Residents taking part in Wellington’s Town Center Master Plan forums held Friday, Sept. 27 and Saturday, Sept. 28 had the option of choosing one composite plan out of eight that would redevelop the Town Center area that is home to several Wellington buildings and amenities.
The Town Center Master Plan area consists of the Wellington Municipal Complex, the Wellington Community Center, the Wellington Amphitheater, Scott’s Place playground, the Patriot Memorial, the Wellington Aquatics Complex and the Lake Wellington Professional Centre.
It was a time for residents to give village staff and officials input on what they envision.
“We are having public engagement with the residents related to the Town Center Master Plan project,” said Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes, who was present at the Friday forum. “The only thing that the Wellington Village Council has approved is the boardwalk. Beyond the boardwalk, nothing else has been newly approved. What we are doing is building on the old information we received from previous public engagement meetings, getting additional resident input.”
A few dozen residents drifted into the meeting on Friday evening at the Wellington Community Center. Mayor Anne Gerwig was on hand studying some of the renderings with residents.
“Personally, my input has been that none of these plans will do,” said Gerwig, who has clashed with her fellow council members on several proposed elements. “I feel the amphitheater is our great green lawn. If we want another one, then it seems redundant. I haven’t seen any plans that meet my desires for this site.”
In several of the drawings, the Wellington Aquatics Complex is taken out completely. There is a proposal to relocate the municipal pool to a site near Wellington High School. Many residents at the forum didn’t like that idea.
“This competition pool was completely rebuilt in 2010,” Gerwig said. “We spent more than $2 million on it. It is one of the best competition pools in South Florida. You are talking about tearing this pool down and rebuilding it at a whole other expense. It may be that the competition pool is not user friendly to our residents, but I think it fits the needs of our community. I don’t think another $6 million to build one somewhere else makes sense, when this one is very well used.”
During the week, the Wellington Aquatics Complex is a place where adult swimmers take water aerobics and swim laps. There is activity where adults enjoy their water sports and families with little children enjoy the baby pool. In the afternoon, the local swim team practices there.
Just a few hundred feet away is the Wellington Community Center, where residents can take classes ranging from meditation to Zumba. Nearby is the Wellington Amphitheater, which comes alive with crowds several nights a week.
Wellington resident April O’Connor attended the forum and was concerned with some of the proposed changes.
“I like the pool here. My daughter took swim lessons. It’s very convenient. But I would like to understand what has already been passed, proposed and what’s coming before we make decisions,” O’Connor said. “I have been made aware tonight that they have already made decisions for the waterfront. So, knowing what is going to happen next is my concern.”
The Town Center Boardwalk on Lake Wellington will cost a total of $2.3 million for constructing a retaining wall and boardwalk. Funds will come from general revenues and sales surtax sources and is budgeted for 2020.
Wellington resident Debra Graham wanted to know more about the boardwalk plans. “I would like staff to show us the boardwalk plans,” she said. “This is vague to us. We need to know what their present plans are.”
Utilizing the Town Center area for adults is important to Graham. She feels there needs to be a place to gather. “I think it’s important for Wellington residents to have a gathering spot,” she said. “We are all starting to gather at the concerts. So, anything that they have for adults where Wellington can get together is what I would like to see.”
What would the mayor like to see moving forward for the Town Center area?
“I would like to see the amphitheater expanded,” Gerwig said. “I think it has become very popular. All of the free events we are planning here are attracting people. Tax money that we spend should have a tax benefit to the community. If what we are doing here is attracting everyone around us, it’s not necessarily benefiting our residents.”
Gerwig has long supported additional cultural amenities in the community.
“I think the economic impact we could have on the 10-acre site behind the Hampton Inn and next to the Fairfield Inn would allow us to have a development there with a high-end performing arts center, an art gallery and maybe an office tower — the things we are missing,” Gerwig said.
Local equestrian Michael Whitlow did not like the Town Center proposals. He believes that Wellington would be better off focusing on civic uses for the K-Park land, a 66-acre parcel along State Road 7 that is owned by the village but currently leased for agricultural uses.
“So much more and better could be done by devoting resources to K-Park,” Whitlow said. “I think bringing resources to K-Park could make it a real park with such things as a botanical garden, so that you can teach people about the environment. You could have a fabulous planetarium. You could have a cultural center. It would be good for everyone in Wellington.”
When it comes to major capital expenditures, Whitlow believes the community should have more input. “Any kind of capital expenditure over $10 million should go to the entire village for a referendum,” he said.