Small Apartments At Lotis Concern Wellington Council

The proposed site plan for Lotis 1.

The Wellington Village Council hit the pause button until January on plans to build 378 apartments as small as 680 square feet in one of the village’s biggest multi-use development projects in years, the 120-acre Lotis Wellington plan.

A 4-1 vote by the council Tuesday, Dec. 5 postponed action on the southern half of the application known as Lotis 1 as talks continue on issues such as adding more park space. Mayor Anne Gerwig voted against a delay.

“We want the mixed-use, the office, the retail, the medical,” Councilman John McGovern said. “We want all of this to succeed. We don’t want all of this density, and all of these apartments, without what we believe to be public benefit.”

The northern half, Lotis 2, faced less turbulence. It got a 5-0 vote that paves the way for a 36-hole miniature golf course, advertised as coming from a firm whose marketing partners include golfer Tiger Woods. Also planned are 172 single-family and townhouse homes, retail and office space, and a daycare center.

It has been a long and winding journey for Lotis.

After initial approvals three years ago, the Lotis project has hit snags on one of the village’s rare remaining tracts of prime land available for development. It sits on the western side of State Road 7, half a mile north of Forest Hill Blvd. Amid pandemic issues, market changes and funding hurdles, the focus has shifted away from a heavy emphasis on assisted-living and independent senior housing and roughly doubled the apartments open to any age in Lotis 1.

Conditions under discussion have included that residential construction cannot proceed without completing the foundation slabs and utility connections for commercial properties by the end of March 2024, or whatever date may emerge in talks after a delay. Two of the marquee businesses touted there would be the Lazy Dog and Cooper’s Hawk restaurants.

A series of meetings have generated expressions of frustration from some council members that progress has been slow with a project whose original proposals stalled and changed. The proceedings were interrupted by an odd moment Dec. 5 when a lizard scrambled on the dais and startled officials seated there.

The episode halted the meeting for several minutes as Gerwig captured the creature and took it outside for release.

“Mayor, new respect for you, lizard hunter,” Councilman Michael Drahos said.

The hunt is still on for terms the council will approve on Lotis 1.

Close to half the housing on the 64-acre Lotis 1 site would be one-bedroom, one-bath apartments starting at 680 to 700 square feet, said Jim Gielda, representing the Lotis Group. Rent would vary by market conditions but could be in the $1,500 to $2,200 monthly range, he said.

Most of the rest would be two-bedroom, two-bath units ranging from about 1,000 to 1,150 square feet. He mentioned a handful of three-bedroom apartments in the mix.

In addition, Lotis 1 would feature 48,000 square feet of combined restaurant and retail, an upwardly revised 50,000 square feet of medical offices, 16,700 square feet of professional office space, and a dog park near a lake with a trail around it.

Additional park area east of the dog park, perhaps achieved by reconfiguring one or more apartment buildings, could be a talking point for a final decision.

Lotis 2, on more than 50 acres north of Lotis 1, features a 36-hole miniature golf course pitched as coming from the firm Popstroke, promoted by Woods. It also offers 100 single-family residential units and 72 multi-family units, along with 8,000 square feet of restaurant and retail, and about 1,000 feet of general office space. It would house a daycare facility, originally proposed for Lotis 1, on 18,000 square feet, serving about 210 children.

Smaller apartments on Lotis 1 could serve a market need for younger people who find most housing in Wellington too big and costly, Gerwig said.

“That’s actually what we’re hearing from young professionals,” she said. “They want a smaller unit, closer to where they want to be.”

Gielda said the opening of several senior-care facilities in the region has tamped down occupancy rates in that sector, whereas affordable space for singles or young families remains a big need.

“We also have a very large employer next door, which is the hospital,” he said, referring to Wellington Regional Medical Center. “They have a lot of different levels of staff, anywhere from aides through nurses and medical professionals.”

Housing across the combined Lotis 1 and 2 would range from smaller apartments in four-story buildings to two-story buildings with larger apartments, many with individual garages, to townhomes and single-family homes available for purchase, Gielda said.

The retail, office, entertainment and certain park spaces would be accessible by the public, with gated entrances for residential areas and some of their own private park or recreational features, he said.

Drahos said he doubted he would have approved the original proposal if it pointed directly to this many small apartments, but here things stood. He asked if the Tuttle Royale development near Southern Blvd. and State Road 7, for example, is not already rolling out a wide array of housing for the area. Gielda said market research indicated a continuing need.

“Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that’s true today,” Drahos said. “I mean, what is a 700-square-foot unit going to do for this community in 15 years?”

Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone said he worried about the “transience” of apartment projects where residents are not necessarily “buying in” as long-term residents.

Not all council members sounded persuaded by arguments from developers that studies showed traffic volume would be roughly equivalent to the earlier senior-care plans.

“Traffic’s going to be increased from having people in assisted-living beds versus taking their cars to work,” Napoleone said.

Gielda replied that yes, fewer residents might have been driving from their homes in the original plan, but pointed out that staff would have been driving in to take care of older residents with nursing and medical service, food and more.

In a related item, the council approved the second reading of a master-plan amendment to allow up to 60 percent of a multi-use development to be devoted to one use, such as multi-family residences, at the request of Lotis.

That restored a village standard that had been in place until 2019, replaced at the time with a tier of varying restrictions as low as 30 percent for one use based on project acreage. Allowed uses can include things like homes, retail shops, offices and, under a village clarification, conservation — such as creating or preserving a body of water or green space.