10 stories to keep an eye on in '08

Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

In 2007 in Alachua County, headline-making events included the deaths of two local soldiers in Iraq, rapid residential and commercial growth and the now-infamous "Don't Tase me, bro" arrest at a September political forum. The coming year promises to be no less eventful, with the stories below expected to develop in 2008.

CANCER HOSPITAL: Shands will mark a major milestone in the construction of its new cancer hospital on Archer Road with a "topping-out ceremony" on Jan. 9. After construction workers place the last beam on the uppermost of eight floors and the penthouse mechanical space, work will focus on the interior, which will include 192 private rooms, a dozen operating rooms and a critical care center for emergency- and trauma-related services. Work on the Shands at UF Cancer Hospital is expected to be complete in 2009, and represents an estimated investment of $388 million.

DEVELOPMENT: Two major development proposals for southwest Gainesville are expected to move into the approval process. Butler Plaza North would double the size of the existing shopping center. A project called Creekside at Beville Run could kick off construction of an "urban village" west of SW 34th Street as planned by Gainesville and Alachua County transportation officials.

UF SPEAKERS: In what will likely be his first public appearance since he was released from prison for poisoning a man with Lou Gehrig's disease, physician-assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian will visit the University of Florida on Jan. 15.

NEW POWER PLANT: Gainesville city commissioners are expected to make a decision on a new power plant in the coming months. Gainesville Regional Utilities received proposals in December for the plant, which would be fueled by wood and possibly waste.

TUITION INCREASE: In-state undergraduate tuition at the University of Florida, which now stands at $1,686 with fees included for a full course load, could go up by 15 percent come fall 2008. The potential increase was approved by lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist.

NEW COMMISSIONERS: Three Gainesville City Commission seats are up for grabs in the city's election on Jan. 29. Seven candidates are competing to fill the spots, including incumbent Commissioner Jack Donovan.

COUNTY SHERIFF: Sadie Darnell, Alachua County's first female sheriff, will have to defend her seat during the November general election after only two years in office. Darnell was elected in November 2006 when Sheriff Steve Oelrich left his post mid-term to run successfully for a seat in the Florida Senate.

STUN GUNS: A committee formed in the wake of the "Don't Tase me, bro" incident, in which a University of Florida student was Tasered by police, plans to submit a report in February on how to maintain "civil discourse" on campus and whether such stun guns should be used.

WATER WARS: The St. Johns River Water Management District wants Florida utilities to decide by March whether to take part in a water pipeline project. The pipeline would take water from the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers and is opposed by environmental advocates.

WESTERN DEVELOPMENTS ON HOLD: New residential development in some parts of western Alachua County will stay on hold because of traffic concurrency - the state requirement that roads be able to handle the extra traffic that new subdivisions and businesses create when they open. Some of the small, rural cities surrounding Alachua County are also experiencing rapid growth.

Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com.

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