Wellington Seeks To Purchase 45-Acre Parcel To Expand Preserve

By Joshua Manning

The Village of Wellington plans to purchase a 45-acre parcel along Flying Cow Road to expand and enhance the adjacent Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat.

The Wellington Village Council approved a letter of intent for the purchase Tuesday, Oct. 12, and the village hopes to close on the land by the end of the year.

While the purchase price for the land is $4.5 million, the village expects to be reimbursed approximately $3.4 million by the State of Florida, making Wellington’s cost for the land approximately $1.1 million.

Deputy Village Manager Tanya Quickel explained that the existing preserve is currently 365 acres of a created wetland, built through a joint project between Wellington and the South Florida Water Management District in 2007.

While it is open to the public as a passive nature preserve, complete with boardwalks and an observation tower, the preserve also serves as a major water storage resource for Wellington and is also a cleansing wetland designed to help remove phosphorus from the village’s stormwater.

“We are now working to expand the preserve with an additional 45 acres,” Quickel said.

The 45 acres, which would increase the wetland preserve to 410 acres, is currently owned by the Moncada family trust, according to property records. It is surrounded on three sides by the existing preserve and has long been considered a target for future preserve expansion.

Quickel explained that the purchase price of $4.5 million was submitted as part of the Florida Communities Trust Grant Program and was ranked for $3.4 million in funding as a reimbursement grant. “We hope to finalize the grant over the next 90 to 120 days,” she said. “They will act upon it after our closing.”

Vice Mayor John McGovern asked about the potential dangers of using a reimbursement grant.

While Quickel would not say that the grant money is a 100 percent guarantee, she has been working with the state agency involved and believes the money will be forthcoming, since the grant program’s funding has been approved, and Wellington’s project is both near the top of the list and ready to close soon.

“If we can get the grant, and we can complete this long-desired squaring off of the preserve for essentially $1 million, that’s a no-brainer decision to me,” McGovern said.

The due diligence process on the sale remains ongoing. The village’s legal department will review the land’s title and encumbrances before approving the purchase. The agreed-upon purchase price is based on three appraisals by state-approved appraisers.

During public comment, resident Bruce Tumin noted that the $4.5 million is well above the market value for the property as reflected by the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office.

“Why are we paying nearly twice the market value for this property?” he asked. “Use the market value set by the property appraiser.”

Councilman Michael Napoleone said that the purchase would be good for both Wellington and the environment.

“We want to continue to be good stewards of the environment, and this is one way to do that,” he said.

The letter of intent and a budget amendment to pay for the purchase were approved 4-0 with Mayor Anne Gerwig absent.