Equestrian Preserve Petition Qualifies For Ballot

Wellington voters could have the chance as early as this summer to decide whether to make the village’s charter require a unanimous vote by the Wellington Village Council for changes to land development regulations on properties in or around the Wellington Equestrian Preserve.

Last month, Wellington received petitions circulated by Preserve Wellington Inc. to put the decision to voters in a referendum.

A second petition to require a unanimous council vote for changes to Wellington’s comprehensive plan failed to gain enough signatures to make the ballot.

The question asked by petitioners was, “Shall the charter of the Village of Wellington be amended to require that amendments to the village’s land development regulations which increase height, density, intensity, floor area ratio or lot coverage on property located within, abutting or contiguous to the Equestrian Overlay Zoning District require approval by five affirmative votes of the [Wellington] Village Council?”

Village Manager Paul Schofield told the Town-Crier that enough qualified voters signed the petition to put it on the ballot.

“I will put it before the council to decide whether it will be placed on the ballot in August or November, or by special election,” he said.

In a letter to Preserve Wellington Inc., Village Clerk Awilda Rodriguez said that 4,741 petition signatures had been received for the question regarding land development regulations.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher also reviewed the signatures.

“Of the 4,741 petition signatures submitted,” Rodriguez wrote, “3,978 are qualified electors of the Village of Wellington.”

She said that the group had met the requirements of Florida law mandating that petitions must be signed by at least 10 percent of Wellington’s registered electors in the last municipal election to make the ballot.

The second petition for unanimous comprehensive plan changes received 327 signatures, with 266 being from qualified electors — not enough to make the ballot.

Council members are expected to discuss the matter when they meet June 12.

“We are contacting the supervisor of elections office to determine the cost to hold the referendum,” Schofield said.

Those costs could vary dramatically depending upon when the vote is held. Piggybacking with the August primary election or November general election will likely be less expensive than holding a stand-alone vote.

Schofield said the village would also schedule informational sessions to educate voters on the matter, but noted that Wellington as a municipality could only disseminate information, not attempt to sway voters’ opinions.

Councilman Matt Willhite said he was aware of the petitions and had concerns about requiring a unanimous vote.

“I don’t think it’s the best idea to give any single person that much power,” he said. “One person could hold up the process and choose to vote down something.”

He noted that Wellington’s charter has provisions to require a 4-1 supermajority for many changes, as well as a majority vote for most other items.

Willhite said he believes the petitions were a way for voters to express their displeasure with what was going on in Wellington at the time.

The petition was being circulated in the run up to the recent municipal election dominated by the controversial Equestrian Village project.

“I think the idea behind it was that they were unhappy with the response by government to their requests and concerns,” he said.

It will be the voters, he said, who decide whether the changes to Wellington’s charter will be made.

“Ultimately, the voters will decide,” he said. “People have the ability in a democracy to ask things of their government.”

Representatives from Preserve Wellington Inc. did not return calls for comment.