The theme was parks and recreation at the Tuesday, Feb. 12 meeting of the Wellington Village Council.
The meeting included the approval to proceed in developing an interlocal agreement with the Palm Beach County School District and Wellington High School to build facilities and fields on school land for joint use by the high school and the village, as well as the naming of a firm to provide a Parks & Recreation Master Plan.
The approval of the interlocal agreement involves the construction of fields and support facilities previously planned for the nearby Greenbriar Park property.
Councilman Michael Napoleone pointed out that the interlocal agreement to maintain several multi-purpose fields at Wellington High School would preserve the Greenbriar Park land for future use, perhaps decided years down the road.
Awards for the conceptual design phase went to Kimley-Horn and Associates in the amount of $14,855, as well and Kaufman Lynn Construction in the amount of $9,805 to provide engineering/architectural and construction manager at risk (CMAR) services.
Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes said that using either property, the money would come from the one-cent sales surtax, which currently amounts to approximately $10 million accrued.
“Working within the confines of the existing high school property, we would have more fields and facilities than were planned for the Greenbriar parcel, and we would save money on drainage, water, sewer, cutting and filling.”
Vice Mayor Michael Drahos said there is already the existing infrastructure at the high school property. “So, we get much more for our dollar, and we get to keep our land,” he said.
Barnes added that the project will not compromise security at the school, and there would be no comingling that would compromise security related to parking and access. He said all facilities will be lighted, but there would be no racquetball courts, because they present safety and security issues by providing blind spots.
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind pointed out that the vote this week was not a final decision on the project. “The action tonight allows us to do the project, but doesn’t require us to do it, thus we can move forward,” she said.
There is an option on the table to move Wellington’s competition pool to the high school site, an idea that didn’t sit well with Mayor Anne Gerwig.
Gerwig stressed that she did not want to move the pool, but that the action before the council did not call for a decision on that, only that there would be an agreement that they could, if a future council wanted to, years from now.
Gerwig also worried that an interlocal agreement is like a marriage, and there could be a need for a dissolution of the marriage and wanted to make sure that the village is protected. “Marriages can break up,” she said. “Not from my personal point of view, but I’ve heard of it.”
Councilman John McGovern said that the interlocal agreement would be a win-win. “We would be remiss if we did not explore this opportunity and try to make this happen,” he said.
In the public input portion of the meeting, two residents commented.
Bruce Tumin spoke against the interlocal agreement saying that village residents had already paid taxes to build the school. “Why should we be using our money to improve their property?” he asked. “Why should we pay for it twice?”
Rick Whalen, a resident who taught at Wellington High School, spoke in favor of the idea, saying that it would be good for the school and the community.
The council voted unanimously to pursue the non-binding interlocal agreement.
Drafting a Parks & Recreation Master Plan was also approved 5-0. It will be developed, at a cost of $149,000, over the next 9 to 12 months.
“We will hold focus groups and meet with stakeholders, attempting to engage with everybody. We can’t say yes to everything, but we’ll seek public input over the coming months,” said Joe Webb of the consulting firm AECOM.
Webb said there will be a four-step approach to developing the master plan. First will be a learning stage, followed by exploring alternatives, then envisioning the plan and finally, implementing the plan.
Eight focus groups, 10 stakeholder meetings, two evening meetings and some surveys will be scheduled.
“But we can add some more if needed to create an open, transparent process,” Webb said.
Gerwig noted that discussions regarding recreation programs tend to bring out residents in droves.
“I’ve been sitting up here several years, and I can tell you baseball is the way to pack this room,” said Gerwig, who added that swimming, equestrians and some land use issues will also bring out the crowds.
Gerwig verified that studies that have been done in the past can be used as part of the master plan project.
Siskind said she liked that Webb and his firm, “would bring a fresh perspective to existing data.”
Drahos felt it was important to have a checkpoint midway through the project to make sure the study includes what the village is expecting and is as detailed as they need it. He stressed that he wanted the consultant to ask every stakeholder for their input.
Napoleone echoed that sentiment. “We have to get the silent majority, and not just the vocal minority,” he said.
Webb said he did not want to have a finished report and have one contingent say, “But you never talked to me.”
He will also seek to overcome barriers to participation that prevent some residents from using the parks and recreation facilities.
“We really try hard to create data collection that is a statistically valid cross-section to represent what the entire community wants,” Webb said.
In other business:
• A housekeeping measure initiated by Village Attorney Laurie Cohen passed unanimously on its first reading. Cohen explained the situation briefly.
“We received a letter from the Federal Housing Finance Agency objecting to paying the mortgage registration on vacant properties because a state law exempts them from paying that fee. When we researched the issue, we felt that a Florida court could go either way,” Cohen said.
However, she noted that since it affects just 17 properties in the village, it was more expedient to add language that said the owner would be exempt to the extent the ordinance allows.
“We can go back and change this if we decide later this is a fight worth fighting, but this puts the matter to bed,” Gerwig said.
• Cohen also reported that the village’s lawsuit regarding nine parcels in the Big Blue area with 130 code violations had prevailed in the Circuit Court Appellate Division and the summons is expected to be delivered this week. A $6.7 million lien, including penalties and interest, began when the property owner illegally clear-cut a portion of the land.
• McGovern encouraged citizens to take the Aero Club Drive survey on the Wellington web site at www.wellingtonfl.gov/aeroclubsurvey. It garners public input on proposed landscaping and drainage changes on the western Wellington thoroughfare.
Drahos, however, was not happy that the survey was released without council input. “It is important that surveys such as this come before the council for input before they go out,” he said.
Village Manager Paul Schofield apologized to the council and stressed that it would not happen again.
Gerwig felt it was important that residents know that the village isn’t pushing one answer on the survey regarding the future of the Washingtonian palm trees on Aero Club Drive. “We won’t ask for your opinion and then try to steer your opinion,” she said.
Schofield stressed that there was no intention to present anything other than the options.
• During council reports, Siskind said that she had recently attended a Boy Scouts of America meeting in which one of the country’s first groups of female scouts was made welcome, and she congratulated the scouts on having girls to follow in the fathers’ and brothers’ footsteps.
McGovern asked that orange lighting be used on Valentine’s Day in the village in solidarity with the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting one year ago. Barnes said it could be done in time, and the council consensus was to implement it.
Napoleone congratulated last weekend’s “A Day for Autism” event at the Wellington Community Center, and Drahos added that Napoleone deserves credit for his efforts in championing the event.