Letter: Paving Over Paradise

Start at the ocean, get onto Southern Blvd., and start driving west. Soon you find yourself in the center of Palm Beach County, surrounded by the beautiful western communities. Years ago, a scenery of green space and open land may have welcomed you. Today, you are more likely to be greeted by a fury of traffic and the over-expansion of concrete and asphalt. Municipalities have continued to welcome chain restaurants and rental homes into our communities. The result, they are paving over paradise. And, in the process, they have threatened our dwindling natural areas, drinking water and our unique wildlife.

Recently, the developer Brefrank Inc. has submitted a proposal to turn two natural preserve areas around the Mall at Wellington Green into apartments and a restaurant. Allowing this development to begin would be to abandon many of the characteristics that have solidified Wellington’s reputation as an environmentally friendly community.

For the last 22 years, the Village of Wellington has been a Tree City USA Community — receiving national recognition for its high level of tree care. The village’s affinity for nature and preserving its green space has been a defining characteristic of the village for decades. These characteristics have attracted residents to visit and live in this “Great Hometown.” However, we may be facing the end of an era and witnessing the faltering in the village’s commitment to environmental preservation.

If you live or work in Wellington, there is no doubt that you have noticed the immense amount of development popping up everywhere. This means that you have undoubtedly seen all of the empty buildings that soon follow. Businesses are good and vital to our community, and we should encourage them. Yet, leaving a graveyard of businesses that have faded into the past is not a good look for the village. In just the last few weeks, we have watched many businesses close their doors — Romeo’s Pizza, Boston Market, Nordstrom and Pei Wei, to name a few. Not to mention the Macaroni Grill and Circuit City locations that have laid vacant for years. Instead of more concrete, let us utilize the many empty storefronts and vacant buildings that are currently collecting dust.

It is my hope that the Wellington Village Council will provide greater oversight over developers and express a stronger commitment to protecting the citizens that elect them. Is another chain restaurant what residents want? Is another chain restaurant what residents need? I know all the people I have spoken with want to keep the green space and conservation areas.

Every time a popular chain opens up in Wellington, we only pave over more green space and make it harder for mom-and-pop businesses to thrive, slowly stripping away the features that have attracted families to Wellington in the first place. All-in-all, more development means the erosion of Wellington’s distinctive qualities.

The council now has the responsibility to do the right thing. Will they protect Wellington’s natural preserve areas and stand up for Wellington residents, or will they pave over paradise?

State Rep. Matt Willhite, D-District 86, Wellington