Plans for the controversial Equestrian Village project at the corner of South Shore Blvd. and Pierson Road took several steps forward last week after the Wellington Village Council capped three days of discussion with three votes for approval.
The council granted approval Wednesday, Feb. 1 to a master plan for the 96-acre site, followed Thursday morning by approval for designating the site as home to a commercial equestrian arena. Both changes were granted 4-1 with Vice Mayor Matt Willhite dissenting.
Taken together, the first two approvals grant property owner Wellington Equestrian Partners the ability to use the site of the old Palm Beach Polo stadium as a high-level dressage show grounds.
However, the most controversial portion of the project — plans for a hotel and shopping on the site — will require state review, further approvals and a rezoning.
Thursday evening, the council voted 3-2 to transmit a comprehensive plan amendment that would allow a 58-foot hotel on the site. Willhite and Councilman Howard Coates were in opposition.
During the discussion over the equestrian arena designation, Wellington Planning & Zoning Manager David Flinchum told council members that the change is in line with the surrounding area.
“This corner has changed dramatically over the years,” he said. “It’s no longer rural. This corner changed to more commercial type activity. It has been used for commercial recreation the last 30 years and even before that.”
Attorney John Shubin, representing the Jacobs family, a vocal opponent of the project, said that the designation would cause congestion in the area.
Alan Tinter, a traffic engineer with IBI Group, added that a traffic study should have been done at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
“The property owner has a similar facility where it would have been possible to look at an actual equestrian event,” Tinter said. “It was the perfect opportunity to determine trip generation, and it wasn’t taken advantage of.”
Residents were divided on the issue. Many supported the plan, but worried about the effects of the facility on nearby residences.
Kimberly Jacobs, who lives in the adjacent Polo Island community, said her home would have a direct view of the proposed barns. “When I bought my house I did not [expect] to look over a parking lot of 600-some cars or manure bins,” she said.
Lin Howard Andrews said she moved from her condo in Polo Island because of the project. “The use is too dense,” she said. “I don’t think we need a 600-car paved parking lot. If it weren’t for the hotel, they would have plenty of land.”
One of the concerns was the four barns, two of which are currently under construction, that are set on the easternmost portion of the 59-acre non-arena portion of the property.