Reconfigured Wellington Village Council Hears Report From Local State Legislators

New Wellington Council — (L-R) Councilwoman Amanda Silvestri, Councilwoman Tanya Siskind, Mayor Michael Napoleone, Councilwoman Maria Antuña and Vice Mayor John McGovern. Photo courtesy the Village of Wellington

From the recent state legislative session in Tallahassee, Wellington could gain a sheriff’s substation but lose oversight over vacation rentals, while homeowners will see little help for soaring insurance bills, the newly reconfigured Wellington Village Council learned on Tuesday, April 9.

“It’s disheartening to hear that,” Mayor Michael Napoleone said about the homeowners’ insurance issue. He noted that when residents complain about insurance hikes up to 45 percent, he responds that local governments have little power on that issue, and they need to talk to folks who serve in Tallahassee.

State Sen. Lori Berman (D-District 26), whose district includes Wellington, said the $117 billion state budget includes $500,000 for a sheriff’s substation in the village. It is one of many budget components that will not be finalized until the governor has reviewed them with a veto pen that could cross out pieces of it.

One regret she cited in the session that ended in March was that lawmakers took no substantial action on double-digit rate increases in property insurance bills, with leadership arguing that enough has been done in the past. “We’ll see,” Berman said. “They said things are getting better, and they think it will level out, but leveling out is different than going down.”

State Rep. Katherine Waldron (D-District 93) expressed concern about a bill that further rolls back municipal and county regulations on vacation rentals, by nullifying local rules enacted in the last decade in favor of statewide codes. Opponents fear it weakens attempts to curb abuses at rentals that disturb neighborhoods and are urging a veto by the governor.

“There has been a lot of drama and conflict over this bill,” Waldron said.

Wellington recently adopted measures designed to toughen village enforcement of violations concerning noise, parking and other issues for rentals under 30 days at a time, often arranged through online platforms.

“The short-term rentals have been problematic for most municipalities,” Napoleone said. “We spent a lot of time trying to draft a new ordinance that would help protect our residents from bad renters. A lot of effort and a lot of collaboration went into putting something together that we think is a good mix that benefits everyone. Now that’s kind of going to be thrown out with the bathwater… I know we wrote to the governor asking him to veto it.”

Berman said local governments still will be able to require homeowners to register and submit to inspections and charge fees for that if the bill becomes law. Everything else is left to the state, including how many people can stay in how many bedrooms, she said.

On another topic, Waldron said she supported HB3, signed into law by the governor, that prohibits children under 14 from having certain social media accounts and requiring parental permission for those 14 and 15 years old.

She noted that the law, which would go into effect Jan. 1, could face challenges in court on free-speech grounds. She viewed it as a worthwhile effort designed to make it harder to target children with addictive online features that can affect body image, self-esteem and more.

Vice Mayor John McGovern asked if anything can be done about the fact that large South Florida counties like Palm Beach often see themselves as “donor” counties, contributing more to state revenues than they necessarily get back in funding.

Berman acknowledged there have been projects such as a Wellington water plan that were vetoed in recent years, but she maintained that Palm Beach County’s bipartisan delegation has tried to work well together to advocate for such improvements. She said she proposed about 50 projects, more than usual, and some 30 of them were included in the budget bill that passed.

The April 9 gathering marked the first meeting of Wellington’s council after elections that determined three of its five seats.

“I want to say thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me to continue to serve as your mayor,” said Napoleone, an attorney who assumed the mayoral role with an election victory following eight years on the council. “It’s an exciting time. It’s a challenging time.”

Maria Antuña has become the first Latina member of the council in village history. She enters the post after a banking career, leadership roles in the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County and vice chair of the village’s Architectural Review Board. “I’ve been in Wellington for 45 years, so this is really a proud moment for me,” she said.

Antuña is joined by another council newcomer, Amanda Silvestri, whose family runs an insurance agency. That gives Wellington’s governing body a female majority for the first time.

“I just appreciate all the people who supported me,” Silvestri said.

In other business:

  • The council unanimously approved a measure aimed at bringing some resolution to whether a proposed sports training facility led by NFL linebacker and Wellington native Jon Bostic moves to a new home.

Neighboring communities at the initial site for the facility, Wellington Community Park land on South Shore Blvd., originally pledged $4 million or more to help accommodate a relocation to Village Park near its 120th Avenue South entrance, according to village officials. That number has since been scaled back to $2.5 million.

Concerned that not all financial pledges from neighbors have been forthcoming, council members urged speedy resolution of written agreements and receipt of funds by May 13, or the Wellington Athletics LLC project could revert to its original location.

A Friday, April 12 at 5 p.m. deadline to secure written agreements was met, according to Deputy Village Manager Tanya Quickel.

  • Emergency response times in Wellington decreased almost 10 seconds in 2023 to an average of 6 minutes, 39 seconds, with overall calls falling somewhat coming out of the pandemic, said Amanda Vomero, the local district chief for Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue. She presented the council with highlights of the district’s annual report on fire and emergency medical calls.
  • Palm Beach County Appraiser Dorothy Jacks told the council that the market value of Wellington properties rose 18 percent to $19.7 billion in 2023, and taxable value after exemptions rose 11.5 percent to $11.5 billion, which she described as “incredibly healthy.” Still, there are signs that the boom is cooling a bit, which isn’t all bad in terms of affordability, Jacks said. The median home sale price in Wellington declined to $718,000 in the first quarter of 2024 from $749,000 in the last quarter of 2023. Higher interest rates have helped lower the number of transactions, she said.
  • The council unanimously approved master-plan amendments that make it possible for LA Medical Associates to convert the former Cheddar’s restaurant into medical offices on the west side of State Road 7, about a mile north of Forest Hill Blvd.
  • The council also approved steps to incorporate the 45-acre Moncado property into the adjacent Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat. That expands an area on the village’s western side devoted to flood control and cleaning runoff water from Wellington, along with recreational trails and an observation tower. The moves involve contracts to H&J Contracting Inc. for $3.9 million and Mock Roos & Associates for $321,100, paid with a combination of outside grants and village funds. Village officials hope to start work adapting the new property in June, with completion in about a year.