codify large buffers of 100-150 feet. He added that requirements for planting trees should be included. While Lopez may have good intentions, the neighbor said the city doesn’t know who’ll be the next solar company to buy land in Newberry.