Wa­ter­front cen­ter of coun­cil’s bud­get de­bate

Re­de­vel­op­ment plans ig­nite 2-hour spat amid de­mo­li­tion sug­ges­tion.

The Palm Beach Post - - LOCAL - By Kristina Webb Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WELLING­TON — Vil­lage Coun­cil mem­bers ar­gued over each other and lobbed crit­i­cisms Tues­day night dur­ing an es­pe­cially con­tentious bud­get hear­ing.

A par­tic­u­lar stick­ing point: Plans to re­de­velop the Lake Welling­ton wa­ter­front space that could in­clude tear­ing down the ag­ing Lake Welling­ton Pro­fes­sional Cen­tre. The coun­cil de­bated the ne­ces­sity of set­ting aside $1.2 mil­lion to spend on plan­ning the wa­ter­front re­de­vel­op­ment. That money also could be used to de­mol­ish the 35-year-old of­fice build­ing, an is­sue that drew sev­eral com­ments from ten­ants who say tear­ing down the build­ing would drive more than 130 busi­nesses from the vil­lage.

Af­ter a nearly two-hour dis­cus­sion, the coun­cil voted 4-1, with Mayor Anne Ger­wig dis­sent­ing, to move the bud­get for­ward with a 2.50 prop­erty tax rate af­ter sug­gest­ing sev­eral items be deleted — while keep­ing the con­tro­ver­sial wa­ter­front-plan­ning cash. The next bud­get hear­ing is 7 p.m. Sept. 25.

The Palm Beach Post first re­ported in April on the vil­lage’s plans to re­de­velop the Lake Welling­ton wa­ter­front area be­hind Welling­ton’s com­mu­nity cen­ter and aquat­ics com­plex.

A con­cept for the first phase — which of­fi­cials have said is sub­ject to change pend­ing pub­lic in­put — in­cludes tear­ing down the Lake Welling­ton Pro­fes­sional Cen­tre to make space for more park­ing and a new row­ing cen­ter. The ex­ist­ing row­ing cen­ter could be torn down to cre­ate green space, ren­der­ings show.

This phase would cost about $8 mil­lion, vil­lage es­ti­mates show. A larger-scale, 10-year plan to re­de­velop the en­tire site, in­clud­ing the Welling­ton Aquat­ics Com­plex, could cost about $25 mil­lion, Fi­nance Di­rec­tor Tanya Quickel said.

The money in the com­ing year’s bud­get would cover hir­ing a con­sul­tant to run pub­lic-in­put ses­sions, Vil­lage Man­ager Paul Schofield said.

Dur­ing pub­lic com­ment, sev­eral ten­ants said they would not sup­port tear­ing down the pro­fes­sional cen­ter with­out a more con­crete plan in place and pub­lic in­put.

“This is not some­thing we’re just go­ing to de­cide on a whim,” Vice Mayor Michael Dra­hos said, adding that he sym­pa­thized with busi­nesses fac­ing the prospect of

hav­ing to find new space. He and Coun­cil­man Michael Napoleone said they individually have spo­ken with in­vestors about bring­ing new ex­ec­u­tive of­fices here.

When a pre­vi­ous Vil­lage Coun­cil voted to buy the Pro­fes­sional Cen­tre in 2013, it was in­vest­ing in the land, not the build­ing, Dra­hos said.

The build­ing makes about $200,000 in profit a year, Quickel said.

The Pro­fes­sional Cen­tre is home to 60 vir­tual ten­ants and 74 phys­i­cal ten­ants, she said. The vir­tual ten­ants are able to use the build­ing’s re­cep­tion­ist and con­fer­ence rooms, and each has an on-site mail­box. The fa­cil­ity needs about $1.8 mil­lion in work, in­clud­ing a new roof, fire sprin­klers, elec­tri­cal sys­tem up­grades and an “in­te­rior re­fresh,” Quickel said.

Ger­wig ar­gued that tear­ing down the build­ing with­out a solid plan would not be fis­cally re­spon­si­ble. Be­fore set­ting aside any money for per­mit­ting or de­mo­li­tion, she wants to have pub­lic-in­put meet­ings. “If we want to do some­thing for our com­mu­nity that makes it a more lively, long-term, sus­tain­able com­mu­nity, this is not it,” she said.

As Coun­cil­man John McGovern tried to steer the dis­cus­sion back to the over­all bud­get and the pro­posed prop­erty tax rate, Ger­wig said she would pre­fer to see items in the bud­get that im­prove com­mu­nity safety.

