Code-Violating Developers Under Fire In Wellington

The Wellington Village Council approved the preliminary reading of an ordinance Tuesday that would suspend review proceedings for developers that have outstanding code enforcement violations.

Planning & Development Services Director Tim Stillings said the ordinance is intended to add leverage to bring developers with code compliance issues in line.

“It is intended to improve code compliance and increase our resolution of fines and liens,” Stillings said. “It’s to restrict additional development due processing for property owners who have a known code compliance case fine or lien.”

He said suspensions would apply to any applications for comprehensive plan amendments, rezoning changes, site plan amendments, master plans or additional uses on any seasonal or equestrian use permits. It would be effective any time the special magistrate finds a property to be in violation of codes until they are corrected.

“They would essentially be put in suspension of the process,” Stillings said.

Councilman Matt Willhite made a motion to approve the ordinance, but Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she would not be supporting it, referencing discussions at Monday’s agenda review meeting.

“I wanted to be clear why I am not supporting this,” Gerwig said. “Last night, the vice mayor mentioned how cumbersome it is to work through our regulations as they are, and how difficult this can be for the average person, and I don’t think this does anything to improve the situation. I find it to be an unusual way of dealing with a cumbersome situation by making it more cumbersome.”

She also asked village staff members why Polo West was in bold letters in the list of violators.

“We’re leaving ourselves susceptible to looking like we’re singling someone out for different treatment,” Gerwig said. “I don’t support this because I don’t think we’ve done anything to improve our situation here. Secondly, it feels to me like an agenda that it is inappropriately aimed at particular people. If we’re trying to bring compliance, I don’t think this is the way to do it.”

Vice Mayor John Greene took issue with her comments. “Are you alleging that you’re tying me to somehow influencing staff?” Greene asked.

Gerwig told Greene that she was referring to his comments about the process being cumbersome.

“I did have a question about why there was only one entity that was bolded in this document,” Gerwig said.

Stillings said Polo West was in bold because it was to be part of another discussion that evening, but that did not satisfy Gerwig.

“I have to tell you, working from the other side, working for an engineering firm, getting approvals from this staff is frustrating,” she said. “By the end of the process, some of my clients, they have something like battered spouse syndrome. They say thank you, thank you for finally giving me approval for letting me have an event here in Wellington, and that’s not the thing I think we should be working toward.”

Greene asked if the ordinance had been crafted to use as a tool to target anyone in particular, and Village Manager Paul Schofield said it had not.

Councilman Howard Coates said he had always been skeptical of staff requests for additional tools, but did not object to this one.

“I feel very strongly that if we have our laws in place and there has been a determination of a violation of those laws, that gives us the ability to do more as to that particular person or entity than someone who comes to the village clean with no violations,” Coates said.

Stillings said the proposed amendment was designed to limit the applicant’s ability to get additional approvals without first addressing existing code violations, rather than continuing to add on to the violations.

Coates asked for clarification that suspension of development only applies if there is a finding of violation, not if there is only a charge.

“If you’ve just been charged and you haven’t had your day in court, your date with the magistrate, this would not kick in?” he asked. “I want to be clear from a due process standpoint, until there’s been a finding, that person can continue to use our procedures?”

“Yes, sir,” Stillings said.

Coates compared the ordinance to having a driver’s license.

“If our license gets suspended because we don’t pay our tickets or we don’t have insurance, we can’t continue to drive until that license is renewed and those items are remedied,” he said.

Willhite’s motion carried 4-1 with Gerwig opposed.