Wellington Eyes Building Safety In Light Of Surfside Tragedy

The Wellington Village Council.

The Wellington Village Council met for a workshop session on Monday, Aug. 23 covering three topics — building safety over time, lien procedures and solid waste disposal.

No decisions were made at the workshop. “The council does not make decisions at workshops,” Mayor Anne Gerwig said. “We hear input to discuss for the future.”

The first agenda item was presented by Building Official Jack Tomasek, who said that after the building collapse tragedy in Surfside, each county was asked to develop procedures to check the safety of buildings in their area.

Tomasek said that the new building safety inspection program is to develop locality-specific procedures to identify any unsafe buildings. This led to a meeting with wide array of building officials.

“It was the largest number of building officials I have ever seen in my career in a single room,” he said. “It was a great group of professionals giving input.”

Tomasek said that he hopes the turnout for stake holders will be as good when they give their input.

Not having high rises along a seashore in Wellington, despite some of the road names suggesting otherwise, means that the village is not greatly affected by the current situation. However, due to the handful of buildings that are more than 35 years old within the village, the measures should receive consideration.

Gerwig pointed out that Wellington already has in place procedures to address some portions of the new safety considerations, and Tomasek agreed, pointing out that it is typically based upon complaints to keep buildings in compliance.

Gerwig said that it is the village’s procedure to secure, and sometimes even demolish unsafe buildings.

Tomasek said that the changes he presented are a work in progress and will be ready for review and approval within the next few months to address other area buildings as they age out in the future.

“Our job is [overall] safety and life safety, and we have to move forward to work on this,” Gerwig said.

Councilman Michael Napoleone said that older buildings should not wait on doing necessary inspections.

“There’s nothing that prevents these buildings from doing inspections now,” he said. “Some are already over 35 years old, and they don’t have to wait for a rule that says they are going to have to inspect their building.”

The next topic was policies for placing liens on properties within the village.

“The village’s policy has always been to gain compliance rather than use liens as a fundraising source,” Planning, Zoning & Building Director Tim Stillings said.

He added that currently, the most egregious cases come before the council, while other cases can be resolved by staff and the village manager.

Stillings said that village staff was asking for gradations of approval that would allow staff and the village manager to resolve some of the liens without them coming before the council.

The council discussed several measures that would allow staff to play a bigger role in these cases, with Gerwig saying that some of them don’t need to come before an open council meeting, “Not because we’re not for transparency, but because we’re not for torturing the residents.”

Staff was instructed to prepare an ordinance that would allow staff and the village manager to address lien abatements that would be less than $65,000. The council will still address the most egregious cases of larger monetary amounts.

The third consideration on the afternoon’s agenda was an update on the recent change-over for solid waste pickup within the village.

The council recently approved a contract with FCC Environmental Services Florida for solid waste collection, replacing longtime vendor Waste Management Inc.

Staff reported that both vendors and staff are on target for the transition. Vice Mayor John McGovern acknowledged that nothing can be completely seamless but verified that everyone was striving for, “As close as possible.”


  1. While, I seldom agree with our Council, Mayor Gerwig’s and Councilperson Michael Napoleone’s statements addressing our current codes are correct and there is no need for change. Putting an age limit on buildings’ inspections in lieu of prompt maintenance will provide the public with a false sense of security.

    Maintenance is not the only issue. Where were the Building Codes, State Agenda’s (DPBR) and the insurance industry? Wellington’s Ordinance Sec. 18-32 states, “101.3 Intent. The purpose of this code is to establish the minimum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety and general welfare …. and to provide safety to fire fighters, code officials and emergency responders during emergency operations.” Although how does hurricane shutters provide safety to our brave fire fighters?

    Who should design our buildings? An Architectural/Engineering Team or Governments and the installing contractors? I recommended to the Florida Building Commission that we should keep it simple, and adopt national standards. Instead, we created a politically developed prescribed code which intent is to establish the minimum requirements. Why should we design for more? F.S. 468.619 Building code enforcement officials’ bill of rights.

    Back in the 80’s an engineer for a high rise on Key Biscayne bragged about its foundation pilings that extended deeper than the code required. He said that if the key washed away, they would still be standing. More recently was the hurricane that caused major damage to New Mexico Beach in our panhandle. An owner bragged about his beachfront home that suffered minor damage because he exceeded the code.

    Finally, what happen to the property insurance carrier? While the Board of Directors may be easy scapegoats, and maybe for good reasons, where were the Underwriters? Where was the licensed Community Association Manager (DPBR), and where were the local officials? More government may not be the answer to assure an acceptable level of life safety in our built environment.

    P.S. It is a shame that our new fishing and boats docks are not ADA complaint that our codes requires.

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