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Archives for December 28, 2013

Next step in Alberni business survey crucial

Local business owners are cautiously optimistic about the city-chamber of commerce business retention survey.

The survey results were unveiled on Dec. 2. The initiative was carried out by a tripartite group including the city, the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures.

Approximately 175 out of 721 licensed businesses were canvassed over six months as part of the $12,000 initiative.

Among the findings was attitudes within the community top the list of barriers to business growth in the Alberni Valley.

Getting a second highway into town topped the list of needs.

The survey and top 10 list of things to tackle were to be distributed to the business community for feedback.

The survey results takes stock of what the city has and what is needed, and it represents a starting point, Uptown Merchants’ Association spokesperson Gary Robertson said.

“It’s nice to have a plan but unless you’re doing something at the street level then it doesn’t matter in the end,” he said.

“This is the study before the plan.”

Surveyors left no stone unturned, Robertson said.

Prioritizing how to tackle the top 10 list is going to take some stick-handling.

“Each issue is going to take a different group of people to tackle it,” he said. “As long as the city under-stands that it’s going to have to work with everyone to address all those issues.”

A potential choke-point could be the jockeying for what exactly takes priority. Uptown merchants may have different ideas about what is a priority than North Port merchants.

“Each organization is going to have to decide what the priorities are to them,” Robertson said. “And people have to work with the city and not scream at them, then things get done.”

Business incentives are fine, but the city needs to be equitable in offering business incentives, said Aaron Vissia, who owns a financial business on Johnston Road in North Port.

“Of late, the city has chosen to direct its business retention and development efforts almost exclusively to the ‘Uptown’ area,” Vissia said.

“This singular focus undermines the historical effort to create one strong city rather than two distinct areas.”

Fixing the Johnston Road corridor, where millions of tourists funnel through, should be a priority.

Overgrown trees are lifting sidewalks and have become a serious tripping hazard and landscaping is littered and neglected, he said.

“If efforts are not made to make it attractive why would anyone want to venture any further?” Vissia said.

“Millions travel this route each year and I believe that enhancements on lower Johnston Road have just as much value as those on upper Third Avenue, yet communication continues to fall on deaf ears.”

Vissia was encouraged to start a Johnston Road merchant group that could raise issues with the city in solidarity. But that may just muddy the waters.

“It seems a shame that one needs to form a lobby group to get any action. Frankly, two groups with opposing voices will only create more issues and even less will get done,” he said.


The Business Retention and Expansion Survey listed a ‘Top 10 To Tackle List’

1 Attitudes Listed by merchants as potentially the most significant obstacle to growth.

2 Beautification Beautify from the entrance of the community and throughout.

3 Business succession Business owners are older and near the end of their careers yet have no succession plan.

4 Business training Electronic media and customer service training to attract and retain customers.

5 Employee attraction Local professional services have identified employee recruitment as a problem.

6 Harbour and Victoria Quay improve-ments Parking, retail, event offerings, aesthetics, better signage and consistent hours of operation.

7 Community marketing and promotion Leaders identified to improve Port Alberni’s brand. The leader would make the community look good, and tell the world how great Port Alberni is.

8 North Port/South Port Merchants want all areas of town to be given equal consideration.

9 Second highway A second entrance in and out of town is viewed as ideal to helping all aspects of the community.

10 Taxation/tax incentives Monitor and use them to support business.

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A boon for eastern Alachua County?

All that preparation culminated in a long-term master plan the company submitted to the county Dec. 12 that calls for developing portions of the land with a balance of housing and commercial space big enough to lure large employers while putting large swaths of land in conservation with Plum Creek retaining timber rights.

The company is pitching the development portion of the plan as a way to address economic disparities on the east side of the county, while the conservation land would remove the ability to build one home with well and septic tank per every 5 acres, as allowed in the current agricultural land use.

The portions slated for development cover 11,000 acres of the 17,000-acre Windsor tract between Newnan’s Lake and Hawthorne with a maximum of 15.5 million square feet of commercial space and 10,500 homes. The commercial space includes 8 million square feet for advanced manufacturing, 6 million square feet for research and development, office and institutional uses and 1.5 million square feet of retail and service space.

At least 30 percent of the developed areas must remain open space in the plan, leaving about 7,500 acres available for development.

The developed acreage would be reduced further if Plum Creek is allowed to concentrate homes and businesses over a smaller area.

