Wellington Frowns On Plat Waiver Idea

Members of the Wellington Village Council were divided last week on a measure that would allow multifamily units to be more easily divided and sold to individual homeowners.

Though council members voted 3-2 on April 23 to approve an amendment to an existing ordinance, it was without key language that would have waived platting requirements for further division of existing multifamily units.

Growth Management Director Bob Basehart explained that this amendment was an effort to push for more home ownership in Wellington’s transitional neighborhoods. “This is not an opportunity to create something in the code that they couldn’t do before,” he said. “It’s a process change.”

Currently, Basehart said this is possible without the amendment by going through the platting process, which costs $20,000 on average.

“What we’re doing is proposing this amendment as a vehicle to allow properties that were already platted — that have already been through the platting process as multi-family lots — to be further subdivided,” he said. “Then the individual units on those lots could be sold, as opposed to requiring a multifamily unit to be all rental.”

He noted that the proposal is part of an overall plan to help Wellington’s transitional neighborhoods through the Safe Neighborhoods program, which focuses on increased safety and code enforcement measures.

“By adding this opportunity, it would encourage the potential for homeownership,” Basehart said. “Studies conducted by our own departments in multifamily neighborhoods found when ownership is available, property values increase and become more stable. The maintenance and appearance of properties is improved, and code enforcement violations are reduced.”

But he noted that this would not necessarily discourage renting.

“It would simply create a vehicle where the division of property can occur at a faster, more efficiently and in a less expensive way,” Basehart said. “Someone could still buy an individual unit and rent it.”

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she felt the amendment would help boost home ownership. “It would significantly reduce the cost,” she said. “I think it would streamline home ownership and save $15,000 to $20,000.”

But Vice Mayor Howard Coates was concerned that the process could cause title problems for homeowners.

“I think we need to make sure we’re comfortable with this before we allow residents to engage in a process where they could have title issues,” he said.

Coates also asked if staff had considered whether rental properties would pop up in the single-family neighborhoods.

Basehart said it wasn’t something that was easy to study. “I don’t think there is a way to quantify that,” he said. “My gut feeling is it won’t have an impact on it.”

Coates was also concerned about some of Wellington’s apartment complexes, which are multifamily, being put through this process.

But Basehart said it was aimed at duplexes, triplexes and quads, and noted that the properties would still be bound by building code.

“What about apartments that want to condominiumize?” Coates asked.

Village Manager Paul Schofield said that was its own process.

“To have a waiver of plat, the unit must have a physical footprint on the ground,” he said. “You could not do it with a second- or third-story unit.”

Schofield stressed that this was not a one-stop solution to solving issues in the transitional neighborhoods.

“There is no expectation on our part that this will wholesale change those multifamily areas from rental to individually owned unit,” he said. “This is a tool that will provide some relief, but no single tool can solve every issue.”

Councilman Matt Willhite said he wasn’t in favor of the plat waiver.

“We can’t assume that if we do this, the home ownership of one quadruplex in the middle of a transitional neighborhood will change the makeup of that entire neighborhood,” he said. “I don’t think taking the platting process away from one neighborhood will solve all of our problems.”

He noted, too, that the renters who are causing problems in neighborhoods could become homeowners causing the same problems.

“I don’t know why a landlord would sell the unit,” he said. “But now they would have the opportunity to take a single problem and quadruple it across the four units. They could sell to the same renter who is causing problems there now. I don’t see how this is beneficial.”

He made a motion to approve the amendments — which cleaned up some other language in the code — without the plat waiver. The measure passed 3-2 with Gerwig and Coates opposed.