Wellington Eyes Action To Make School Zones Safer

SWAG Student Awards — The Wellington Village Council honored the achievements of SWAG students (L-R) Gaby Toledo, Alonza Lloyd and Victoria Loredan on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Photo courtesy the Village of Wellington

The Wellington Village Council heard an update Tuesday, Feb. 21 on several school zone traffic items that village staff has been studying solutions for over the last few months.

Village Engineer Jonathan Reinsvold noted that there has been an increase in school zone traffic more than in years past, particularly at Binks Forest Elementary School, Wellington Landings Middle School, Wellington Elementary School and Wellington High School.

Several issues that the village has been working through are focused on illegal parking on swales.

“At Binks Forest, one of the biggest issues we’re seeing is between Whispering Willow Drive and Oak Chase Court,” Reinsvold said. “Parking along the swale area there is creating a dangerous situation not only for the pedestrians, but also for the golf carts out there by blocking the multi-use pathway.”

Options for remedies include adding a fence to the back side of the swale. This would not stop the parking, which is illegal, but would stop the cars from going into the multi-use pathway.

To stop the parking entirely, the village could eliminate the swale and put in a curb, gutter and fence. This is more costly, and it would stop the school from using it as overflow parking at special events.

A third option would be to put bollards and trees in the swale, while the fourth option, which is the one recommended by staff, is to extend the existing flexible barriers that are near the school’s entrance all the way up the road, blocking access to the swale and forcing drivers into the school drop-off line. This is the least expensive option at about $3,000.

The council unanimously agreed to try the recommended option at Binks Forest.

Wellington Elementary also has a swale parking issue, although more limited. Reinsvold suggested the use of sandwich boards on the swale and stronger enforcement from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

Reinsvold noted that the recent changes at Wellington High School, including additional lane delineators and more No U-Turn signs, have made the situation at that school somewhat better along the Greenview Shores corridor.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these problems,” Councilman Michael Napoleone said. “That is why each needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

Napoleone favors some action quickly at Binks Forest, which he sees every morning when he brings his son to school and worries it will one day will be the site of a tragedy. “Getting the cars out of the swale is important,” he said.

Mayor Anne Gerwig asked for some suggestions for the area around Wellington Landings Middle School, particularly in the afternoon.

“We need the school district to sit down with us and figure this out,” she said. “The parents have to be on board. I just hate to think that we have to wait until a kid gets killed.”

Reinsvold said that a longer-term solution for Wellington Landings could be tied into a planned village project. “We do have a grant project for adding bike lines along Greenview Shores Blvd.,” he said. “That would bring a curb, gutter and possible fence to the area.”

PBSO Lt. Eli Shaivitz suggested that there may be options within the school, such as a staggered dismissal, getting the buses out first and offering incentives to ride the bus.

“As a village and the PBSO, we can do everything we can outside the gates, but we’re going to need some help behind the gates,” he said.

In other business:

• The council spent nearly an hour discussing a possible lien reduction of money owed by Palm Beach Polo due to code compliance issues dating back to 2014.

Attorney Alec Domb, representing Palm Beach Polo Inc. and its owner Glenn Straub, asked the council to consider a reduction of the lien associated with code compliance action at the Big Blue Preserve from approximately $6.3 million to $1.3 million, as well as a lien reduction associated with code compliance action for the Dog Park Subdivision from $446,608.67 to $89,808.67.

The reductions would be in line with those approved by the village’s special magistrate in 2020. However, the disagreement over the liens moved into the court system, where the original liens were reimposed.

Domb first asked that the item be continued to a later date so that the village and Palm Beach Polo can sit down and mediate the issues related to the Big Blue Preserve, a stand of native cypress trees on land owned by Palm Beach Polo that the village and Palm Beach Polo have disagreed about how to best maintain going back decades.

Domb said that the point of code enforcement is to gain compliance, not punishment.

“These fines have completely and utterly spiraled out of control,” he said. “What is code compliance all about? It is about bringing violators into compliance. When our appeals were exhausted, that’s what we did. We complied.”

Several council members, however, pointed out that the fines only went back up because Palm Beach Polo continued to fight the reduced amount in court.

“When staff came to you with an offer, you rejected it,” Vice Mayor Michael Drahos said. “Even when the magistrate reduced the fine amount, you rejected it. We are here tonight because you rejected it, decided to appeal, and that was a bad decision.”

In the end, the council voted 4-1 to deny the lien reduction requests with Gerwig dissenting.

While those specific code cases have been resolved, the village still has issues with Palm Beach Polo’s management of the Big Blue Preserve. Court cases, including a foreclosure action, are pending.

• The council unanimously approved the second and final reading of the voluntary annexation of Panther Run Elementary School into the village. The 20-acre school site is on the north side of Lake Worth Road just east of the village’s border. The village worked with the school district to make the voluntary annexation possible. Once the annexation was finalized, the parcel was assigned the village zoning designation of community facilities.

• The council unanimously approved a zoning text amendment and a comprehensive plan amendment that would allow a self-storage facility to be built on the Iorizzo property behind the existing Cheddar’s restaurant on the west side of SR 7. The building would operate as “The Lock Up Self Storage,” a high-end storage concept that the owners believe will fit well in the market.