The company is eyeing two areas in particular that make the most sense for development because of their proximity to Gainesville and Hawthorne with access to State Road 20.

However, developing the portion closest to Gainesville would affect wetlands, which is not currently allowed under the comp plan.

Tim Jackson, director of real estate for Plum Creek, said they could build out the maximum developed space without touching the 1,700 acres of wetlands within the 11,000 acres, but Plum Creek is asking to concentrate the development in smaller areas while affecting a few wetlands in the southern portions in return for greater wetlands protections on land to the north.

Jackson pointed out the areas on a poster-sized map during a Dec. 19 press briefing.

“We’re suggesting that you get the county, from a policy perspective, to look at a better environmental solution than just protecting every wetland, primarily for the purpose of accommodating a job center down here.”

The development would still conform to state and federal environmental standards that do not address wetlands of less than a half-acre.

The plan would also put about 23,000 acres in conservation, preventing future development while Plum Creek keeps the timber rights, in addition to the 24,000 acres of its land already in conservation.

The master plan was submitted as an amendment to the county’s comprehensive land use plan as a rarely used sector plan available in Florida for properties of at least 15,000 acres with a 50-year planning outlook compared to the usual 20-year horizon.

The master plan covers the 60,136 acres that Plum Creek owns in the unincorporated county and not the nearly 5,000 acres it owns in the city limits of Gainesville and Hawthorne.

While the sector plan lays out the broad parameters for land uses, development would also require county approval of detailed specific area plans that would include the location of buildings and units per acre, among other criteria, for areas of at least 1,000 acres.

Although it is not stipulated in the plan, Plum Creek intends to serve as the master developer, hiring other developers and builders to handle construction, Jackson said.

The amendment faces scrutiny by county staff, the county planning commission and state regulators, with the County Commission having final say on approval.

Missy Daniels, senior planner for the county, said county staff from growth management, public works, fire/rescue and environmental protection will analyze the plan to see if it is consistent with the county’s comp plan and how development would affect the environment, roads, adjacent lands and historic resources such as a cemetery on the property.

Staff will then recommend that the plan be approved or denied as is or recommend changes before sending it to the planning commission, an appointed board of volunteers that then makes a recommendation to the County Commission.

That could take a few months depending on whether staff requests more information and how long it takes Plum Creek to answer, Daniels said.

“It’s obviously the biggest thing we’ve ever reviewed,” she said.

Once the planning commission makes its recommendation, the County Commission votes on whether to send the plan to the state as is or to propose changes. From there, the plan goes to the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which has 60 days to review it and gather comment from other state agencies such as the Department of Transportation and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Once the state issues any comments, recommendations or challenges to the plan, county staff has 180 days to take it to the County Commission for a final adoption hearing.

Plum Creek officials are hoping for approval by the end of 2014.

The company has sent letters about the plan to the owners of 1,900 properties within a quarter mile of its land and will be required to do so again before the planning commission hearing. Plum Creek also hired 10 people to install 420 road signs as notices of the proposed changes along 85 miles of roads fronting its property.

Daniels said she has already gotten a ton of phone calls since notices were posted, mostly from hunters wondering if they will be able to continue hunting on the land slated for conservation.

Greg Galpin, Plum Creek’s senior manager of planning, said hunting leases will not be affected.

Environmental concerns

A couple of organizations weighed in with concerns about environmental issues prior to the plan being submitted.

The Suwannee St. Johns Group of the Sierra Club has come out in opposition to the plan over concerns about water issues, loss of wildlife habitat and sprawl.

In a letter to the editor published in The Sun on Nov. 30, club representatives wrote that the quiet rural character of nearby rural clusters “will be lost to traffic, sprawl, noise and destruction of wetlands.”

The letter also expressed concern that a proposed conservation corridor that would meander through the development is only a half-mile wide on each side of Lochloosa Creek.

The county’s Land Conservation Board, also an appointed advisory board of volunteers, wrote a letter to county commissioners dated Dec. 6 expressing concern that the lands designated for conservation do “not adequately protect ecological connectivity along Lochloosa Creek” and asks that the commission support additional conservation land that connects wildlife corridors.

The letter also says that much of the conservation land in the plan is already under decades-old conservation easements and should not be included as mitigation against development, and that conservation land used for “industrial silviculture” — or tree farming — should not be traded to fulfill the county comp plan’s 50 percent strategic ecosystem set-aside requirement.

