The Wellington Village Council held a public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 8 regarding an ordinance to toughen maintenance standards for vacant properties in the village. After the public hearing, the council approved the preliminary reading of the new rules.
Planning, Zoning & Building Director Bob Basehart said the measure would improve standards for vacant properties and developed properties, but it was primarily aimed at abandoned and unused properties.
“It will make things easier to read and understand, since it has been put into a table,” Basehart explained.
The ordinance will modify and clarify specific regulations for the control of excessive grass and weeds on developed land.
Basehart said that the maintenance standards would apply to village property, as well as everyone else, requiring vegetation be no more than six inches high for 120 feet around the buffer of the property. This is an increase from the currently required 60 feet.
“Properties less than a half-acre and golf courses must maintain the entire property at a six-inch height,” Basehart added.
Village Manager Paul Schofield clarified the meaning of “developed land.”
“Any altered land is defined as developed land,” Schofield said. “You can take a piece of property and change its designation on the master plan and return it to a natural area.”
Even farmland, where the land has been altered by tractors, is considered developed.
Councilman John McGovern said that the information in the clear, simple table is easy to follow. “Anyone can understand it,” he said.
Attorney Alec Domb, who represents Palm Beach Polo property owner Glenn Staub, spoke during time for public comments, complaining that golf course owners had not been consulted regarding development of the wording of the ordinance.
Straub has clashed with the village for years over the maintenance of unused golf course land on his properties.
Domb said that the village had not considered what impact this may have on businesses in Wellington, and he pointed out that some golf courses have natural areas where the grass is taller and “a rough is really a rough.”
Several speakers voiced support for the more restrictive requirements but said the measures didn’t go far enough.
“Polo West is a disgrace,” resident Glenn Jergensen said, referring to one of Straub’s properties.
William McCue suggested that further public input is needed, as some people may like the taller grass.
Straub echoed those comments, suggesting that the council should ask people what they want and look at golf courses around the area.
“Some people like some things and others don’t,” he said, recommending that the council, “do some research before you decide based on a phone call you received.”
McGovern defended the ordinance. “This codifies what the village has been doing,” he said.
Councilman Michael Napoleone noted the village had received numerous complaints about unmaintained property.
With the addition of existing regulations from the South Florida Water Management District regarding maintenance of waterways, the measure was approved unanimously.
The second and final reading is scheduled for the Tuesday, Jan. 22 council meeting.
Also on Tuesday’s agenda was an item on whether to reimburse Mayor Anne Gerwig for legal fees related to successfully defending herself against ethics violation charges in which no probable cause was found.
Gerwig recused herself from the discussion and vote on the issue.
Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said that previous to the 2015 case, the village had adopted a policy stating that the village would reimburse a council member for successfully defending against such charges.
“The council didn’t want the threat of a complaint being a deterrent to citizens serving on the council,” Cohen explained.
Cohen said that the League of Cities insurance policy paid more than half of the $6,750 in legal fees, and that Gerwig was not seeking additional reimbursement for personal travel expenses to the hearings in Tallahassee.
Cohen had reviewed the request and recommended reimbursement. “The document is sufficient to satisfy the village’s policy,” she said.
The council approved the reimbursement 4-0.
Gerwig also recused herself, based on the Palm Beach County Code of Ethics, from voting on a project award for the Binks Pointe pathway.
Schofield explained that the project was to complete the last portion of the pathway from Binks Forest Drive to Flying Cow Road, including a bridge over the canal, in order to take advantage of a $424,000 grant from the State of Florida. The time-sensitive grant will pay more than two-thirds of the total cost for the completion.
Napoleone said that it was a good project, connecting the center of Wellington to Flying Cow Road, and Schofield pointed out that parts of the total pathway are equestrian friendly.
The project had been budgeted for and was moved up in scheduling in order to take advantage of the grant. The measure passed 4-0.
During council members’ reports, it was noted that future Lakeside Family Fun Days may have a small charge for the bounce houses and rock-climbing walls.
“They cost about $7,000 per event,” Gerwig said, explaining that a nominal fee would make them sustainable to continue and expand.
She asked village staff to present data to discuss the matter at a future meeting.
Gerwig also thanked the council for the reimbursement of the legal fees.
“It has been difficult, and the accusations were hurtful,” she said. “It was an experience I wish I hadn’t gone through.”
She told her fellow council members that she appreciated the way they handled it.