By Callie Sharkey
The Village of Wellington held a public input meeting to gather opinions regarding the potential development of Lake Wellington’s waterfront property on Monday, Dec. 17 at the Wellington Community Center.
The meeting was well-attended, but while its unstructured format appealed to some, it left others confused.
The long-term capital project has generated both attention and controversy as the council considers the future of the “Town Center” area, which currently includes the Wellington Community Center, the Wellington Municipal Complex, the Wellington Amphitheater and several other village amenities.
The intent of the public input meeting was to allow the community to be involved in the early planning stages of the project. Another public input meeting will be held next month.
Discussions about the Town Center and the Lake Wellington waterfront are not new and have been on the council’s mind for several years. The public input meeting provided an early step in listening and learning what the residents want to see happen.
Attendees were greeted by a large screen projecting a short film sharing the history of Wellington, along with a timeline detailing the development of the Town Center. It summarized what to expect for the remainder of the meeting.
“As we look toward Wellington’s future, we are asking the community to envision the next 10 years,” the video stated. “What would improve the uses within Town Center? What would provide value to our community? How can we, the village, improve the Town Center for the next generation.”
More than 150 people came to learn more about the project. Former Wellington Mayor Tom Wenham was inspired by the attendance.
“This is great. I’m pleased to see as many people come out to this,” Wenham said. “I’m pleased to see the crowd, and I hope they will keep attending meetings.”
The session was loosely structured, with various components of the 10-year plan displayed on boards throughout the space. Residents and attendees were encouraged to look over aerial images and concept plans outlining a variety of options.
“There are staff and facilitators at each table, each one discussing a different aspect, a different component, that would make up the discussion of the Town Center,” explained Liz Nunez, the village’s public information officer. “The facilitators are showing pictures and trying to get input from residents, and from that, each staff member is taking detailed notes on the comments that are made. So, this is going to help us structure our next phase of this meeting process.”
Each of the six stations had an accompanying display showing various options on different aspects of the project. These included the Waterfront, Green Space, Parking Structure, Water Features, Ken Adams Way and Performing Arts.
The opinions circling the room varied greatly with the sampling coming from a variety of residents from those who have lived on Lake Wellington for many years to some who recently moved to the area. One longtime resident, Larry Sweetwood, does not find the project appealing and has some very specific concerns.
“As far as the water park and green space, we have a tremendous amount of traffic coming through Forest Hill Blvd. that is increasing every year. This is only going to bring more,” Sweetwood said. “We have the amphitheater over here and all kinds of parks and meeting places. We don’t need something to bring thousands and thousands of more cars converging onto Forest Hill Blvd.”
Some attendees found themselves frustrated by the format of the presentation and came to the meeting expecting answers but instead left with more questions.
“People are not going to know which plan to support because there is nothing to show the cost. Why would you put it out there if you don’t know the cost or down the road if it is going to affect taxes?” Wellington resident Cynthia Beckles said. “It is wonderful that Wellington wants to do something for the kids, but we don’t want to have a tax burden for our kids.”
Sweetwood and Beckles were not alone, with several others, including Mayor Anne Gerwig, also expressing frustrations both in an online statement and in person at the input meeting. Some found the boards at each station confusing.
In reference to the second board titled Water Features, Gerwig said, “This board shows no change as the existing pool, or you can have a water feature. It doesn’t say you can have both. It’s a very large site. If we want to have a water feature, we can do it elsewhere, but it doesn’t mean you have to take the pool out to do it. So, I don’t know how they put these boards together. I’m really disappointed in staff for the way they are presented because it does not blend well to an actual good choice.”
Others are hopeful for specific portions of the development to take place. Jack Brownson not only lives on the water but coordinated last weekend’s successful holiday boat parade on Lake Wellington. He would like to see some development to the waterfront in particular.
“One of the things I want the most is a restaurant we can come to by boat and dock here and then come in,” he said. “The other thing that is important to me is they’re talking about a flyover on Big Blue Trace where the boats can connect the two lakes. So, all the boats from the other lake can come over to this lake and the amphitheater and the food trucks and so forth.”
Brownson also sees potential for the boat parade’s future. “There’s not a lot for us to do as boaters. We ride around the lake, and we need a destination where we can meet and have food. We can tie in both lakes for the Christmas holiday parade and almost double the number of boats and make it even more exciting,” he said.
While opinions vary greatly, the consistent theme remains the need for meetings such as the one this week to continue. The project is only in the concept phase, with no developmental decisions yet made, village officials stressed. Until more input sessions take place and gather comprehensive feedback directly from the community, the project is not expected to move forward.
As the meeting closed, attendees were encouraged to fill out comment cards specifying their opinions on different aspects of the project. It provided a direct opportunity to gather both feedback on existing concepts and collect new ideas.
The next phase of public input will be a more structured public hearing set to take place next month, but the exact date has not yet been determined.
Plans for the next meeting include a live broadcast, which was originally planned for this week’s meeting but was cancelled due to the structure of the event.
Eventually, the designs up for consideration, along with other pertinent information regarding the Town Center project, will be available to view online at www.wellingtonfl.gov.