Environmental groups were represented on the task force that Plum Creek convened to steer the plan, including members of the Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Florida.

Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, who was not a member of the task force, weighed in at the Dec. 19 press briefing.

“There are some people whose desire is to stop growth and stop development and stop more people from being here. We don’t believe as an organization that that’s a practicable objective,” he said.

“The more green that you can get left in the system at the end in exchange for getting some kind of smaller, more condensed development from our point of view is a better plan and a better way to approach things.”

He said Audubon Florida was not ready to take a stand on the plan’s treatment of wetlands but has flagged the issue for additional discussion. He said that restoring some wetlands while conceding others can provide a greater ecological lift than a “no net loss” approach.

“I don’t think that Alachua (County’s) current law gets you to the right place, but I’m not sure the recommended change gets you there either,” Draper said.

In response to environmental concerns, Plum Creek is proposing that:

— Development restricts water use with a goal of using 50 percent less water compared to conventional uses. That would be achieved by prohibiting the use of potable water on lawns, using Florida-friendly landscaping, prohibiting wells and septic tanks, using high-efficiency plumbing and reusing treated wastewater.

The development would include its own water and sewer plants.

— Development is compact to shorten car trips and promotes walking and bicycle use.

— One or more projects to improve water quality in Lake Lochloosa will be identified before submitting the first detailed specific area plan. Jackson said they are looking at creating a treatment pond that would filter nutrients in Lochloosa Creek.

The issue of jobs

For the developed land in the plan — referred to as employment-oriented mixed use — Plum Creek is proposing to balance commercial and residential space by creating three jobs per household. If the ratio is not reached in one detailed specific area plan, the next DSAP would have to make up for it. If the ratio drops below two jobs per household, approval of the next DSAP would be suspended to develop a remedial plan.

The ratio assumes that four people are employed for every 1,000 square feet of research and development/office/commercial space and 1.2 people for every 1,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

Jackson said the idea behind the jobs ratio is to provide an incentive for people to work in the Plum Creek development and live in nearby east Gainesville and Hawthorne.

“There’s a deficit of housing and so where would that housing go? Hopefully as redevelopment infill in Hawthorne and east Gainesville,” he said.

Consultants hired by Plum Creek estimate that the commercial space will create between 18,000 and 24,000 jobs in the research and development/office/institutional space over 50 years and 6,000 to 12,000 advanced manufacturing jobs.

Adrian Taylor, a task force member and vice president of Innovation Gainesville for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, said the job estimates are “very doable” because of demand that is already here and strategic advantages that the area has in fields such as information technology, advanced manufacturing, logistics and agrisciences.

The consultants have been interviewing University of Florida deans and professors to see what companies can benefit from UF research and what relationships they already have so Plum Creek can partner with the chamber, UF and Santa Fe College to market the area to those companies.

Plum Creek would provide larger tracts of land for big employers than what is currently available, Taylor said.

“Now we’re in the ballgame on the national and international stage where we’re not now,” he said.

Plum Creek officials have regularly touted the economic potential of its land closest to Hawthorne for its proximity to a CSX rail line and U.S. 301 between Jacksonville and Tampa.

“This makes the land available,” Jackson said. “If the land isn’t available, the jobs aren’t coming. If the jobs don’t come, you still get the conservation land and you don’t consume the land for manufacturing.”

While the plan is designed for a 50-year buildout, Plum Creek is also sensitive to calls that it do something right away after stirring optimism among its advocates in east Gainesville and Hawthorne.

To that end, Plum Creek has teamed with Santa Fe College to see how it can expand community programs SF already provides in east Gainesville, said Karen Cole-Smith, executive director of community outreach and east Gainesville instruction for SF College.

The college will also start offering community and continuing education courses in Hawthorne in January and is working with Hawthorne Middle/High School on an agreement to make the computer lab available for online courses in time for the spring B session, said Dug Jones, Santa Fe associate vice president of economic development.

Jones said the idea is to get people in the habit of taking classes and getting registered and enrolled with an eye toward future job training.

Other provisions of the plan include:

— Within the developed area, a majority of housing will be within a half-mile of employment uses and a majority of jobs will be within a half-mile of future transit access to east Gainesville or Hawthorne.

— 2,300 acres are designated for agricultural land in the Windsor tract. The land is already zoned agricultural, which would allow one home per five acres. The proposal would further limit that to one home per 40 acres.

