Area Residents OK Wellington’s Annexation Across Southern

A map of the annexation area showing the proposed future land use. Image courtesy Village of Wellington

Resident electors in 258 acres on the north side of Southern Blvd. near Seminole Pratt Whitney Road voted 19-0 in a referendum Tuesday, March 19 to become part of the Village of Wellington.

The vote by property owners in what is known as the Sluggett Property and Entrada Acres gives Wellington its first foothold north of Southern Blvd./State Road 80.

With the Palm Beach County Commission declining earlier this month to get involved in attempting to block the annexation, the county will have little standing to challenge any future moves by Wellington on the north side of Southern Blvd., District 6 County Commissioner Sara Baxter said this week.

That could potentially open the door to Wellington’s expansion as far west as the Arden development at 20-Mile Bend and beyond, and as far north as the City of Westlake — assuming, of course, a majority of residents in these various unincorporated areas of the county agree.

Wellington Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone, who was elected mayor earlier this week, has said that the current annexation represents “the back door to Wellington.”

“To the extent that we have the ability to control what happens there, I’m in favor of this as long as there is a net positive to us,” he said in December when the council first discussed the annexation.

Councilman John McGovern added that Wellington needs to take notice of what he sees as a major commercial corridor evolving on the north side of Southern Blvd. “We have some interest to protect our northern border and give ourselves a stake in the conversation,” he said.

Not everyone, however, is excited about the idea of becoming part of “greater Wellington.”

Nancy Gribble, president of the Fox Trail Property Owners’ Association, was a vocal critic of the annexation throughout the process. “Our community is very concerned about what you are doing to develop the Sluggett property, which immediately abuts our property,” she told the council.

What many expect is that eventually all the property with frontage along Southern Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road will be converted to commercial use, with the interior properties becoming medium density housing developments.

The area will officially become part of Wellington in December, but many current residents said they already feel like they are part of the village.

Garrett Warner, who with his wife Katha Gatto Warner, runs a horse farm in the annexation area, said, “Everything we do has to do with Wellington. [The area] just happens to be on the other side of Southern, but it’s Wellington.”

Up until March 5, the annexation faced a possible legal challenge from the county. Led by Baxter, commissioners voted 5-1 in December to oppose it.

Assistant County Attorney Darren Leiser told the commissioners at their March 5 meeting that the county needed to send a letter of objection to Wellington by March 15 if the county wished to dispute the annexation. It would have put the county in a position to later contest it through administrative or legal channels.

“We have not left one [such annexation] unchallenged,” Deputy County Administrator Patrick Rutter told the board.

However, in a surprising move, Baxter dropped her opposition, explaining that she wanted to let the voters in the area decide. She made a motion for staff not to send the letter of objection. With the six other commissioners deferring to Baxter, who represents the area, it passed 7-0.

After going as far as coaching council members in the neighboring Town of Loxahatchee Groves on how they might block Wellington’s move, Baxter said she had a conversion on dais listening to numerous residents of the area plead their case for a vote.

“I have always supported the ability of voters to vote in this process,” she said, while continuing to express her concerns about increased traffic at the Southern/Seminole Pratt intersection, the infrastructure to support aggressive commercial development there and possible undue influence of resident voters by developers.

“I don’t just represent these 30 properties. I represent the entire District 6, which includes all the properties north of this area,” Baxter told residents at the meeting, some of whom were wearing t-shirts with the word “Annexation” and a checked off check box.

Many of those properties are in the Indian Trail Improvement District, which provides roads, drainage and parks to thousands of acres and more than 50,000 residents north of Southern and west of State Road 7.

ITID Supervisor Betty Argue noted Wednesday that her district did not take a position on the annexation. She said, however, it is an example of why she has strongly supported Acreage incorporation.

“This is what we’re facing, being picked off a little at a time,” she said. “I call it death by a thousand cuts.”

In the end, Baxter said she ran out of time to investigate the developer influence that concerned her and that the only proper thing to do was let the resident voters decide.

They did, 19-0.


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