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Why some public meetings go past 11 p.m…. and then on and on and on

The man who lightly snored just after 1 a.m. at an October weeknight meeting in Wellington drew little attention from the dozens who remained in the village’s council chambers.

As three controversial proposals were brought before Wellington’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board, its members pushed and plodded through hour after hour of presentations, discussions and public comments — finally adjourning the marathon seven-hour meeting near 2:20 a.m. on Oct. 12.

Because the village’s rules allow the council or a board or committee to vote to bypass the 11 p.m. curfew, long, drawn out agendas in Wellington can and will happen — in 2012, a meeting to establish Equestrian Sport Partners’ Equestrian Village stretched across three days.

RELATED: Controversial Wellington proposals push Wellington meeting past 2 a.m.

Wellington resident Judy Adams attended the meeting, which began at 7 p.m., Oct. 11, to show her opposition to one of the agenda items relating to Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club. She lasted until midnight, but understood the importance of finishing the agenda.

“How can they (the board members) postpone it when all of those people had shown up?” Adams said. “They would have been booed tremendously.”

After 11 p.m., Wellington officials can go as long as they want.

“Obviously we don’t want to make that the norm, but if it happens, it happens,” said Tomas Bueno, a member of the Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board.

Delray Beach has no limit on meetings and they typically go past 11:30 p.m. This year, a discussion about a large-scale development in Delray Beach’s historic district pushed one meeting to 14 hours spanning two days.

Boca Raton and Royal Palm Beach also do not have curfews, but rarely do the meetings run late.

Others, however, have an eye on the clock. Take Palm Beach Gardens, which has a strict 11:30 p.m. curfew. A January sales tax discussion in that city had to be continued to the following night after presentations and public comment hit the 11:30 p.m. deadline.

In Jupiter, the deadline for town council meetings is 11 p.m. The exception is if the five-member council is discussing an issue at 11 p.m., the meeting can be extended. Once the council finishes discussion on the item after 11 p.m., it cannot take up any new items.

Because Wellington’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board meets only once a month, board members — and residents — seem ready to finish everything that night, rather than delay discussion.

One official described the Oct. 11 meeting as having a “particularly heavy agenda” that included three big issues:

- The Flying Cow Ranch proposal, a development that would offer homes on large lots with barns and access to a private airstrip.

- A pitch to add access points and change the use for the golf courses at Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club.

- The third was a related proposal, to add access to the Polo West golf course from Greenview Shores Boulevard, and change the use of that course as well.

Planning and Zoning Director Bob Basehart said he didn’t anticipate the Flying Cow Ranch proposal discussion would take as long as it did, but said setting the agenda was tricky.

“Flying Cow has been in the system longer than the other two,” he said, referring to developer Glenn Straub’s requests for Palm Beach Polo and Polo West. “Would it be fair to put that one off for a month? The other two are related — would it be right to split them up, hear them separately?”

RELATED: Is proposed Wellington airstrip, community too close to Aero Club?

Or would the better option, he said, be to hear the Flying Cow Ranch proposal first, then wait a month to hear Palm Beach Polo and Polo West?

“I probably should have done something like that,” he said.

Bueno said the once-a-month meeting is an example of what happens “when you’re sitting there and you have three fairly complex items.”

As the Oct. 11 meeting grew longer, Bueno’s fellow board members struggled to read the hand-written comments submitted for the record by residents commenting on the Polo West proposal. About 2 a.m., board members Alan Shullman and Jeffrey Robbert rubbed their eyes and snickered as they stumbled over tiny print and cursive. Public comment closed at 2:05 a.m.

“The comments are what really slow down the meetings,” Bueno said, adding that it’s “kind of what we signed up for.”

But residents want their voices heard and Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said it’s important to hear all opinions when people pack meeting halls.

On Oct. 11, there were a lot of people: residents, applicants, attorneys and experts hired by the applicants and their opponents. When the meeting began, it was standing-room only. Village staff scrambled to find extra chairs.

“It’s a difficult call to make because when you have a lot of people in the audience who have waited to be heard and you have people who are being paid to be there … it’s difficult to tell the applicant that you’re just gonna suspend everything and discuss it at another time,” Cohen said.

There also was pressure from the crowd at Village Hall on Oct. 11 to push on through the entire agenda. When the board suggested a bathroom break between proposals, there was a groan from the crowd, with residents yelling, “Keep going!” If someone spoke past the allotted three minutes for comments, they occasionally were quietly shushed by their fellow residents.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Wellington OKs first of several requests needed for Equestrian Village

Meanwhile, the man who fell asleep was not alone. A few others slumped over in their chairs, their chins hanging to their chests. One man in a rolling chair brought in for the overflow crowd at the beginning of the night began to slowly roll backward until hitting something and jolting awake.

“Huh?” he whispered to the person seated next to him. “It’s still going?”

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