Staff: Land Sales Not Required To Balance Wellington Budget

Wellington has the money to pay for big-ticket projects like a $30 million aquatic center already in its budget, and it does not have to sell assets like the K-Park land to cover those, village staff members assured the Wellington Village Council at workshop sessions held Thursday, April 18 and Friday, April 19.

New projects? That would be a different topic.

“We’re certainly still fine, but there is not funding available for other big projects,” Deputy Village Manager Tanya Quickel said.

The discussions arose as Wellington considers development offers on village-owned land such as the 70-acre K-Park property south of the Mall at Wellington Green, with one such offer coming in at $54 million and talks ongoing with others.

The village has reached an $11 million deal to sell another 10 acres near the mall to original mall developer Brefrank Inc., settling a lawsuit. That land has development rights for 220 residential units, if the terms and conditions of the agreement are met.

Mayor Michael Napoleone said he wanted to dispel any notions that the village needs the money to complete projects already approved and in the pipeline.

“I think it’s important to note from this discussion that when we talk about selling the 10-acre site, or we talk about what to do with K-Park, none of those decisions are based upon, ‘We’re out of money. We have to sell them to do something,’” Napoleone said.

“Correct,” Quickel said.

The land sales are considered on their own merits, Napoleone explained.

Wellington acquired the K-Park property in 2003 for about $8.5 million from the Kahlert family, Village Manager Jim Barnes noted in a review for the benefit of new council members. Known then as the Kahlert property, it was originally purchased for a future park. That is the source of the K-Park name.

Village utility fees paid for the land, and part of the property was also considered for use in storing or treating water, Barnes explained.

Over time, proposed uses have included everything from senior living to a sports complex, a horse park, a light-industrial park, a college campus and a host of others. Some proposals, such as the recreational courts or fields first envisioned for the land, have since been achieved at other village park sites.

Some community groups have argued for a park or botanical garden there. Before this spring’s municipal elections, some council members said a new 55-acre park off Forest Hill Blvd. created as part of the recent equestrian development deal effectively meets village needs for a substantial park area.

In February, the former council voted 3-2 to continue discussions with the Related Companies for a mixed-use development at K-Park, possibly paired with a private school.

The village’s 2023-24 fiscal year budget totaled about $138 million. For now, village officials do not foresee the need to raise the tax rate for residents, though property owners will face the second of three 10 percent annual increases in village-run water utility charges.

The budget has enough money to cover projects like the aquatic center, funded by a mix of village funds and a countywide sales surtax that ends next year, and the public-private Wellington Athletics facility that could be built next to it in Village Park, officials said.

The capital budget also includes planned road repaving, ballfield maintenance and other longstanding functions that Quickel called the “backbone” of what the village offers.