Wellington Zoners OK 64-Acre Lotis Multi-Use Project Despite Protests

Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board supported zoning and land use changes for the 64.02-acre Lotis Wellington Green project on Wednesday, Oct. 14 despite several protests lodged by neighbors of the new mixed-use development planned for the west side of State Road 7.

The Lotis plan takes in four parcels, including some 54 acres used until recently as a mining operation. Long-range plans for that land have been sitting around for decades approved for a 100,000-square-foot medical complex. The proposal would also amend the village’s future land use map from Palm Beach County’s low residential to Wellington’s mixed used on an additional 10.36 acres. That land is also proposed to be rezoned from Palm Beach County’s public ownership to Wellington’s multiple use planned development.

The property is located on the west side of SR 7, approximately one-half mile north of Forest Hill Blvd. Several of the parcels were annexed by Wellington in 2004, with the rest annexed in 2016.

The entire project needs a master plan approval to allow a mixed-use project consisting of some 49,000 square feet of restaurant and retail, 2,500 square feet of a financial institution with a drive-thru, 40,000 square feet of medical offices, 16,700 square feet of professional/general office, a congregate living facility, an independent living facility, 191 multi-family rental units, a daycare facility for children, and a 28-acre open space including a lake, dog park and greenway.

Village staff determined that the applicant’s request to amend the land-use and zoning designation meets the criteria of Wellington’s comprehensive plan and the land development regulations. The project was deemed to be compatible with the surrounding area.

Senior Planner Damian Newell explained that the congregate living facility is a type three with 150 independent living units and 110 assisted living beds, and the daycare facility is for up to 210 children.

The greenway system would be open to the public and would include a multi-use pathway, shade trees, benches, an exercise course and shade structures around the lake.

The project will be built in three phases and includes 25 guest parking spaces for users of the greenway park, scheduled for completion in December 2023. A variance for having 103 fewer parking spaces than the required 1,600 was needed. The applicant asked for the reduction in parking because the congregate living facility is expected to need 1.35 parking places per bed as compared to the 2.25 parking spaces per unit in the standards.

Brian Terry at Insite Studio Inc. is the agent for the applicant, Lotis Wellington LLC. John Markey is the owner and developer. He noted that he lived in Wellington for 25 years, raising his children in the village. He has since moved.

“There is a sense of community and a sense of pride in Wellington, and I want you to know I get it,” Markey said. “We did not come in here and try and force an obnoxious maximization of the property. We’ve tried to work within the rules you have. It has been a collaborative process and a very positive experience.”

The applicant provided a market study that is said to indicate demand for multi-family residential rental apartments, independent living residences and assisted-living memory care facilities.

“This is an exciting project for us to be working on,” Terry said, showing that there will be a traffic light on SR 7 for entrance and exit to the property so northbound traffic is not forced to head south and make a U-turn.

Terry added that the rental residential units will be priced about $2,000 per month for a two-bedroom apartment.

While nothing is finalized, the developer has “heavily negotiated” letters of intent to house a Cooper’s Hawk Winery and a Lazy Dog Café for the restaurants, and a TD bank for the financial institution.

The height allowance of up to 72 feet is permitted along SR 7. This property asked for 60 feet, and such requests are approved on a case-by-case basis by the Wellington Village Council.

The Lotis team said that they had spoken to neighboring communities, but they had not yet reached out to the Black Diamond neighborhood, as only the lake abutted that development’s wetlands, and they didn’t expect any negative comments.

However, several residents of Black Diamond did attend the meeting to oppose the Lotis project.

Robert Hicks of the Black Diamond neighborhood said that he is concerned with filling in the wetlands and asked if Wellington will be able to handle the millions of gallons of water runoff from the new development.

Joyce Miller had a number of complaints, adding that the neighborhood should have more say in the process. “Black Diamond doesn’t want the property developed in any way, shape or form, now or in the future,” she said. “The Black Diamond Homeowners’ Association will decide what goes there.”

William Lynch worried about rental communities, adding that there are already too many in the general area.

Eric Taub, president of the Black Diamond HOA, was also against it, decrying the loss of green space.

Village Attorney Laurie Cohen reminded the board that it is the policy of the village not to comment on public input. “Quasi-judicial decisions such as this have to be fact based, and general residential protests are not fact based,” she said.

The measures regarding the Lotis development passed unanimously, and the matter now goes before the Wellington Village Council, where there will be several additional opportunities to make public comment before a final decision is made.