The Wellington Village Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a zoning amendment to remove requirements for outdoor activity areas, aimed at enabling the development of an Alzheimer’s daycare center at St. Michael Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Planning & Development Services Director Tim Stillings said that village staff recommended the amendment because the village’s requirement dates back to a county code that the county eliminated in 2003.
“We initiated this amendment after a recent conditional use application for adult daycare here at St. Michael, where they indicated that our current rules were a little bit more stringent than what the county and even the Agency for Healthcare Administration required,” Stillings said. “We found that for this particular instance, not for children, but for adults only, that the amount of outdoor space would be best determined by the facility and by the marketplace.”
He said the current code requires 100 square feet of outdoor space per person, or a minimum of 1,500 square feet, whichever is larger.
“We found that in talking not only with the current provider coming into Wellington, but also county staff, that adults don’t need the same amount of space as children because they’re not going out all at once,” Stillings said, explaining that the space could be better determined by the facility’s particular needs. “The fact that it’s adult daycare suggests they have other issues that would preclude them from enjoying that outdoor space.”
Wellington’s Senior Advisory Committee and Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board both unanimously recommended approval of the change.
Councilman Matt Willhite disputed comments that Alzheimer’s patients don’t go outside.
“I believe that’s completely inappropriate,” Willhite said. “There are Alzheimer’s patients who are incapacitated, there are Alzheimer’s patients who are productive parts of the community, there are Alzheimer’s patients who are in facilities who are still doing things. They just don’t do it all the time. I think it’s still a beneficial thing for their life to go outside.”
Willhite recalled that the applicant said that one of the activities they want clients to participate in is gardening.
“Well, gardening is usually outside, so if they’re doing these things, they’re still outside,” he said. “Even if they’re in a wheelchair or walker, they can still go outside. I don’t want it to be thought that this is a facility that they’re locking up people inside and not allowing them to move around and do things and participate and have their own free will while they’re at this facility.”
Willhite added that Wellington in many cases maintains higher standards than other communities.
“To say that we’re different than someone else isn’t always a bad thing,” he said. “I have concern about taking this out. I don’t feel there’s a real need to change this.”
Councilman John McGovern asked Stillings to clarify that the requirement is something that carried over from county code that was later removed, and that no previous council had taken any action to modify the code since then.
He also asked for clarification that minimum space requirements are regulated by the Florida Department of Health and the AHCA.
Stillings explained that the approval for St. Michael would eliminate their need for an additional 2,000 square feet of outdoor space.
“Right now, they’re providing 2,500 square feet,” Stillings said. “I believe it is their intent to provide that space regardless of the change to this code today, or the potential for this change.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig asked if adult daycare is a conditional approval, and Stillings said it is for any facility with more than 20 clients.
“So we could look at each one on a case-by-case basis and decide what works best,” Gerwig said. “I think I understand the councilman’s concern about letting the marketplace decide, but conditional uses come before the council each time.”
Gerwig said she also agreed that a patient who needs full-time care does not require as much room, and reiterated that the facility was approved with 2,500 square feet of outdoor space.
“I think that we need to understand that we are talking about an important part of our community,” Gerwig said. “There’s a great need. There’s a lot of families that have had to look for this solution for their loved ones, and this is to me an absolute no-brainer. This is something we should be completely on board for and support.”
Kevin Wrenne, a member of the board of directors of Alzheimer’s Community Care, spoke in favor of staff’s recommendation.
“It is our intention to keep the approved outdoor area of approximately 2,500 square feet,” he said. “We do ask that you support the zoning change.”
Vice Mayor John Greene asked how many Wellington residents would be served by the facility, and Wrenne said they already have 26 applicants for a maximum capacity of 35, and all of them are from the Wellington area.
“We’re probably about three months out from licensure, so we fully expect that we could be at capacity when we open,” he said.
Greene said he had expressed early in the approval that the facility be for the benefit of Wellington residents.
“To help sort of motivate me to make an ordinance change, I want to make sure that it’s being done in a way that benefits the residents of Wellington,” he said.
“That was our intention from the very beginning,” Wrenne said. “We know the need is out here.”
Gerwig made a motion to approve the ordinance, which carried 4-1 with Willhite opposed.