About 70 residents showed up Wednesday, Feb. 13 to speak at a town hall meeting at the Wellington Community Center on possible changes to Wellington’s Town Center area.
The Town Center project, at a cost of more than $20 million, would continue the village’s central complex, which now consists of the Wellington Municipal Complex, the Wellington Community Center, the Wellington Aquatics Complex, the Wellington Amphitheater, the Patriot Memorial and Scott’s Place playground.
Among the concepts under discussion is a proposal to tear down the nearby Lake Wellington Professional Centre in order to better utilize the Lake Wellington waterfront. However, speakers at the meeting did not favor that idea.
Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes told attendees that this was the third in a series of meetings on the proposed Town Center changes to collect opinions on the many options, which could include moving the village’s swimming pool.
After Barnes gave a brief presentation on the history of the site’s development, residents were invited to speak from one of two podiums set up at the front of the meeting room.
Since Wellington incorporated, Barnes said the population has grown to more than 65,000 residents in 2019, reflecting a growing need for village services.
In 2013, the village purchased the Lake Wellington Professional Centre for $4 million, which has returned about $280,000 a year in rent from its tenants, although no significant capital improvements have been made to the 30-year-old building, which needs a new roof, among other renovations.
“In 2008, we looked at the Town Center and started our process planning for the site, albeit piecemeal,” Barnes said. “We had decided that we need to make improvements in the existing village assets on the property and make one major improvement.”
That was to move village offices that had been scattered all over the community into a central location. The permanent amphitheater was added nearby, as well as the memorial and the playground.
In 2016, the new Wellington Community Center was constructed, replacing the old facility, which had been built by a private developer as a country club in the 1970s and could not accommodate the many activities needed to serve the growing community. The original tennis courts were also torn down and moved to a new site near the Olympia development.
Lake Wellington has mixed benefits in that it has held adjoining property values up, although its purpose is for water retention.
“The water body behind it is Lake Wellington. Absolutely, it is a drainage pond. It is a manmade lake so people could build properties and build homes, but it also is, oddly enough, a feature that made those homes valuable and made this property here valuable and desirable, and it continues to be used for other purposes… Clearly, the design of this building tries to take advantage of the lake.”
Among the key goals of the current Town Center project is to provide better access and utilization of the lake.
The comments of residents, however, did not reflect a desire to lose the Lake Wellington Professional Centre or relocate the swimming pool.
Roxanne Stein, president of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, did not favor the Town Center project.
“Whether it’s my long career in television, or the fact that I have lived in this wonderful village for almost 25 years, people seem to think I have a say in how things are run in the village,” Stein said. “In the last couple of months… I have had people come up to me, no fewer than 100 people, and ask me, ‘Why is there even a proposal to develop the waterfront? There’s a beach 30 minutes away. Why would we put any money into developing that?’ Not one person has said to me, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea.’”
Shirley Siegel, a 12-year resident, said she could not see the advantages of tearing down a $12 million swimming pool and putting it somewhere else.
“I do not believe that it is necessary to try and make this place look like downtown West Palm Beach, specifically CityPlace, which is not doing that well,” she said.
Former Mayor Tom Wenham, a resident for 38 years, questioned whether the proposed project is a need or a want.
“I think that needs to be outlined to the residents and the taxpayers,” Wenham said, adding that he attended the previous Town Center meeting at the Village Park gym where attendees broke out into groups.
“They had all kinds of diagrams laid out on the table for every table that was there,” Wenham said. “What concerned me was they had one in white where the Town Center would be, and all I saw was the community center, the amphitheater and village hall. I thought, ‘Where’s the pool?’ That’s why I’m speaking tonight. I think [the pool] should stay here, not move it over to Wellington High School… It bothers me that the pool was not shown, so that meant that the council has already made a decision to get rid of the pool.”
Wenham agreed that parking is a problem in the area but suggested that the village work out a parking agreement with the nearby Town Square shopping center to use its parking spaces at night.
“I don’t want to see a parking garage three or four stories high in the middle of our Town Center,” Wenham said. “Perhaps the council should have a referendum on this.”
Dolores Bocian, a resident of Mayfair near the proposed Town Center project, said she was concerned about security and noise.
“I moved in about a year ago because of its location, because of its safety, security and construction,” Bocian said. “I’m concerned because of property values… We are a senior community, over 55. While many of us are still active, there are many of us who still enjoy that quiet evening on our deck. We don’t necessarily want the traffic, the pollution, the noise, etc.”
Steve Cagnet said he appreciated the community input and had attended many of the planning meetings.
“Everything that we do has a big reflection on what the future is going to be,” Cagnet said. “We have the offices for probably 170 different people.”
Cagnet said he is now retired but has held numerous positions in Florida, including as community relations manager for a large energy company and as a certified real estate appraiser for more than 20 years. He saw value in the existing Lake Wellington Professional Centre.
“There were times that I had to work out of a small office, and I think that’s all wonderful and great attributes, and I think the character of the community here is one of the finest that I have ever seen,” he said.
Cagnet said that the town should look not only at the highest and best use financially, but also what is best for the community.
“I am familiar with a lot of things that are going on, and I can see what the people are doing here in our community and our leadership,” he said. “I was told that they are trying to get some information. A lot of times they have preconceived opinions in their leadership. My feeling is we don’t need to spend a lot of money to do what we’re doing.”