Jackson said the idea for the agricultural land is to hopefully attach it to a large agriscience business or a research campus of the UF Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences in the employment area.

— 340 acres of rural land would surround the town of Windsor to act as a buffer to development in response to concerns from residents who want to preserve the rural nature of the community. In addition, the employment area would include its own internal street network to discourage travel on County Road 234 through Windsor.

— “Edges” would be protected around rural clusters such as Campville and Grove Park so that adjacent uses are the same or would include a 100-foot natural barrier. Conservation land in public ownership would be surrounded by a 50-foot natural barrier.

— Within the 1,500-acre Hawthorne Urban Reserve Area — designated for future annexation in the county comp plan — Plum Creek’s plan calls for residential uses adjacent to nearby residential areas south of State Road 20 and industrial use near adjacent industrial land to the north. Development there would also likely hook into Hawthorne water and sewer service.

— According to company projections, existing schools could handle 80 percent of the likely population growth in the developed area.

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Christmas tree recycling offered again

Posted: Friday, December 27, 2013 4:00 pm

Christmas tree recycling offered again

By Daily News Staff


Residents in northern Illinois once again will be able to recycle their Christmas trees through the Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful Christmas Tree recycling program.

From Jan. 1 – 15, residents can drop off their trees at 13 different recycling sites in Winnebago County. The recycling program is held each year to help keep the trees out of landfills and turn the trees into mulch that can be used in gardens and for landscaping.

Trees must not have any ornaments, lights or metal of any kind on them because the trees will go through chippers to make mulch. No artificial trees or wreaths will be accepted. Flocked trees also are not accepts as the white flocking material is not biodegradable.

The trees will be ground into mulch and that mulch will be available to residents while supplies last.

Local sites available for dropping off trees include the Rockton Boat Ramp parking lot, Williams Tree Farm in rural Rockton and Valley View Farm in Roscoe.

Other sites for dropping off trees include Don Schmid Youth Sports Center, Blackhawk Park, Levings Lake, Andrews Park Gambino Park, Alpine Park which all are in Rockford; Pecatonica Wetlands Forest Preserve, Baumann Park in Cherry Valley; Machesney Park Village Hall and Martin Park in Loves Park.

This is the 26th year that Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful has presented the Christmas Tree Recycling Program. Each year, about 30,000 trees are collected through the program.

The mulch will be available at the sites for people to collect for free. The mulch can be used for landscaping at area homes. Residents who want mulch should bring their own shovel and container to collect mulch.

Pine mulch is available on a first-come, first-served basis and all mulch must be off the ground by March 1. However, the mulch usually doesn’t last that long.

Pine mulch is great for roses, lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and evergreens.

For more information, visit the Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful website at

More about Christmas Tree Recycling

  • ARTICLE: Make the most of your Christmas tree
  • ARTICLE: Group gives tips for tree recycling

More about Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful

  • ARTICLE: Volunteers to pitch in for clean up day
  • ARTICLE: Make the most of your Christmas tree
  • ARTICLE: Stateline Area news in brief
  • ARTICLE: Stateline Area news in brief

More about Mulch

  • ARTICLE: Stateline Area news in brief
  • ARTICLE: City to offer free mulch starting Monday


Friday, December 27, 2013 4:00 pm.

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Christmas Tree Recycling,

Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful,


Rockton Boat Ramp,

Williams Tree Farm,

Valley View Farm

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Probable Cause details Westfield killings


WESTFIELD, Ind. (Dec. 27, 2013)– The murders of a Westfield woman and her adult daughter December 20th were the result of a vendetta and opportunistic robbery by an ex-employee of the family’s business.

Mary-Lyn and Kelly Erb were found bludgeoned to death inside their Oak Park Court home by Todd Erb as he returned home from work.

According to a probable cause affidavit, investigators think the women were surprised and killed during the lunch hour.

Within days Westfield Police released photographs from surveillance videos shot at two eastside Indianapolis stores of a man attempting to use a stolen Erb credit card to receive cash.

On Christmas Eve morning a tipster called police to say that he overheard Jamiyl Gilbert claim that a friend, Christian Haley, “had murdered those people in Westfield.”

The tipster also identified Gilbert as the man in the surveillance video.

The tipster told police that Gilbert was aware that Haley formerly worked for Todd Erbs’ landscaping company, Sundown Gardens.

