WELLINGTON -- A pair of controversial projects to develop wetlands near the Mall at Wellington Green took a step forward Wednesday night.


After dozens of comments for and against the projects -- including a song -- the Wellington Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board voted to recommend approval to the Village Council. There were two votes, on a comprehensive plan amendment and a master plan amendment. The board voted 5-2 on both items, with Elizabeth Mariaca and Alan Shullman dissenting on both.


>> WELLINGTON READERS: Sign up for The Post’s weekly newsletter for the latest Wellington news


One portion of developer Brefrank Inc.’s proposal would eliminate the wetland on the southeast corner of Forest Hill Boulevard and Olive Drive, just west of the Starbucks in front of the mall. In its place would go a 1.7-acre marshy lake and an approximately 10,000-square-foot restaurant.


Gary Koolik with Brefrank previously told The Palm Beach Post the restaurant could be either a BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse or Cooper’s Hawk Winery.


The other portion of the project affects a second wetland area next to the Axis apartment complex. Brefrank has pitched a 185-unit extension of Axis on about 9 acres of the wetland, while rehabilitating the remaining 10 acres of the preserve.


>> PAST COVERAGE: Developer fires back about controversial Wellington proposals: ‘These are not functional wetlands’


Dozens attended Wednesday night’s meeting to oppose the project, with protests that started at 4:30 p.m. near the preserve along Forest Hill Boulevard.


"We just don’t want them to pave over everything," protester Patricia Bachi said as she stood next to Forest Hill Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon. Bachi’s family moved to Wellington in 1977, and her father, Bob Markey Sr., owned and ran the Town-Crier newspaper.


Rabbi Barry Silver of Boca Raton, a longtime environmental supporter, said he drove to the protest and meeting after a funeral.


"We’re trying to prevent a funeral we will be forced to perform over this beautiful natural area," he said.


Later, at the meeting, Silver belted out an environmental ditty to the tune of Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be.”


>> PAST COVERAGE: Why two proposed developments near Wellington mall are getting big pushback


"When the chainsaws gather ‘round me, mother nature says to me, ‘We don’t need another storefront, let me be,’" he began. He finished his song to cheers from the dozens who attended in opposition of the project.


There were nearly 50 comments lodged at the meeting in opposition to the project, and about two dozen in favor.


The lengthy discussion and public comments pushed the meeting into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, adjourning about 12:30 a.m.


While opponents argued against the proposal’s environmental effects, those in support said it would boost the economy and open up the line of sight to the long-vacant Circuit City space behind it.


Brefrank’s agent, Wantman Group’s Jennifer Vail, also cited housing studies that say there is a growing need for multi-family housing in Wellington. An extension of the Axis apartments "would be extremely well-received by the market," she said.


The wetlands are not "functional," said Ed Weinberg, Brefrank’s environmental consultant. The wetlands are too high compared to the surrounding water table, he said.


Included in backup material given to the board was a note from the South Florida Water Management District in 1996 recommending off-site mitigation for the wetlands instead of keeping them.


"They did not expect … that they would have a long-term future as high-functioning wetlands," Weinberg said.


Board member Sal Van Casteren questioned the wetlands’ upkeep. Weinberg said they are maintained by a master property owners association, which signed off on Brefrank’s proposals.


Van Casteren asked if there were any signs or reports that indicated the wetlands were not functioning, and why the association didn’t do anything about that.


"It’s not a function of a lack of maintenance," Weinberg said. "The association can’t control the elevation of the water throughout Wellington."


But opponents argued the wetlands do serve a purpose, with some citing climate change while other compared development in Wellington to that in Houston, where overdevelopment was cited in part for extreme flooding following Hurricane Harvey in 2017.


Koolik said the rehabilitated wetlands and marshy lake would function better than the existing preserves for drainage.


In other action, the board named Stephen Levin its new chair, with former chair Mariaca named the new vice chair.


The board also voted unanimously to recommend approval of a daycare use for St. Rita Catholic Church, on the northwest corner of Big Blue Trace and Paddock Drive.


If approved by the council, the daycare would be allowed to have 60 children ages 3 to 5.


The church plans to build a new parish hall on the north side of its sanctuary and demolish the existing parish hall. The change should improve traffic flow on the site, the project’s planners said.


kwebb@pbpost.com


@kristinawebb