Bellissimo Drops Equestrian Village Plan Request

The commercial portion of the controversial Equestrian Village project proposed by Wellington Equestrian Partners is on the back burner after Managing Partner Mark Bellissimo withdrew the application for a comprehensive plan amendment Monday.

Instead, Bellissimo will look to collaborate with Wellington officials and nearby residents on a project that the community will rally behind.

“At the end of the day, my sense is that there is great controversy over the commercial elements of the project,” Bellissimo told the Town-Crier Wednesday. “I still think that corner is important as the gateway to the equestrian community. We have taken the feedback we have gotten in this process and hope to come back with something that will benefit the community at large.”

The proposed 58-foot hotel planned on the 96-acre former Palm Beach Polo Stadium property was a controversial item that divided candidates during the Wellington municipal election in March. The three winners were staunch opponents of the project.

Councilman John Greene said that he remains in support of the dressage element in the Equestrian Village plan, but not the commercial elements of the project. “My position has been straightforward from the beginning,” he said. “I think it was wise of them to step back and reevaluate the project. It was a divisive issue in the community.”

The property is currently host to the Global Dressage Festival, bringing top dressage riders into Wellington. Many opponents of the hotel noted that they were in support of a dressage facility on the property.

Greene noted that Bellissimo has already set aside time to meet with council members individually. He added, however, that he could not predict what sort of facility the community would want to see there.

“It depends on who you talk to,” he said. “Some people want to see it preserved green space. Other people would have liked to see a hotel.”

Council members had been expected to discuss the proposed comprehensive plan amendment at their Tuesday, May 22 meeting.

The previous council voted 3-2 in February to submit the plan to the state for approval, which it received. But the amendment would have required a 4-1 supermajority of the current council to win final adoption.

Village Manager Paul Schofield noted Wednesday that both Vice Mayor Howard Coates and Councilman Matt Willhite opposed the comprehensive plan amendment when it first came up.

“I would never predict how elected officials are going to vote,” he said, “but given that it takes a 4-1 vote to approve that, and two of the people who voted ‘No’ are still on the council, it would seem that it wasn’t likely that [the project] was going to get the vote.”

Schofield noted that if the issue had gone forward and not been approved, the project could not have been resubmitted for a year.

“I believe it is a good thing that it has been withdrawn,” he said. “There were some issues that needed to be resolved, and I truly hope that both sides of that argument can reach an understanding.”

In a letter dated May 14 to Planning & Zoning Manager David Flinchum, Bellissimo asked to withdraw the application, citing differences of opinion in the community.

“It is our desire to work in a collaborative effort with the village and with the community,” he wrote, “to make sure our vision is reconciled to the best of our ability with the needs and desires of all of those who will be affected by and will benefit from the development.”

Bellissimo said he looks forward to working with the community on a project that will meet everyone’s needs. “We are excited for the future of Wellington and want to collaborate on a new project in that important location,” he said Wednesday. “For now, we decided to step back and focus on what’s important, which is making a world-class dressage facility.”

Though the comprehensive plan amendment is off next week’s agenda, council members will hold a status hearing for the property’s master plan and commercial equestrian arena determination.

Schofield said that there were conditions of approval for the items that were not met, “specifically, recording the plat by the end of March or the first of April,” he said. “Council [members are] going to hold a hearing to see what they can do. Their options are simple. They can extend the approval, they can add additional conditions, or they can simply revoke it.”