Final Remaining Equestrian Village Approval Revoked

A divided Wellington Village Council on Tuesday revoked the commercial dressage arena designation given earlier this year to the controversial Equestrian Village site by the former council.

In a move that Vice Mayor Howard Coates said will create “uncertainty for the equestrian industry,” council members voted 3-2 to revoke the site’s “compatibility determination.” Coates and Councilwoman Anne Gerwig dissented.

Approved in February, the compatibility determination on the site allowed for year-round operation as a commercial dressage facility. A second item, a master plan that allowed several new access points, was also approved at that time.

Both were subject to conditions that a plat be recorded by March 31, a deadline applicant Wellington Equestrian Partners failed to meet, Director of Growth Management Bob Basehart said. Council members revoked the master plan amendment in May.

Basehart said that without an updated master plan, the compatibility determination could not stand. “[Staff] feels that the appropriate action in this case is to also revoke the approval,” he said.

Basehart noted, however, that council members could choose to modify the conditions of approval or extend the time to allow the property owners to get a new master plan approved.

There was extended debate over whether village staff or the property owners were at fault for missing the deadline, which arrived during the confusing days of Wellington’s contested election.

Engineer Michael Sexton, representing Wellington Equestrian Partners, said that his client was waiting on a sign-off by Village Attorney Jeff Kurtz before submitting the plat but never received confirmation of that approval.

“I had a conversation with [Kurtz] where I asked him if we were going to be on the agenda for the [March 27 council meeting],” Sexton said. “I was told no. I asked him if the [documents] were approved. My recollection was he said something in the order of, ‘I believe they’re OK.’”

But Village Engineer Bill Riebe said that he had given Sexton verbal confirmation of Kurtz’s approval on March 21.

Wellington Equestrian Partners attorney Dan Rosenbaum said that Sexton had asked for written confirmation of approval several times but did not receive it.

Sexton agreed. “The reason I wanted it in writing, is I do know that items sometimes get walked onto an agenda,” he said. “I wanted the item to get walked onto the [March 27] agenda no matter who was sitting [on the council].”

But Gerwig pointed out that there was concern among former council members that any action they took in the wake of the election controversy could have been seen as “sneaking in” an item.

Council members questioned Riebe on why he did not send an e-mail or written note confirming Kurtz’s approval.

Riebe said that because of the importance of the project, he and his staff tried to get information passed on to the applicant as quickly as possible, in this case with a verbal confirmation. He said it occurs often with developers.

“In this case, it’s just how we corresponded,” he said. “From my position, I felt I did what was required of me. I provided that verbal notification and tried diligently to keep the process moving on.”

Councilman John Greene asked whether Sexton had requested in writing for a written confirmation from Riebe. Riebe said he had not.

Other debate surrounded whether council members truly had the option to do anything but revoke the approval.

Kurtz said that council members had the option to extend the time for the applicants to submit a new master plan and plat approval, which could allow for the compatibility determination.

But Councilman Matt Willhite said he did not want to approve something that was uncertain. “You’re asking me to approve a compatibility, not knowing the basis for the master plan,” he said.

Greene said he thought the applicant should resubmit a complete proposal.

Rosenbaum pointed out that the issue could lead to litigation, which would be costly to taxpayers, and suggested tabling the item and going to mediation.

“Everyone is sensitive to this,” he said. “It’s a difficult time for everyone. I would not advocate someone litigate something unnecessarily. A lot of planning, time and effort goes into putting shows on. I think the smartest thing to do is to stop the bleeding before it gets out of control.”

Greene said he felt that Rosenbaum was trying to shift blame from the applicant to staff.

“At no point did your client ever request an extension for time,” he said, pointing out that there was no evidence that Sexton requested written confirmation of approval so he could move forward. “I can’t make decisions based on what I don’t have.”

Mayor Bob Margolis agreed, noting that his concern was with the process, not necessarily the project. “The reason we are here tonight is that… there had to be a platting by a certain time,” he said.

During the public hearing, residents advocated both sides of the issue.

