Wellington Zoners Reject Isla Verde Density Increase

Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board recommended denial Wednesday evening to a plan that would add more density and multi-family rental housing to the planned Isla Verde community on State Road 7.

Board members voted 6-0 to recommend rejection of comprehensive plan and master plan changes that would have increased the density from 230 to 360 units. Vice Chair Tim Shields was absent.

“I believe that we should send a message to [the Wellington Village Council] that it’s not just a no, it’s an emphatic no,” Board Member Michael Drahos said.

Board members did, however, recommend approval of an ordinance to rezone the property from a multiple-use planned development to a mixed-use planned development district.

Located on State Road 7 north of Forest Hill Blvd., the 53.57-acre parcel known as Isla Verde already houses about 23 acres of commercial development, Wellington Planner Damien Newell told board members. About 3.5 acres is approved for a preserve, while another 6 acres must remain open space.

Wellington previously approved no more than 230 townhouses for the remaining 20.48 undeveloped acres. “They are requesting an increase from 230 townhouses to 360 rental units,” Newell said, adding that the proposal includes three-story units.

Planner Donaldson Hearing, agent for the applicant, said the density works out to about 6.72 units per acre on the 53-acre site. “This by no means is very dense development,” he said.

Hearing said that studies of the SR 7 corridor agreed that projects with increased density would fare better. “There would be enhanced mobility,” he said. “They would have housing in close proximity to jobs.”

Further, he said it would be a “green” project. “It will be built to the National Association of Home Builders gold standard,” Hearing said. “Your comprehensive plan suggests those are the types of projects that we are to continue to promote.”

Hearing said the community would attract young professionals to the area, many of whom might work in Wellington or nearby areas.

During public comment, more than 60 nearby homeowners submitted cards in opposition to the plan.

Residents in the Whippoorwill community to the east, made up of about 90 homes in unincorporated Palm Beach County, said developers have kept coming back for more density over the years.

“I couldn’t be more against this,” resident Thomas McCauley said. “They keep asking for more and more. When is it going to end? I want to be assured of my safety, my property values and everything else.”

Resident Jay French said many residents had met with developers in 2003 and had a commitment letter saying they agreed to have a 10-acre buffer between the communities. “Where are the 10 acres? They don’t exist,” he said.

Further, he said that the development is being billed as if it sits on the entire 53 acres, while it will sit on only about 20. He also took aim at the proposed three-story buildings.

“You’ll have 26 of these three-story buildings on 20 acres,” French said. “Would you put this in Paddock Park? If it doesn’t fit there, it doesn’t fit in our neighborhood either.”

Opposition also came from the Stonehaven community, which is located south of the site.

Resident Scott Mackenzie was concerned about overcrowding local schools, along with traffic and parking issues. “There’s not sufficient parking,” he said.

Developer Jared Weiner with Pebb Enterprises noted that the complaints were coming from residents outside of Wellington.

“I pay taxes in the Village of Wellington,” he said. “The developers we are going to be working with pay taxes to the Village of Wellington.”

Board Member Paul Adams said he didn’t want to see three-story buildings on the site.

“Three-story rentals don’t belong there,” he said. “The housing stock for rentals [in Wellington] is abundant. My vote would just be to say no. We gave you what you asked for originally.”

There are too many concerns to recommend approval, Board Member Elizabeth Mariaca said.

“I’m impressed with the project,” she said. “But I can’t in good conscience recommend approval because there are too many concerns.”

Drahos said he would not want a similar project in his neighborhood.

“I think Wellington should be encouraging home ownership, not increasing rental units,” he said. “All of you [residents] coming and speaking out confirms my belief. Transient residents would not fill up village hall with their objections.”

Further, Drahos said that young professionals are either looking to locate in city-type areas with entertainment, or are looking to buy.

“I don’t think they’re going to move to a development like this,” he said.

Ultimately, Drahos said he believes Wellington is in a “war of attrition.”

“We have a vision for Wellington, and slowly but surely, people come and ask us to water that vision down,” he said. “First this was 230 townhouses, later it was 360 rentals. When did we lose the integrity of Wellington? I will never support this, whether we vote today or delay it.”

Board Member Carol Coleman made motions to deny the comprehensive plan and master plan changes, which carried 6-0.