Wellington Approves Planning Study For SR 7 Corridor

The Wellington Village Council recently approved $119,000 for a study designed to examine the State Road 7 corridor to determine the direction and future use for the area surrounding and including the Mall at Wellington Green.

The item was pulled from the Tuesday, July 14 consent agenda and discussed separately after Mayor Anne Gerwig recused herself.

Village Manager Paul Schofield explained that the need for the study came about when the mall’s owner, Starwood Retail Partners, submitted significant changes to the mall for village consideration. However, Schofield said, there was no specific objective included, nor concrete data to back up the viability of the suggested changes.

The study will be conducted by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, a public agency involved in regional planning issues. Gerwig is a member of the TCRPC board, which is why she recused herself.

“They have significant experience in South Florida,” Schofield said. “We have worked with them in the past. They are a strong partner… they know Wellington… and they have an in-house urban design team.”

Planning, Zoning & Building Director Tim Stillings said that the study will look at the SR 7 corridor, the mall property, Wellington’s nearby K-Park property, as well as surrounding areas to help the council better understand the village’s position in relation to the physical and market conditions.

Councilman John McGovern said that K-Park should definitely be part of the study. “K-Park is too big to ignore, and anything we do with it is going to affect the mall,” he said.

The other council members supported the study.

“This is a wise use of funds, and I’m glad we are moving forward,” Councilman Michael Napoleone said.

Councilman Michael Drahos agreed. “We need to see how K-Park and the mall fit together as we move into the future,” he said. “I think the timing is right.”

Vice Mayor Tanya Siskind said that the new data can be put together with previous studies. “The information we have from a study five years ago is valuable. I am interested to see what data is learned,” she said.

The item passed 4-0, and the Town-Crier spoke after the meeting with Stillings, as well as Assistant Planning, Zoning & Building Director Mike O’Dell and Dana Little of the TCRPC to learn more about the upcoming study.

Stillings said that when the village received the proposed redevelopment of the mall property, it was evident that more information was needed about possible different uses and the market for office, medical, retail, entertainment and educational uses. “This allows the village to make appropriate adjustments to our codes,” he said.

Little said that the village began talking with the TCRPC in January after the owners of the Mall at Wellington Green proposed building a Crystal Lagoon outdoor entertainment area, as well as residential units and a hotel at the location of the shuttered Nordstrom department store.

“The village wanted to position itself in the best possible way to take advantage of the opportunities without relying on pressure coming from outside,” Little said.

Little noted that new development nearby, such as Westlake and Avenir, puts pressure on the growth of Wellington. His organization did a significant market study for Palm Beach Gardens recently and will be looking at similar projects to help Wellington understand how to maximize its assets and expand toward buildout for the benefit of the economic profile of today and the future.

“We will study the disposable income of the residents of the area, determine what kind of growth is needed and what types of development there is too much of,” Little said. “This will give us supportable growth projections based upon analysis of objective data. There is often some question of the objectivity of research presented by developers… This way, the village can be sure any project is grounded in economic reality.”

O’Dell added that the study will also try to determine key elements that might be missing from the area.

“The village is nearly built out, and this study will show what is missing and allow the future growth to enhance the corridor,” he said. “We are not an island. We will work with adjacent neighbors.”

While the focus is on the mall area, the actual boundaries of the study go from Okeechobee Blvd. to the north and Atlantic Ave. to the south.

Little said that with such a study being implemented during a global pandemic, there would be significant impact and there are many unknowns. Therefore, Wellington staff put in a provision that is unique to the project. “It is divided into three distinct phases and can be stopped at any time, without incurring any penalty,” he said.

The first phase is to gather data and analyze it. That data only runs through December 2019, before the pandemic hit.

“There is a challenge to get some of the stakeholder interviews remotely,” said Stillings, who explained that the first phase will take about three or four months of the year-long study.

“If we find all the answers are ‘COVID this,’ and ‘COVID that,’ and that it has too much impact on the data, we can hit pause for a while,” said O’Dell, adding that most stakeholders they have spoken with are currently planning to move forward with projects.

“The phases are specifically planned so that we get bankable numbers to make sound decisions at the end of each phase,” Little said. At the completion of the study, the TCRPC’s in-house design team can present economically viable design concepts for the village parcels.