“If I’m go­ing to raise the bud­get from 2.43 (cur­rent prop­erty tax rate), it has to be ways that are go­ing to meet the needs of the res­i­dents, not this other stuff that we’re not sure of yet,” Ger­wig said.

She pointed to her ex­pe­ri­ence as a sur­veyor and land plan­ner. “I’m the only per­son, you guys, as much as you bring to the ta­ble, you don’t bring the same thing that I bring,” Ger­wig said. “You don’t. And I think the dis­cus­sion has to be, what are we look­ing to add here.”

McGovern took is­sue with Ger­wig’s com­ment about ex­pe­ri­ence. “Ev­ery one of us is ac­tive in the com­mu­nity, ev­ery one of us has been elected, ev­ery one of us has a role to play,” he said. “And our votes are equal and de­serve equal cre­dence, and I think that any­thing that says that isn’t true is false.”

“Well, we’re go­ing to dis­agree on that one too, be­cause I have sat through elec­tion cy­cles and I have knocked on doors. Two of you sit­ting here at this coun­cil were ap­pointed out­right at least in the be­gin­ning,” Ger­wig said, re­fer­ring to McGovern and Coun­cil­woman Tanya Siskind, both of whom ini­tially were cho­sen to fill va­cant coun­cil seats. Each since has been elected.

“That doesn’t make your vote any more cred­i­ble than the rest of ours,” McGovern said over her.

Dra­hos dis­agreed with Ger­wig, who said she cam­paigned for him. “I never asked any­body to cam­paign for me,” he said. “I cam­paigned for my­self.”

“We’re get­ting far afield,” Napoleone said.

“And we can get as far afield as you like,” Ger­wig replied. “I am the chair of this board, and I will just have one more thing to say and then you can go ahead and say what­ever you want. I’m telling you that I have worked very hard for this po­si­tion, and I am in con­nec­tion with my com­mu­nity, and I don’t see that in this plan. That’s all.

“And that’s not per­sonal about any of you. But you are at­tor­neys, you are a PTA mom, this is out of your realm,” Ger­wig con­tin­ued, re­fer­ring to lawyers Dra­hos, McGovern and Napoleone and Siskind, who has been ac­tive in Welling­ton’s ed­u­ca­tional com­mu­nity for more than a decade.

“I think you have just in­sulted th­ese res­i­dents, th­ese vot­ers and each one of us and it is out of line,” McGovern said.

Dra­hos agreed. “Madam Mayor, I mean, no­body’s got­ten per­sonal here but you,” he said. “And it’s un­for­tu­nate, and I re­ally don’t want to go down that road. There’s no need for us to talk about our qual­i­fi­ca­tions. I think all of us are equally qual­i­fied and all of us love our com­mu­nity very much.”

Ger­wig said she is dis­ap­pointed the coun­cil con­tin­ues to “mi­croplan,” when it could be mas­ter-plan­ning by in­clud­ing dis­cus­sion about the vil­lage’s K-Park prop­erty and a 10-acre site Welling­ton owns near the Mall at Welling­ton Green. “No one wants to have a con­ver­sa­tion about in­vest­ing in the busi­ness com­mu­nity by adding a 400-seat ban­quet space,” she said. “We’ve got to find that thing that we’re in­vest­ing in that’s bring­ing busi­ness to the com­mu­nity and adding value.”

The ban­quet hall sug­ges­tion is “a cover for a per­form­ing arts cen­ter,” McGovern said, “Which I want to be very clear, I do not think that is fi­nan­cially sus­tain­able in this com­mu­nity.”

“It’s not a cover, sir, it’s an an­cil­lary use,” Ger­wig said.

Later in the meet­ing, Ger­wig re­turned to the cul­tural arts cen­ter con­cept. “If we want to get per­sonal about it, I’ve had a lot of in­put from the res­i­dents about an eco­nomic driver for this com­mu­nity, and Coun­cil­man McGovern down­plays it as some kind of cover project,” she said. “But it’s truly not be­cause other com­mu­ni­ties are do­ing this sort of thing and they’re see­ing it change the na­ture of their com­mu­nity.”

Ger­wig long has been a pro­po­nent of bring­ing some sort of per­form­ing arts space to the vil­lage that could charge ad­mis­sion for per­for­mances while host­ing busi­ness events dur­ing the day and in the off-season. “Arts are some­thing that at­tract in­tel­li­gent peo­ple,” she said. “It’s the kind of in­vest­ment that can change your com­mu­nity in the long-term, and it’s not been some­thing that we’re will­ing to vi­sion to­gether. It’s some­thing that only I talk about. So, I can’t vi­sion by my­self.”

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