Bart Novak said he thought that the project would bring traffic and would cost taxpayers to build infrastructure to support it. “Why do we, the taxpayers, have to support them?” he asked.

Jack Mancini said that he relies on the equestrian industry in Wellington to make a living and is worried about its future.

“We support our families here in the community with the equestrian industry,” he said. “We put people to work. I feel that we are looking at things that are not in the best interest of the community. Everyone has to come together and work together for this to continue to be the best equestrian community in the world.”

Rosenbaum said that business in Wellington is at stake.

“If it becomes so difficult that business can’t be done here, and we don’t have a partner in the village council, then the applicant will feel that there is no opportunity here in Wellington,” he said.

During council comments, Coates said he thought that Wellington officials played a part in causing the missed deadline.

“[Staff] did not advise of approval of the [documents] until a time period when it was impossible to have the item heard on the March 27 agenda,” he said. “I disagree that it could have been walked through. Given the political situation, we would have been lynched.”

He made a motion not to revoke the compatibility determination subject to a revised plat. Gerwig seconded the motion, but it failed on a 3-2 vote.

Willhite said he could not support the item without an applicable master plan. “I don’t think we have any choice but to follow staff’s recommendation,” he said.

But Coates said that staff’s recommendation had been prompted by the council’s decision to revoke the master plan, a move that he said he thought was a way for council members to reverse the previous council’s decision.

“I have a problem with the last proceedings,” he said. “The issues we are supposed to be deciding have been bastardized into a complete referendum on the original sitting council, rather than looking at the sole issue of if there was prejudice in failing to file this plat.”

Discussion got heated when Coates suggested that there was a personal vendetta against the applicant being carried out through the council.

Greene took offense to the implication. “You keep telling me that the decisions I’m making are political payback,” he said. “I held a position that some people in this community agreed with. Because I’m holding true to what I said I support and don’t support, you’re telling me it’s political payback.”

Coates then called into question his objectivity. “If you accept massive campaign contributions from an interested party, I have a hard time believing you can be objective up here,” he said.

But Greene pointed out that candidates on both sides were well-financed.

Coates repeatedly asked Greene whether he thought the existing dressage arena should be torn down.

“I don’t believe the arena is compatible in the [Equestrian Overlay Zoning District],” Greene replied.

Margolis said that the applicant must follow the rules. “How many more times can we look the other way?” he asked. “I’m not going to move one more line in the sand.”

Greene made a motion to revoke the compatibility determination, which carried 3-2, with Coates and Gerwig dissenting.

Coates said he thought that the decision could have broader implications for the industry.

“There is nothing the council has done for this applicant that has made him feel comfortable that he is going to get a fair shake,” he said. “We are playing Russian roulette with the equestrian industry. There is nothing more harmful to business than uncertainty, and we have created massive uncertainty for every business owner in Wellington.”


Above: An artistic rendering of the Equestrian Village project.


  1. I wonder how Margolis, Greene, and Willhite will feel when every business owner in Wellington is informed of their destructive behavior and how much money they will lose as long as this council has power. I think these council members need to be put out of power! We can’t just stand here and let these people ruin our industry.

  2. This council is shamelss. They are using our taxes for lawsuits against Belissimo on behalf of the Jacobs family. And these lawsuits are intended to harm the equestrian indsustry that will hurt our tax base and in turn us! They are using our money against us! They are corrupt!

    • The Wellington you know is the result of horse people coming from the North to a horse-friendly community, started by horse people — not Bellissimo-style developers. Those developers worked their magic on Boca Raton. If you overcommercialize the town to put money in a developer’s pocket, we WILL leave, and the economic engine that drove this town will leave with it. The Jacobs family, and families like them, are that engine. Don’t be short-sighted and buy into the developer’s scare tactics. He is only interestred in his own pocketbook — that’s why he wanted to put up a 5 story condo/hotel used for 5 months a year on horse-designated property, causing traffic problems for all you nice residents trying to get to work, and making absolutlely sure that you will never see a horse walking on the side of Pierson road again.

