Northwest Main Street to remain closed

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By Pat Hibbs

Access to the Walgreens parking lot will be improved in the next few weeks, but the closure of the Noble Avenue and Northwest Main Street intersection is permanent.

At Tuesday night's meeting, Debbie Reilly, the manager of the Williston Walgreens store, asked Williston's City Council for better access to the store. She said that the closure of Northwest Main Street had made it difficult to access the store directly. Those driving east on Noble Avenue must turn at either Northwest 1st Street or onto Main Street, then access Northwest Main from Northwest 1st Avenue.

Those driving west on Noble Avenue have an easy access into the parking lot.

Interim City Manager Mark Schiefer and Director of Public Works James Arrington proposed that what now is exclusively an exit lane on the north side of the store, behind the Post Office, be made into a two-way thoroughfare, so that drivers can enter from Northwest 1st Street.

Reilly, who was not the original store manager, said she understood that the park in front of City Hall was to be improved, but wondered whether, when the work is done, Northwest Main Street would be reopened. Ken Schwiebert, chair of the Community Redevelopment Agency, replied that closing the street has long been a part of the Linear Park project, and that Walgreens' engineers were aware of that from the beginning.

Reilly then asked whether there could be a direct exit to Noble Avenue, westbound only, from the parking lot. Schiefer said that the matter would have to be looked into with the Department of Transportation.

Speaking of the CRA and Linear Park, Schwiebert presented a recommendation to rename the area Williston Heritage Park. He said that it was clearly part of Williston's history with the railroads, and he added that the CRA wanted it named in that spirit rather than as a memorial to any specific person.

Council agreed and the official name of the park is now Williston Heritage Park.

Bob Levesque, president of the Levy County Fair Association, made two requests of the council. First, they'd like to conduct a preliminary karaoke qualifying contest on Oct. 4, the day of the Peanut Festival. The request is for a stage and use of the land on Southwest Main Street near the Tax Collector's trailer.

He also asked for city help at the fair similar to that provided last year: light towers, a portable stage, temporary electric poles and water.

The city agreed to provide the requested facilities.

Council passed two ordinances, 584 and 586, on their second and final readings. Both pertain to the city's Comprehensive Plan. Ordinance 584 is the Interlocal Agreement for Public School Facility Planning, more commonly known as the School Concurrency Element of the Plan.

Assistant Supt. Jeff Davis had been scheduled to discuss this section, but had cancelled because of a scheduling conflict. Bruce Day, Principal Planner for the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council, who was familiar with the plan, said that all of the cities in the county had agreed with the School Board on the plan.

Ordinance 586 concerns the Capital Improvements Element of the plan. It had been discussed in detail at the council's last meeting, when it was approved at its first reading.

Day reiterated that this section of the Comp Plan would be reviewed and revised each year during the budgeting process, as required by the State of Florida's Department of Community Affairs.

With little discussion, council unanimously approved both ordinances.

Troy Burrell, the supervising engineer for the East Williston Park, spoke to the problem of the bids for the second phase of construction being greater than the grant money available for it. He said that elimination of certain elements of the plan, like the perimeter fencing, would be likely to bring bids down. The proposed changes would not change the number of points required to qualify for the FRDAP grant. He suggested that the terms of the contract be modified and that it be put out for bid again. Council agreed.

Council President Debra Jones reported on matters considered at the last meeting of the Airport Committee, of which she is the chair.

The principal question concerned a land lease abatement that had been offered to Shadow Trailers, which has relocated its facilities from Ocala to the Industrial Park. The company had been offered an abatement of lease payments for bringing new jobs to the city, at the rate of one year's abatement per 10 jobs. The company presented a list of its 66 employees, and was therefore entitled to six years' abatement. According to the policy, once the initial period is over, another year can be added for every 10 additional employees.

Councilman Mike Shoemaker objected that the city is paying the business's rent from the city's treasury. Jones replied that the abatement policy was designed as an economic incentive for businesses to relocate to Williston.

The decision of the council came down to the fact that Shadow Trailers had been promised such relief and that council must keep its word. Shoemaker voted against awarding the abatement to Shadow Trailers.

However, questions arose about the land lease abatement policy, which was adopted in 2004. The policy states that "Land lease rent payments will be abated one year for each ten (10) full time jobs created by a Lessee through economic expansion or growth of a Lessee's enterprise operations at the Williston Municipal Airport or Industrial Park."

Councilman Brooks Holloway, who was City Manager at the time that the policy was adopted, said that it was always intended to mean new employees, not those who relocated to the area with the company's transfer of operations. Some members thought that a transferred employee might be considered "new" because he would likely be using the facilities of the city.

It was generally agreed that the policy needs to be examined and probably rewritten to be more specific about the requirements for the award.

It was made clear that further offers of land lease abatement to businesses moving to Williston would be closely scrutinized by council before approval was granted to make the offer.

Jones reviewed an opinion from State Attorney Bill Cervone in regard to K-9 searches of businesses that lease property at the airport. He suggested that specific language be included in each lease obligating the lessee to agree to such searches. Council members agreed to revise the leases to include such language and have the revised lease signed at inception or renewal of the lease.

After some discussion, the council agreed to put out for bid the collection of solid waste, recyclables and yard debris. The agreement would include the successful bidder's purchase of equipment owned by the city. The question of the length of the initial contract was debated. Attorney Norm Fugate, who also represents the cities of Chiefland and Inglis, said he believed that each of those cities had a five year agreement. Holloway suggested that a three-year agreement might be an incentive for superior performance.

At council's direction, Fugate and Schiefer will draw up a bid package.

In the final round of questions and comments, Shoemaker asked if the businesses at the airport could be subject to fire assessment fees. Fugate said that the fire assessment must be applied universally. He also reiterated that state law does not allow assessment for police services.

Jones reminded the audience that Airport Committee now meets at 7 p.m. on the Tuesday following the second council meeting of the month.

The next council meeting will take place on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers. The agenda is available at City Hall and online on Friday afternoon prior to the meeting. Public participation is encouraged.