The Wellington Village Council on Tuesday approved rental rates for the new Wellington Community Center scheduled to open in August, balancing consideration for local residents with it being a new, more desirable facility.
The council also heard reports from Village Manager Paul Schofield about the tennis program moving in-house, as well as plans to streamline the approval process for building applicants.
Council members agonized over rental rates for the major event rooms at the community center, which were proposed to go up for residents and down for nonresidents. Staff members explained that the intent was to override a practice in the past where nonresidents would find a Wellington resident to sign the contract in order to avoid the higher fee. The nonresident rate was set at twice the resident rate.
Parks & Recreation Director Bruce DeLaney said that his staff had derived the proposed fees by comparing the rates of surrounding municipalities, and factoring in that it was a new facility.
“We developed a rate based upon vetting what the surrounding municipal types of facilities charge,” DeLaney said. “We took those numbers together, and we derived a rate that we thought was fair for the type and quality of the facility that we’re going to have here.”
He also pointed out that renters receive not only the room, but tables and the chairs, maintenance staff and the ability to use the warming kitchens, which are not provided at many municipal facilities.
Vice Mayor John McGovern wanted to reach a balance between the greatly improved new community center and the difference in what is charged residents and nonresidents.
The old rate was a $1,000 flat fee for residents and nonprofits, and $2,000 for nonresidents. McGovern asked for the reasoning behind an increase of about 30 percent for residents and nonprofits, coupled with a slight decrease for nonresidents.
DeLaney said that the difference in price was causing nonresidents to bypass the price structure.
“It became apparent that the person [renting] would look to find a resident and ask the resident to rent it,” DeLaney said. “Often they would sign the contract and not be at the event. The reason was the sizable disparity in cost.”
Mayor Anne Gerwig said she noticed that the Town of Jupiter doesn’t rent to nonresidents.
“It seems to me we were out of the norm,” she said, adding that they can always look again at the rates.
DeLaney recommended giving the price structure six months, and then come back and re-examine it.
“We already have a list of people waiting for what the fees are going to be and for the facility to be completed,” he said. “We expect the list to be substantial. When you compare this to other municipalities, we’re not out of line. We’re not the highest or lowest.”
DeLaney also pointed out that the new rates are in line with surrounding municipalities.
Councilman Michael Napoleone found it troubling nevertheless to increase the rates for residents and decrease them for nonresidents. He anticipated complaints from residents. Councilman Michael Drahos also expressed concern.
Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes agreed that it was a valid point, but he thought that they should not compare the new rates to historic rates.
“That would be like saying this is a renovated building,” Barnes said, noting that the facility is a completely new structure.
Schofield said that the building is scheduled for substantial completion by the end of June, when staff can start moving in. Rentals will not start until sometime in August.
Delaney suggested a 20 percent increase for residents, as opposed to a 30 percent increase, which Drahos said alleviated his concerns to some extent.
Napoleone made a motion to approve the rate schedule, with the downstairs rental for residents and nonprofits reduced from $160 to $150 per hour, and the upstairs rate reduced for residents and nonprofits from $200 to $180 per hour, which carried unanimously.
In other business:
• Schofield reported on plans to bring the village’s tennis program in-house, saying that the plan is to have a tennis director on board by mid-June.
“That will give us the balance of June, July, August and September to begin the conversion,” Schofield said. “We are meeting with the tennis players and tennis teams. We’ve met with the current contractor to make sure that the turnover goes smoothly. We are planning no changes in the programming, and when we do look at eventual changes in the programming, they are going to be based on what the players and the teams ask for. We have no intention of changing what is working now, until it is actually suggested by people who are using the facility.”
Schofield said he intends to keep the current instructors at their current rates.
“We have people who come and provide lessons on a fee split,” he said. “We don’t intend that those will really change.”
There are no changes planned in the court fees and other charges, he added.
“Our first goal is to insure continuity in the program, and to make sure that people’s leagues and times are all available as they have been,” Schofield said.
• Schofield also announced changes in the village’s permitting process.
“We’ve listened, and we are beginning a process that is probably going to take a number of months. It is going to involve us going out and bringing in people who are involved in the process,” he said. “We’re going to reach out to professional organizations, such as the Associated General Contractors and the Florida Engineering Society.”
Schofield said one of the problems that has been prevalent is applicants talking to separate divisions in the village, with limited opportunity for interaction.
“They aren’t necessarily telling you what the other departments need,” he said. “What we’re going to do now is have submittal conferences, and instead of just coming in and dropping it off and leaving it — where we don’t have an opportunity to tell them what else they need to do — we’re going to do those submittal conferences where if they want to, they can have a single point of contact, and we’ll assign a project manager.”
The next step will be to talk to past applicants who have had issues with the process.
“There is a great fear that if you talk to government and tell them they’re doing something wrong, there will be retaliation,” Schofield said. “We will make certain that that does not happen.”
Drahos said the permitting process, which was discussed the day before at the agenda review meeting, was being reviewed to make it more user friendly.
Gerwig said the permitting process would not actually change, but be easier to use.
“We’re trying to perfect the process, and we’re asking everyone to come to the table and help us get it better,” she said.
• The council also approved revised meeting dates for the Equestrian Preserve Committee and the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board in order to streamline the approval process.
The action reverses the meeting dates so that the Equestrian Preserve Committee meets on the first Wednesday of the first month of every quarter, or as needed, and the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board meets the second Wednesday of the first month of every quarter, or as needed.
“The idea is for us to work with them instead of trying to delay the process,” said Growth Management Director Robert Basehart, who explained that the switch could save three or four weeks in the approval process for issues that require Equestrian Preserve Committee review.
McGovern made a motion to approve the change, which carried 5-0.