Brefrank Temporarily Withdraws Plan To Change Preserve Areas Near Mall

This preserve area off Forest Hill Blvd. would be eliminated if the changes are approved.

The Wellington Village Council chambers were filled Monday, Oct. 7 with concerned citizens wishing to speak about a plan to shrink preserve areas near the Mall at Wellington Green. However, the item was unexpectedly pulled from the agenda by developer Gary Koolik of Brefrank Inc.

Koolik, who was at odds with Wellington’s attorney and manager over which regulations should govern his request, initially asked for a postponement but withdrew the item when it seemed unlikely that the council would grant the delay.

Koolik is expected to reapply for a similar change in the near future.

The two parcels in question are Tract W-3 and Tract W-5, which are presently zoned as conservation.

Tract W-3 is a five-acre area on the south side of Forest Hill Blvd. Brefrank is proposing to build a restaurant on the five-acre tract. In exchange, the developer will build a lake to assist in the drainage for the shopping center.

Tract W-5 is a 17.46-acre parcel on the interior of the Wellington Green development near the Axis apartment complex. The proposal would cut the size of the preserve to 9.13 acres, allowing 8.33 acres for an additional 185 apartment units.

As part of the proposal, the remaining preserve will be enhanced and rehabilitated, and made to function more viably than it does now. In addition, as part of the mitigation for both sites, Brefrank will pay money into an approved mitigation bank to be used to improve and expand other environmentally protected areas. This way, there is no net loss environmentally on a regional basis.

Brefrank’s proposal was discussed by Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board on Aug. 14. The plan was approved 5-2. However, the final decision rests with the council.

Only the changes to Tract W-5 was on Monday’s agenda. According to village regulations, that requires a comprehensive plan amendment — a longer process — while the change to Tract W-3 requires only a master plan amendment.

Koolik attended the meeting and addressed the council and the residents.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinions,” he said. “I completely appreciate it, and I want to thank everyone for coming for and against because there are people on both sides. This is a long process. We went through planning and zoning and did get a recommendation to move forward.”

However, Koolik challenged the village’s interpretation of the required changes needed for his request.

“Recently, it came to our attention that the actual comp plan amendment that we are seeking has mistakes in it,” he said. “There have been mapping mistakes from the village. Interpretations have been a problem. Depending on what interpretations are ultimately agreed upon, this application will certainly need to be revised, resubmitted for both the map and the text amendment, or it won’t be submitted at all.”

He said that more time is needed for the lawyers to hash out the details.

“I’m not comfortable, at this point, moving forward and not knowing exactly what my application is,” Koolik explained. “I alerted staff of this issue during the week. We went back and forth. I don’t want to go down this path and then to revisit it again. So, I’m bringing council up to date on the situation. I would like the opportunity to have a chance to resubmit my application properly with everything that needs to be done, so that if it is approved, it meets every regulation of the village.”

Village Attorney Laurie Cohen explained what terminology would be used if the applicant withdrew.

“It would be a withdrawal of the present application, and it could either be with prejudice or without prejudice,” Cohen said. “It’s not necessarily a postponement by right, because that would have been required to have been done seven to 10 days ago.”

Village Manager Paul Schofield said that the applicant can withdraw without prejudice, meaning he is free to resubmit at any time.

“People who submit an application can withdraw it if they so choose,” Schofield said. “It is solely their choice. We have very little say if they leave their applications in or out. I am not aware that our code has a provision that deals with withdrawing with prejudice or not prejudice because it deals with denials.”

He said that Koolik and his representatives brought him a series of concerns regarding the process late last week.

“Part of this, I learned about at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon,” Schofield said. “Having dug into it now, not only the map amendment is required, but also the text amendment as well.”

According to Cohen, Koolik contacted the village late last week after reviewing some of the file documents that he had, dating back many years. The mall development was approved by Palm Beach County prior to Wellington’s incorporation.

“There is a provision in our charter that basically says that if you are a development of regional impact, which the mall is, and if you are located within the boundaries of Wellington, that the county’s land use codes would apply for a period of four years after incorporation,” she said.

Koolik and his attorneys interpreted that to mean that he did not need to have a comprehensive plan amendment.

“We have been looking into that, and we have looked at some additional ordinances. We believe at this point that he does need both a map amendment and a text amendment,” she said. “The application that is currently pending is just for a map amendment. If it went forward tonight, he would have to come back later and do a text amendment as well.”

How to proceed rests with Koolik and the council, she said.

“The question is, do we postpone it tonight in order to give him an opportunity to put everything in one application,” Cohen said. “We could either postpone and allow him to amend, or he can withdraw and just submit it when he’s ready to as a complete package.”

Councilman Michael Drahos and Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone were not happy that such a roadblock arose so late in the process. Both expressed to the applicant that they would not vote to postpone the item. Postponement is at the sole discretion of the council.

At the end of the discussion, Koolik withdrew his application with plans to resubmit it at a later date.

While there was no application to vote on, the council invited residents to stay and voice their opinions about the preserves during the public forum part of the meeting.

Approximately 20 residents asked the council to deny Koolik’s request and save the existing preserves.

In other business, the council unanimously approved a request by St. Rita Catholic Church for a conditional use for a new daycare facility at the church.

The church, located at the northwest corner of Big Blue Trace and Paddock Drive, petitioned for a site plan to demolish the existing parish center, construct a new 11,500-square-foot parish center with an outdoor play area and a new configuration of the parking area.

The application asked for a conditional use for a 2,200-square-foot day care facility.