Wellington OKs Plan To Change Land Use On Tiny Preserve

The Wellington Village Council last week unanimously approved transmittal of a small-scale land use amendment from commercial recreation to residential for a quarter-acre tract near the Binks Forest Golf Club.

At the Aug. 26 meeting, Village Engineer Tim Stillings said the request is to change the land use with the condition that no residential units would be assigned to the area.

The parcel, located about a half-mile south of Southern Blvd. on the west side of Binks Forest Drive, originally was designated as a wetland preserve, but there is no jurisdictional wetland on the site. The land is being reconfigured into the surrounding site, which has been approved for 90 townhouse units on the golf course’s former driving range.

Councilman Howard Coates said he was uncomfortable with the comp plan amendment and would prefer changing the boundary and keeping the commercial recreation designation.

“I have concerns that this is a preserve, and I want to make sure that this is protected as a preserve,” he said. “If we go down this path, I want to know what the risks are. Things change down the road.”

Stillings said the area can be dedicated as a plat. “Can it be changed in the future? Sure,” Stillings said.

Village Manager Paul Schofield said the council could take no action that could not be changed by a future council, but the best way to protect it would be to dedicate it as a conservation easement.

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig asked about maintenance responsibility, and Stillings said that would fall to the developer, who would have to submit a preservation management plan.

Councilman Matt Willhite said he did not understand designating the parcel as residential when the proposal states that a mitigation and maintenance plan is required. “We clearly know it’s going to be some kind of preserve,” he said.

Stillings said the proposal is consistent with other planned unit development tracts, which have designated pods to preserve certain areas.

“The reason it wasn’t changed when these original 90 units were proposed was that the property owner didn’t own it,” Stillings said. “He didn’t have permission to change the land use. It’s now owned by the same entity.”

Vice Mayor John Greene said the amendment appears to just clean up and simplify the uses on the property. He pointed out that the developer is not seeking to increase the density.

Jennifer Vail with Land Design South, representing the owners of the Binks Pointe development, noted that the original PUD was approved by Palm Beach County prior to Wellington’s incorporation and was originally identified as a driving range.

When the approval for the 90 townhouses was given, nobody foresaw the coming real estate downturn, and the homes still have not been constructed.

Vail said the design of the 90 units remains unchanged since their approval in 2008. Build-out is expected by 2018 under a change approved Aug. 6 by Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board.

The current owners purchased the property about a year ago and prepared a revised plan, which included a request to change the quarter-acre parcel from commercial recreation to residential, although the overall density and character of the development remains unchanged.

Vail said the tiny parcel was owned by a homeowners’ association when the 15.27-acre parcel was purchased.

“What we are proposing to do is incorporate that 0.26-acre parcel into the overall Pod L, as is the practice for many PUD approvals,” she said.

Vail said the redesigned site plan will re-orientate the buildings away from the FPL power lines to the north of the property.

The plan also calls for a larger recreation area with more amenities, and a clubhouse almost four times the size of what was originally approved in 2008. She added that the developer plans to remove invasive exotic plants and replace them with new native plants, install a raised boardwalk for nature viewing, and increase the preserve area from 0.26 to 0.32 acres.

Vail said the developer had met with nearby residents, who voiced concerns about adequate buffering, and she said large canopy trees that were part of the golf course would remain and that they would increase the landscape plantings along the southern property line.

Attorney Alan Zangen, representing the adjacent Preserve at Binks Forest neighborhood, asked what land use and zoning would prevent the property from becoming a parking lot.

“Wellington has a history of preserve areas suddenly disappearing,” Zangen said. “We’d like some kind of protection that it stays a preserve.”

He was also concerned about parts of the master plan, which will be reviewed when the proposed land use amendment comes back from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Zangen said his clients want assurances that construction will take place only between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., with no construction on Sundays. The community also wants construction access to be from Flying Cow Road, not Binks Forest Drive.

Zangen added that his residents are also very concerned about the buffer, pointing out that the foliage separating the development from the power lines to the north appeared on the renderings to be much thicker than the foliage to the south.

“We want to have input on that buffer area, and we want it to be very thick,” he said. “We do not want to see that community.”

Zagen also wanted limitations on rentals, so there cannot be any leases for the first year after the owner buys a unit, and any rental would be for a minimum of one year. He added that his clients want to be part of the discussion if it is decided that a traffic light is needed on Binks Forest Drive.

Vail said that the developer has already worked out construction access to be from Flying Cow Road via the FPL easement. She said part of the plan is for increased landscaping along the southern edge but that her client would be happy to meet with residents to review it further.

With most of the discussion centering on the overall Binks Pointe project, Gerwig pointed out that the only thing on that night’s agenda was changing the land use for the 0.26-acre natural area. She made a motion to approve the amendment for transmittal, which carried 5-0.


ABOVE: The Wellington Village Council.