Changes may soon be coming to the Mall at Wellington Green, where owner Starwood Retail Partners LLC recently submitted an application to the Village of Wellington to redevelop the area around the current Nordstrom store, which closed earlier this year.
The application submitted on Sept. 30 includes a hotel and approximately 700 apartment units, along with dining and entertainment venues including a four-acre lagoon for swimming and kayaking and an associated manmade beach area.
The request requires a master plan amendment in order to redevelop the Nordstrom space and to allow instead a hotel, multi-family residential, retail, restaurants, office space and outdoor entertainment.
The mall opened in 2001, originally developed by Taubman Centers. Starwood Capital purchased the property in 2014. They are the owners of 30 malls and lifestyle centers located all over the United States. Existing anchors at Wellington Green include Macy’s, JCPenney, Dillard’s, CMX Wellington Cinemas, City Furniture and more.
Harvey Oyer III, partner at Shutts & Bowen LLP, is listed as the agent for the applicant, which is requesting to modify MUPD-G of the Wellington Green master plan and to add and delete square footage.
The proposal would demolish the Nordstrom building and develop a large-scale outdoor entertainment area including a “waterfront destination” in the form of a centralized lagoon amenity, according to the application.
The resort-style beach lagoon will be manmade, containing clear water where people can swim, enjoy water sports, socialize, enjoy community events and a family lifestyle experience.
According to the application, the project will be constructed in two phases. Phase I will include the demolition of the Nordstrom building and the development of the lagoon, the addition of 700 multifamily units, a 150-room hotel and multiple restaurants totaling approximately 22,000 square feet.
Phase II will include additional multifamily units, as well as another hotel. Additional office space also will be constructed in Phase II.
The proposed design concept minimizes visual impact and intensity by utilizing buffers and landscape medians. The lagoon, which is considered the main amenity, will remove several acres of asphalt from the parking area.
The proposed development is projected to generate 4,721 net new external daily trips from vehicles, according to a traffic assessment by Kimley-Horn.
Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Building Director Bob Basehart was not surprised by the application. Informal discussions have been underway with mall representatives regarding the Nordstom space for months.
“The applications [Starwood Retail Partners] have filed include an amendment to the comprehensive plan,” Basehart explained. “They will also have to do an amendment to the Wellington Green master plan. There will be certain conditions that were associated with the original mall that will have limitations, like the number of hotel rooms and the number of residential units.”
Basehart noted that changes to large-scale retail spaces are being made across the nation.
“First of all, markets change. There are a lot of companies that were not around when Wellington originally developed. They find that Wellington will be a good match for them from a market point of view, and they want to come into the area,” he said. “Given the fact that most of the land in Wellington is developed, their best option is to acquire already developed property and retrofit it or redevelop it.”
Malls, in particular, are trying to recreate space all over the United States enticing new patrons who will utilize the space and bring it new life. To survive in commercial real estate, a developer has to look at trends for shopping and entertainment, and the things that matter to a community.
“Nothing is static,” Basehart said. “The demands and the needs of the population of a community change over time. Retailing trends and product lines change. In commercial development, it’s a constant game of adapting to ever-changing markets. As a rule of thumb, you can figure that regional malls probably have a life expectation of about 20 years. Then things need to be adjusted for the market. This is what is happening all over the country, and it’s what is happening here, too.”
How much influence does the village have to change the way a developer uses the land so that what happens represents what the residents of the community want?
“That’s a question that has a lot of arms,” Basehart said. “First of all, the things that you can ask of a developer have to be what the courts call a rational nexus, which means a reasonable relationship. Secondly, there are government qualities of life standards mandated by the state. When anyone submits an application, you review what impact that application has and what’s proposed will have on those standards. If those standards slip below acceptable levels by virtue of what’s being proposed, then we can require an applicant to mitigate that.”
Meanwhile, the state has dramatically reduced the local control that municipalities have over development, particularly in the area of traffic.
“The traffic standards used to be significantly tougher than they are now,” Basehart said. “The state legislature has changed a lot of things. It used to be if a proposed development was going to impact the roads so they would go over the design capacity limits, you had to fix those things in order to be able to build your project. A few years ago, the legislature changed all of that when they mandated what we call proportionate share rules, which say that when new development or redevelopment comes in, and there are roads and intersections that are over-capacity, you can require the developer to pay money into an impact fund based only on the proportionate share of the capacity that the developer will impact. It’s no longer, ‘If it’s broke, you have to fix it, or you can’t build.’ Now, if it’s broken, you have to pay into a fund, which hopefully will have enough money to fix the problem eventually. It’s a much weaker standard than what it used to be.”
Wellington’s Development Review Coordinator Cory Cramer added that changes to the comprehensive plan are not uncommon.
“The state requires every municipality to have a comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan is a long-term plan of 20 to 30 years. It sets some very broad goals and objectives for that particular municipality,” Cramer said.
Changes to the comprehensive plan can be made either by the community or through the request of an applicant/developer.
“Every so often, the comprehensive plan, when it gets to the end of its life cycle or at any point throughout time, can also be modified,” Cramer said. “As the needs of the community change, you look at your goals and objectives and you determine what the community wants, what the community needs and then you implement it through your land development regulations.”
Starwood’s redevelopment application has just begun this process. There will next be discussions between staff and the applicant before the applicant goes for approval before Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board, followed by the Wellington Village Council.