The Wellington Village Council approved the first reading of an annexation ordinance Tuesday, Jan. 16 that would bring 258 acres of land near the intersection of Southern Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road into the village, pending approval of a March referendum of the 31 residents who live in the area.
While a Palm Beach County representative spoke against the annexation at the meeting, the majority of public comments were from property owners and residents in the area, known as Entrada Acres and the Sluggett property, who support the annexation.
Palm Beach County, which owns two parcels in Entrada Acres, has threatened a lawsuit to block the annexation.
Bob Basehart of the village’s Planning, Zoning & Building Department gave an overview of the annexation issue. He explained that it grew out of last year’s council directions workshop, in which a number of possible annexation areas were discussed.
After the directions workshop, the village was approached by representatives from the subject area to consider annexation.
“We began with a few property owners, but then more and more interest was expressed by others,” Basehart said.
Since not all the property owners agree, the village is using an involuntary annexation process. This first requires support from a majority of the parcels and the property owners. There are 39 properties with 32 property owners. Wellington has received letters of support from 55 percent of property owners and 66 percent of the total land area.
Next, there needs to be a referendum of the 31 resident electors in the area. That is scheduled for March 19, concurrent with the presidential preference primary.
While the land is planned for a mix of commercial and residential, setting the future land use and zoning will come after the council approves the annexation, Basehart said.
He refuted Palm Beach County’s argument that the area does not meet state standards for contiguity when it comes to being integrated into the municipality.
“Given the fact that there is no specific standard that has to be met to comply with that provision, we believe that we have fully met it,” he said.
Basehart called this area of Southern Blvd. a “developing urban corridor,” noting that a large part of the land has already been granted commercial zoning by the county.
“This is something that we should let the residents decide,” he said.
During public comment, Palm Beach County Principal Site Planner Khurshid Mohyuddin detailed the county’s objections laid out at a December meeting of the Palm Beach County Commission and a letter sent to the village.
“The proposed area is not contiguous, as the residents of the proposed area will have to travel more than a mile to interact with other residents of the village,” he said. “The county intends to pursue all legal remedies should the village council adopt the proposed annexation.”
Also speaking in opposition was Nancy Gribble, president of the Fox Trail Property Owners’ Association. Her neighborhood lies to the west of the annexation area. She said the proposed commercial intensity will be detrimental to Fox Trail.
More than a dozen property owners and residents in the area spoke in favor of the annexation.
Geoffrey Sluggett, representing his father Richard Sluggett, said his family fully supports the annexation. The Sluggetts have owned the property at the northwest corner of Southern and Seminole Pratt for 42 years and has always felt it should be part of Wellington. He called the area “the western gateway to Wellington.”
Ron Schwartz is a Wellington resident who owns a lot in the annexation area. “This would be beneficial not just for Wellington, but also for the people who live out in that area,” he said.
Christina Walczak’s family owns several lots on Van Gogh Blvd. in the annexation area. They have been residents there for 49 years and support the annexation.
“We have a lot of problems with utilities in the area, and we are looking forward to your help,” she said.
Jason Hovde is a Wellington resident and pastor of Oasis Church, which is in the area to be annexed.
“Our governing board is unanimously and enthusiastically in support of the annexation,” he said. “We think it will bring new opportunities for ministry to our church.”
After public comment, Basehart refuted the county’s claim that residents in the area will not interact socially with others for Wellington, noting that children in the area go to Wellington schools, so they are already interacting socially with the community. It is also in the same Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue zone and is being served by Wellington fire stations.
He noted that if the council approves the first reading, the final reading of the annexation ordinance would be on Feb. 13. If approved by the electors in March, the annexation would become official in December.
Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said that the village would then defend the annexation against any legal challenges.
“The county is a property owner, so the county certainly does have standing to challenge it,” she said, explaining that first there would be an intergovernmental dispute resolution process, followed by a possible lawsuit if the issues could not be resolved.
The council stressed that residents in the area are not guaranteed any particular zoning change under the annexation ordinance.
“This is the type of issue that you are required to put to the voters, and we should be putting it to the voters,” Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone said. “If they want to become part of Wellington, then they will vote that way.”
Councilman Michael Drahos said he would prefer looking at Wycliffe and Homeland to Wellington’s south for future annexation but agreed to support the current proposal.
Mayor Anne Gerwig noted that many people along Southern Blvd., such as those in Arden, are already under the impression that they live in Wellington.
“If we don’t do this, it is less control that we have,” she said.
The annexation ordinance was approved 4-0 with Councilwoman Tanya Siskind absent.