A three-hour Wellington Village Council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 26 with two sign language interpreters tag-teaming the intricate information being discussed made only brief mention of the consent agenda item authorizing a $70,250 contract to Link Electronics to provide closed captioning services for all future broadcasted village meetings.
The sign language interpreters and future closed captioning are designed to bring the village into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The bulk of the meeting was devoted to a staff report providing an update on the Town Center concept and seeking direction on the next action to take.
In recent months, several public meetings have been held to gather input from residents on what they would like to do with the village’s property along Lake Wellington, if anything. Results from the meetings were not tabulated or presented in a statistical format, as they were primarily comments from respondents. Casual surveys were also taken at recent events. These were presented in colorful tables.
Mayor Anne Gerwig, who has opposed changes that could eliminate the village-owned Lake Wellington Professional Centre, pointed out that the data could not reliably be projected out to the population. “This is just a survey at a spot, and none of this is statistically correct,” she said.
Nevertheless, Vice Mayor Michael Drahos had Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes calculating percentages in his head on the fly as he was asked about each category and the number of people who wanted to do nothing with the property.
Just three percent wanted no change to the waterfront, five percent wanted no change to the green space and 27 percent didn’t want a parking structure. While Drahos didn’t get a chance to articulate his conclusion, the point seemed to be that only a small percentage of residents wanted no changes to the Town Center area.
Barnes pointed out that people overwhelmingly wanted more green space, but few approved of a parking structure that would free up parking spaces to create the green space. The area has long had significant parking issues during major events.
In the public comment portion of the discussion, seven residents registered their concerns.
Mark Davidson, a 30-year resident, asked where the demand was coming from for the project. “Is this board driving the train?” he asked, complaining that the public input sessions were organized to elicit comments on what people liked and to sell the concepts. “Do not move forward without a referendum.”
Richard Cobb also believed the “want” was coming from the council. He asked for a statistically significant survey, saying that even if it cost $50,000, that was a cheap price to pay in an overall $20 million project. “This is the wrong thing for this village,” he said.
Bruce Tumin threatened that the board can be voted out, wanting instead to spend money on more restrooms and parking at the amphitheater, and a tunnel for sound cabling.
Vincent Weber felt that the council was putting the cart before the horse without a 10-year master plan.
Former Wellington Councilman John Greene, who was on the council when the Lake Wellington Professional Centre was purchased, spoke about the decision to buy property. “We were going to operate it until a time when we could put it to its highest and best use,” he explained.
One of the key issues is that Lake Wellington Professional Centre is aging and is in need of several expensive upgrades over the next several years. Drahos said his research showed that to develop a replacement business center could not meet the price points that the facility charges, which he said are well below market value.
Gerwig disagreed vehemently, naming other locations outside Wellington that she said were comparable or less expensive. “We don’t want to displace these tenants. We are not subsidizing those tenants. We bought the building for the land it is on. I just want to be as transparent as possible,” she said.
Councilman John McGovern said, “I agree with both of you, and that is unusual.”
It took another half hour to determine what exactly the council agreed upon, so that staff could receive some direction. The goal is to make the ongoing process as “transparent as possible.”
“We are having this discussion because this [Town Center] site was not master planned,” Gerwig said.
Answering the comment on a referendum, she disagreed. “This is our job, the concept came from a directions workshop,” Gerwig said.
Village Manager Paul Schofield explained that the next step would be to develop a 10- to 15-year plan. “That would include costs and programs, and it would be an actual plan that [the council] can consider and make actual, real decisions upon,” he said.
Councilman Michael Napoleone wanted the development of the plan to run in tandem with the recently contracted Parks & Recreation Master Plan.
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind also favored developing a long-term plan. “Now is the time to master plan the Town Center site,” she said.
McGovern agreed that such a process would be useful. “It will show where we have come from and where we are going,” he said. “We are going to do what we can to be current… The mayor said it correctly. The decisions are not easy.”
Having a plan for the future is crucial, Napoleone said. “We can’t wait until something is broken to fix it,” he explained.
Staff was directed to develop a Town Center plan with pricing, and also develop options for the design and construction of a boardwalk along Lake Wellington.
Additionally, the consensus was to explore public and private partnership options for the professional center to provide a facility for the current and future tenants.
In other business:
• Wellington took the first step toward annexation of the Homeland residential community, an adjacent parcel of 238 lots on the south side of 50th Street South.
Jeff Kurtz, Wellington’s former village attorney, represented the Homeland homeowners’ association. “The agreement is a roadmap of a list of steps that need to be taken and is not a final commitment on anyone’s part,” he said. “It is a mechanism to move forward.”
Charles Weis, president of the HOA, thanked the village staff for going to the arduous process to get where they are. “We want professionals handling this for us, and we are right next to Wellington,” he said.
• A housekeeping measure passed unanimously on second reading. It exempts the Federal Housing Finance Agency, to the extent allowed by state law, from paying the village’s mortgage registration on 16 vacant properties.
• Attendees to the village’s free concert series were reminded not to park in private shopping center lots nearby as booting is in full force.