Despite concerns about financing, the Wellington Village Council unanimously approved a measure to extend the construction deadline for the new Wellington Boys & Girls Club.
The Boys & Girls Club is slated to move from its location on South Shore Blvd. to a site near Wellington’s water treatment facility on Wellington Trace.
In the original agreement between Wellington, Palm Beach County and the Boys & Girls Club, construction was to begin at the end of this month and be finished by Oct. 20.
The facility must now be built by Oct. 20, 2013, with construction expected to begin in October of this year.
Though he voted to approve the change, Mayor Bob Margolis lambasted the former council’s decision to spend public money on a private entity.
“I don’t believe that the village’s money should be spent on a private facility,” he said. “I can’t argue with the location change, but I can argue with the funding mechanism.”
Earlier this year, council members voted to cover the $1.3 million gap in financing, to be paid back over 10 years. The money was in addition to the $700,000 Wellington already promised, as well as $600,000 from Palm Beach County and approximately $1 million in private donations.
“I know the residents of Palm Beach County voted to float that bond,” he said. “But the residents of the Village of Wellington never voted to fund the $700,000 or the additional funds.”
Mary O’Connor, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County, said that other communities have provided similar loans.
“We are in a building in West Palm Beach that the City of West Palm Beach built for us,” she said. “We have a 50-year lease there. I think it’s the perfect public-private partnership where everyone wins, especially the kids who would have nowhere to go.”
Margolis was also concerned that some of the council members who voted on the item were board members of the club’s Wellington branch.
Village Attorney Jeff Kurtz said that many of the approvals were made before the rules of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics were developed.
“As a member of the board of directors of a nonprofit organization,” he said, “as long as nothing was being gained by you directly, then there was nothing improper about the vote.”
Under the new rules, there might have been a conflict, he said. “Could someone have made an error as we were getting acclimated to the new county ethics ordinance?” Kurtz asked. “I’m not aware of it. But it’s possible.”
Margolis said he felt there was a perception by the public.
“Even though you don’t financially gain,” he said, “there was a perception that people do things for their friends. If I were on the council, I would have recused myself, or at least brought it out into the open.”
Vice Mayor Howard Coates said he was on the local board of directors at the time.
“I asked each time this came up if I needed to recuse myself,” he said. “The village attorney’s interpretation at the time was that as long as there was no personal benefit to you, then you don’t have to recuse yourself.”
Coates noted, however, that once the ethics ordinance became law, he resigned from the board of directors to end any perception of impropriety. He said that if there was concern about impropriety, they should not go forward with it.
“I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to go forward with a project that carries with it some question of whether it was legitimate to begin with,” Coates said. “I don’t want to proceed under an air that it was passed improperly.”
Margolis noted that he wasn’t pointing fingers.
“I’m not casting stones at any council person for going through this process,” he said. “I just would have done it differently.”
O’Connor said that there is a vast difference between the local boards and the actual board of directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County.
“Our local boards are advisory boards,” she said. “They are not setting policy. They are not signing contracts or entering into agreements.”
Coates asked what would happen if the council voted against the measure. Kurtz said that Wellington would risk the $600,000 contribution from the county.
But Margolis stressed that he wasn’t looking to halt the project. “I’m not going to stop the process,” he said. “We need to have it built, but I would have preferred a different process.”
In other business, council members directed staff to draft regulations for aviation in the village.
Village Manager Paul Schofield noted that residents have contacted Wellington with concerns that jets could be flying over the community in light of a decision to pave the runway in the Aero Club community.
Schofield said that permits to pave the runway were issued in 2010.
“What are the parameters that Wellington wishes to establish for civil aviation in Wellington?” he asked.
He noted that civil aviation can be found both in the Aero Club as well as the McCarthy landing strip west of Flying Cow Road.
“What’s important to remember is what these two facilities are,” he said. “They’re both civil aviation facilities. They’re not intended for large aircraft.”
The Aero Club’s runway would be considered an airpark, Schofield said. “They typically restrict commercial activities,” he said. “They’re generally limited to use by residents and their guests.”
Schofield said that the Aero Club has specific covenants governing flight in the community.
“They prohibit jet aircraft,” he said. “They limit takeoff and landing times to visual flight times — meaning you have to be able to see the runway. They limit the runway to members as a private facility.”
Additionally, the bylaws limit planes to civil aircraft owned or leased by members. “That’s a pretty clear indication for what the intent of the development was,” he said.
Schofield said that staff had come up with several recommendations for regulations. Suggestions were to limit aircraft activity to private, non-commercial uses, to create limits on sound, and to set guidelines for travel during the day and at night.
Schofield also suggested that Wellington formally codify the limitations established by the Aero Club.
“Since the restrictions [in the Aero Club] can be changed by a two-thirds majority vote in the association,” he said, “it would be better to have a set of regulations that lay down what the council’s policy would be.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig noted that the McCarthy landing strip allows for skydiving already, which is a commercial use.
“I know we don’t want commercial use,” she said, “but I don’t want to preclude them from using the property as they do now.”
Schofield suggested including all current uses in the ordinance as non-conforming uses.
“Whether the runway is paved or not paved,” he said, “there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind what the village intends to allow. You will have an ordinance limitation that is enforceable.”
Council members voted unanimously to direct staff to create an ordinance.