The Wellington Tennis Center will be moving, but to where remains undecided.
Members of the Wellington Village Council voted 4-1 this week to move the center, which has been adjacent to the Wellington Community Center since the village purchased the property in the late 1990s.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig was the lone dissenter, citing concerns about the additional $2.5 million it will cost to move the tennis center. “I don’t think that’s a good use of taxpayer dollars,” she said.
The discussion of whether to move the tennis center has lasted months, with several workshops called to discuss the issue.
Village Manager Paul Schofield told council members Tuesday that they needed to decide whether they wanted to move the facility before plans can be made for the Wellington Community Center reconstruction.
“You do not have to make a decision about where it’s going to go tonight,” Schofield said. “But you do have to make the decision about whether it’s going to be reconstructed on this site or you’re going to move it.”
Gerwig wanted to know why the council had to decide on the tennis facility that night. Schofield said the process could not continue until the decision was made.
“You don’t have to decide tonight,” he said. “But we cannot move forward with the [request for proposals] until we know if the tennis facility will be a part of the plans.”
Councilman Matt Willhite said he thought the facility should be moved in order to open up more parking and space for other popular activities the village now offers residents.
“I think we are trying to pack too many things into this one area,” he said. “We had the community center and pool, but we wanted to create a ‘downtown feel’ so we added the amphitheater and the municipal complex. But we tried to do it on less land than we really needed.”
But Gerwig said that Wellington is creating its own parking woes by holding events that block off parking spaces from public use.
“This parking problem is self-induced,” she said. “When we put food trucks all over the parking lot and we don’t have the space, that’s our fault.”
Gerwig also noted that there is plenty of parking in front of the municipal complex that goes unused. “Very rarely is there an actual parking shortage,” she said. “The other night when we had Odyssey Road play, I went to look at the parking lot in front of this building. There were eight cars there. This parking lot is not being utilized.”
Vice Mayor Howard Coates, however, said that there is a parking shortage.
“I’m in favor of moving tennis in part because of my concerns about the parking we currently have,” he said. “My perception is that there have been times when there is a significant shortage of parking. I’ve been there at times where I can’t find a space.”
Yet moving the tennis center wouldn’t necessarily add enough spaces. “In looking at the concept drawings, it adds very little additional parking,” he said. “It really doesn’t address the issue.”
Willhite added that the tennis program would have more ability to expand in a stand-alone facility, citing prior comments by Wellington Tennis Center Director Tommy Cheatham.
“He said the other night that he could increase the usage of the facility with more courts,” Willhite said. “We also know that long-term maintenance has to be done to the existing courts that are here. We can make the decision to wait and do the repairs, or to enhance the facility and the tennis program.”
Gerwig said Wellington already offers an extensive community tennis program.
“This is a very high-end facility for a community like ours to have,” she said. “I can see expanding a program that is well-used, but we’re really overshooting the mark for a community tennis center.”
She noted that Delray Beach is the only other municipality with a high-end clay court facility. “I feel like what we’re doing now is perfect for this community,” she said.
Willhite said he believed the decision to move the facility should be site-specific. “I think we need to choose a location,” he said.
Among the sites in the running are 10 acres behind the Mall at Wellington Green and 15 acres on Lyons Road, adjacent to the Village Walk community.
Willhite said that the Village Walk site would be the best choice.
“I’ve come to think it’s a very beneficial area,” he said. “We are already maintaining the 10-acre site [behind the mall] for off-site park facilities. People are using it. Why should we take that away from them?”
He said he would support building the new facility prior to demolishing the community center so tennis would not be interrupted.
But Gerwig said she thought that deciding on whether to move tennis, and especially where to move it to, was hasty without public input.
“I do not like to be told that we have to make this decision tonight,” she said. “We have not had any public hearings on this. We haven’t advertised it. We haven’t told the people at Village Walk that we’re considering a 21-court tennis center next to them. I think it’s premature for us to say we’re going to do this with no community input.”
Coates said that although he thought council members could decide that night whether to move tennis, he agreed with Gerwig about getting public input into a new location.
“This is a very serious decision involving not only our tennis center but the expenditure of our taxpayer dollars,” he said. “I’m hesitant to make a $3 million decision without some kind of public hearing.”
Coates said that he was not opposed to moving tennis, but would want to hear from residents — especially those in Village Walk — before deciding on a location.
Councilman John Greene asked Schofield to clarify whether a location had to be decided on. “The only thing you’ve asked for us to do is decide whether we want to move tennis,” Greene said. “It wasn’t site-specific, is that correct?”
Schofield said that was correct.
Greene said he believed moving tennis would be best for the community. “I will support moving tennis to a site that we can decide upon after public discussion,” he said.
Mayor Bob Margolis agreed. “I think it’s time,” he said. “I think the extra money is worth it because of the extra courts. There will be additional revenue. There could be opportunities from tennis tournaments. I think it’s a win-win opportunity.”
Willhite made a motion to move the tennis center, which passed 4-1 with Gerwig opposed.