Later that day a search warrant determined that Haley’s cell phone was traced to the Erb neighborhood the day of the killings.

On December 26th Gilbert told police that Haley gave him the Erb credit cards and, “Haley stated he bashed their heads in with some cement or something.”

“Gilbert advised Haley told him several months back he was going to rob an ex-boss…because they fired (him).”

“Gilbert stated Haley is one of those guys who would go shoot the place up.”

Gilbert said he accompanied Haley to the neighborhood in July during a previous robbery attempt one month after Haley was fired from the landscaping company for poor attendance.

Search warrants served Thursday recovered some evidence linking Haley to the murders.

Detectives wrote that after he was taken into custody for questioning, Haley provided incomplete alibis and denied the cell phone evidence and text messages to Gilbert that linked him to the killings.

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Bats, bugs and toads good for gardens – Tribune

As the New Year is upon us, I feel certain that many of us are about to make some sort of resolution targeted at bettering ourselves in one way or another. While weight loss and smoking-cessation resolutions are awesome, how about trying something a little different for 2014? Rather than making a resolution to better yourself, why not make one to better the world around you? Your garden is the perfect place to start!

Here are three realistic New Year’s resolutions that will not only help you cut down on pests, they’ll help you create a more beautiful garden.

Resolve to cut down on pests … by promoting bats! A single bat can eat more than his or her own body weight in insects every night (that’s up to 4,500 mosquitoes, moths, and beetles that won’t be feasting on you or your garden!). Bat houses are flat, wooden structures positioned 15 feet above the ground and facing the southeast, where they can receive seven or more hours of direct sunlight per day. Bat houses can be located on the outside of a shed, barn, or garage and should have a good 15 to 25 feet of open space in front of them to enable the bats easy access. There are many different styles of bat houses, each with their own positive attributes, but those that are 2 feet tall with multiple housing chambers and a landing area extending below the entrance tend to shelter the greatest number of bats.

• Resolve to cut down on pests … by promoting toads! Toads are extremely adept at lapping up ants, snails, slugs, beetles and scores of other insects. These nocturnal creatures are a huge boon to gardeners. Toads take shelter during the day by hunkering down in mulch or other cool, dark places. To encourage toads in your garden, make a few “toad abodesâ€� out of clay pots. Eight-inch-diameter terra-cotta pots are perfect. Knock out two portions of the pot’s top rim with a hammer, positioning them opposite from each other to create an entrance and an exit. The entrance and exit holes should be about 3 inches wide and 2 inches high to accommodate a fully grown toad. Sand the edges smooth if there are any sharp points projecting from them. Put a few handfuls of shredded bark mulch down before inverting the pot over the top of it. If you’d like, you can recruit your kids or grandkids to decorate the toad abodes with outdoor paint, glued-on plastic “gems,â€� pebbles or seashells. Locate several inverted toad house pots in a sheltered, shady spot right in the vegetable garden.

• Resolve to cut down on pests … by promoting beneficial insects! It’s a bug-eat-bug world out there, and there are thousands of different species of predatory and parasitic insects that feed on pest insects or use them to house their developing young. Beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, syrphid flies, tachinid flies, non-stinging parasitic wasps, and minute pirate bugs need nectar, pollen and shelter to do their best work. Attract these and other pest-controlling beneficial insects by planting a large diversity of flowering plants in and around the vegetable garden. As they do not have specialized mouthparts, these small, beneficial insects prefer to source nectar from members of the carrot family, the daisy family, and the cabbage family. Plants like black-eyed-Susans, cilantro, Shasta daisies, sweet alyssum, dill, fennel, cosmos, coreopsis and others are perfect for supporting beneficial insects as well as much-needed pollinators.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners� at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic� and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.� Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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Gardening Tips: Improving soil in winter for springtime plants

Posted: Friday, December 27, 2013 11:26 am

Gardening Tips: Improving soil in winter for springtime plants

By Matt Stevens

The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC


Most homeowners in Halifax County who have spent anytime in the garden have the same complaint- the soil. If it’s not that heavy red clay that many homeowners have, it’s mostly sand. Very few homeowners have that ideal loamy soil that is equal parts sand, clay and silt. Therefore, amendment to the soil is often necessary to be successful with most plants. Although winter is upon us, let’s look at a couple things you can do during winter to improve your soil in springtime.

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Friday, December 27, 2013 11:26 am.

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