Council Approves Isla Verde Increase With Neighbors’ OK

The Wellington Village Council on Tuesday approved a comprehensive plan amendment to increase the number of homes at the 54-acre Isla Verde mixed-use development on State Road 7 after hearing comments of support from leaders in surrounding communities.

The amendment increases the allowed residential units from 230 to 350 by increasing proposed buildings from two to three stories, but with setbacks and buffers that neighboring communities had agreed to after numerous meetings with the developer.

Planning & Development Services Director Tim Stillings said the applicant had worked with property owners of neighboring Stonehaven Estates and Whippoorwill Lakes to reach an agreement.

As part of the agreement, the developer had changed its request from 360 to 350 units and moved some of the buildings back in the master plan, which is set to come before the council shortly.

Stillings explained that the project is mixed-use, which requires a comp plan amendment and a future land use map amendment to be submitted at the same time. He added that the increased number of stories would increase the elevation by only 1 foot.

Stillings said the developer had made significant changes after negotiations with property owners, including moving several of the 34 buildings toward the interior along the east and southeast property lines and reducing the unit count.

Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board had recommended denial in May, but that vote was on the plan before the developer and neighbors reached the negotiated agreement.

Village staff recommended approval of the amendment.

Attorney Al Malefatto with Lewis, Longman & Walker, representing Isla Verde, said there was considerable opposition to the amendment at the zoning board meeting, but that was before the final negotiations.

Malefatto said the developer agreed to deed-restrict the property, locking in the number of units and preserve areas.

“We believe, and we think the neighbors believe, that this site plan with the additional units is less impactful on their communities because of the buffers we’ve developed,” he said.

Donaldson Hearing with the planning firm Cotleur & Hearing said the plan is compatible with the village’s comp plan, which recommends that multi-unit developments be along arterial roads.

He said Isla Verde’s residential component is a little over 20 acres. Residents would use a road through the existing commercial component to reach an existing traffic light on SR 7 for their primary access, with connectivity to several other adjoining shopping areas. Pedestrian access also would be provided from the residential to the commercial component.

Hearing pointed out that the buffers had been increased from 20 to 30 feet. He said the community would be gated with cameras throughout the site, and every unit would have electronic security.

Eight-foot perimeter walls on a 3-foot berm with substantial landscaping would be built on the south and east boundaries, rather than the 6-foot chain-link fence in the original plan.

Amenities would include a dog park, playgrounds, a fitness trail, a 7,000-square-foot clubhouse and an indoor gym.

Hearing said he anticipated that the community would cater to professionals, which will reach out to tenants with an average $110,000 annual income.

“These are people who choose to rent,” Hearing said. “We fully expect to have renters from the hospital. We’ve spoken with Wellington Regional. They’ve even spoken with us about getting a block rental.”

He explained that many people rent because they prefer to be closer to their jobs, which fits the profile of the renters they want to attract.

“There is a huge demand, and this project will help meet that demand that exists today,” he said. “The Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County projects a huge demand. Only 29 percent of that is being met today.”

Hearing said his clients would move ahead with construction as soon as they receive approval.

Jay French, representing the Whippoorwill Lakes Property Owners Association, said they had reached an agreement that protected his community.

“No one was against this project more than me,” French said, explaining that he was one of the residents at the May zoning board meeting objecting to the development. “Whippoorwill organized a committee and selected me to represent the community in negotiations due to my experience and knowledge of the subject property.”

He said the objective was to get better buffers than were in the project approved under a previous developer, explaining that the original plan would have been terrible for his community.

“This made me think how I would like to have this property developed,” French said. “Number one, I would want a high-end project. Number two, I would want a cooperative developer who would listen to and address the concerns of the surrounding community. Number three, I would want an effective buffer with walls and trees that allows us to keep our way of life and protect our property values. Had the project not changed as much as it did, I would not be here supporting it. Every concern we had was addressed by the developers to our satisfaction.”

Dave Mills, president of Stonehaven Estates Homeowners Association, also expressed appreciation at the cooperation that had been shown by the developer. “It was very much an issue with the residents and with the impact on our community,” Mills said.

Councilman Matt Willhite said it was refreshing to hear residents of a community outside of Wellington speaking in favor of a project within the village.

“Whether it was based on non-Wellington resident input or not, it was neighbor input,” Willhite said. “I think that speaks volumes about the fact that the developer has gone back and worked with the developments surrounding it. I think that says a lot about the developer here.”

Councilman Howard Coates said he was struck by the change that had come about between the zoning board and council meetings and commended the parties for working together to reach agreement.

“I do want to take my hat off to both the developer and the HOAs and the residents,” Coates said. “When I look at this plan, it’s a model of what reasonable compromise can achieve.”

Vice Mayor John Greene made a motion to approve the first reading of the amendment, which carried 5-0.