Wellington Forgot Promises; Petition Not The Answer

By Ken Adams, Former Palm Beach County Commissioner

Twenty years ago, Wellington was controlled by a developer and an elected “special district” board. All land use decisions were determined by the Palm Beach County Commission. Wellington residents could only vote for one of seven commissioners.

I chaired a group of local residents drafting Wellington’s first charter. It was defeated in a vote by Wellington’s residents.

Several chamber of commerce leaders and I spent the next year meeting with residents to learn why they opposed incorporation of Wellington, or “Home Rule,” as it was called.

Their concerns were three-fold:

1) Local officials might become too friendly with local developers and over-build our village.

2) They did not want to pay for developers’ infrastructure costs.

3) They were concerned that another layer of government will cause “run-away taxes.”

The charter was rewritten to address these concerns. Mark Miles and I then flew my plane around Florida, meeting with legislators in their hometowns. And in 1995, the State of Florida, despite the aggressive opposition of a minority of Wellington residents, declared its “legislative intent” in a rare unanimous vote: “This charter and incorporation will serve to preserve and protect the distinctive characteristics of the individual communities within the boundaries of Wellington.”

1) Any amendment to any zoning as established in the then current county use plan shall only be by an ordinance adapted by the affirmative vote of no fewer than four members of the council.

2) Land development costs for infrastructure improvements associated with new land development shall be paid for by the developer of said land or the ultimate owners of said land.

3) Any 10 Wellington voters may initiate a referendum proceeding in event the council levies a village tax rate above 5 mills.

Based upon these assurances, the voters approved the incorporation of Wellington in 1995.

Six months later, the Wellington council rescinded the super-majority promise for land use changes and repeatedly passed the cost for infrastructure from developers to the village taxpayers in violation of the state charter requirements and the promises made to Wellington voters.

Shortly after incorporation, I chaired a committee of approximately 40 Wellington leaders including Wellington’s first elected council to develop our first comprehensive plan. After nearly a year of deliberations, we unanimously agreed to develop an Equestrian Preserve Master Plan. Twelve years later, it has not begun and development of the preserve is in reaction to a developer’s ambitious plan for his properties, which constitute only approximately 8 percent of the designated Equestrian Preserve. Can anyone believe that this approach can result in a “world-class” equestrian venue?

It must be said that Mr. [Mark] Bellissimo, his family and his investors are making incredible contributions to the Village of Wellington. What seems to be lacking is government leadership and vision to reap the financial benefits while preserving the quality of life so important to most Wellingtonians.

In my mind, the proposed initiative for unanimous votes regarding virtually every land use decision would be counterproductive to the above goals. While I’m not an attorney, it seems probable that a court could construe it as a “taking of a property owners’ rights.” I have served on 22 boards, committees, districts, etc. in Florida and have never seen a requirement for a unanimous decision.

What voters should demand is compliance with the letter and spirit of the charter (i.e., four of five votes to pass). Voters should also strive to elect council members who balance quality of life values with a developer’s desire for maximum profit. We should also become more active in attending village meetings on behalf of our neighborhoods or organizations.

Wellington has exceeded most everyone’s expectations. If we cease taking progress for granted, and get involved, the future is limitless.