      • The Wellington, Florida I know is a result of the great horse show that takes place each year here. It has nothing to do with what happened to settle this place 20 years ago. There is only one reason that I live in Wellington. It is the horse show. Take the show away and I am gone, too… I am sure that I am not the only one with this feeling.

  3. “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” –Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence, 1776.

    “It is the old practice of despots to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order; and those who have once got an ascendency and possessed themselves of all the resources of the nation, their revenues and offices, have immense means for retaining their advantages.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1798

    I fear the new government may have lost its way. Following a most divisive election, the antics of which garnered national news coverage, one would expect a time of healing. Instead the feared nightmares apparently are becoming a reality –even quicker than thought with ‘special meetings’ reversing prior approvals.

    The council is devoid of power. The residents and taxpayers hold the power and consent it to the council. We appear to have begun the new government with their misunderstanding of this, as they appear to have literally taken off with their powers. Also recalling they represent all of the village residents, not just those from whom they received monetary backing nor those who voted for them. Their duty is to represent the entire community. Not being present at the meeting, but reading of the results, this would not appear to be the case. I fear this despotic behavior of returning to past decisions and reversing prior approvals.

    I am quite leery of this revengeful behavior of anything Bellissimo related. For those of us battle-weary from the prior ’07 skirmishes, I might jog your memory that it was Mr. Bellissimo that prevailed and prevented WEF from departing Wellington permanently — something that would have decimated the village. I might also remind them that attacking ESP includes a great many business men and women who are investors in ESP. This group comprises a large number of well-respected and most generous supporters of the equestrian industry in this country, without whom we might not be sending yet another team to the Olympics within reaches of a gold medal.

    How I voted is of little import, but I will say that although I personally was skeptical of a large hotel and condo gracing the corner of south shore and pierson, we were continually informed that the team now in place, supported by the Jacobs family indeed was still entirely satisfied with the dressage minus the other buildings. It was only upon leaving my home in the Polo Club the day of the election that I read a notice delivered to me stating that Jacobs was suing the club (and therefore members) with the intent to demolish whatever building had already taken place, and return the area to its original field. I was never able to certify this, but the actions of the council seem to now verify this intention. This smacks of broken promises and hidden agendas.

    Retroactively reversing approvals and decisions is both despotic and dangerous for our community. This is hardly the healing behavior that was warranted, nor is it representative of the entire community of residents and taxpayers. I might remind the council to review a bit of Thomas Jefferson, and relinquish their one-sided proclamations and begin viewing matters in terms of benefits to the entire village as they were voted to do.

  4. I am at a loss for words at how easily our Dressage Facility Debacle could have been righted; used as an opportunity to to bring all parties together and move forward. In all the places I have lived in this country, to have such an opportunity to support a striving industry (that brings in tax dollars but is self funded) that totally supports the economy would have been a windfall for any municipality. Here it is kicked to the curb over a missed date. A piece that was/is completely finished but not on time… for a date… Something that is this important to the village economy and the well being of this village that provides so many jobs and opportunity for employment for us was denied over a date. Something that could have as easily been approved by the same group, to increase our opportunity within the industry and show support for the industry… I just don’t get it! Maybe I’m old-fashioned, maybe not old-fashioned enough, maybe I have never had it easy enough to think that if there is a opportunity in front of me I should pass it up because I don’t need it. I have worked hard all my life doing things I have enjoyed and some things I did not enjoy, but I did them because I had to, to support my family and my responsibilities. I have also been out of work and know what that is like. That is MY reference point for my opinion. But to have something in out hands, that brings so much to a community, and to pass on it instead of embraced is beyond me. I have heard it is not about personalities, I have heard that it is not about lack of support for dressage. Last night’s action was where the rubber met the road. Something is very very wrong here, if this is how we are to interpret the actions.

  5. I was torn between laughing and smashing my TV listening to our Mayor Bob Margolis at the meeting. He said that he had to “choose what is best for Wellington.” So does he vote to further job opportunities and increase the tax base? No. He chooses what the Jacobs family wants — put another nail in the coffin of equestrian sport by destroying our brand new, international derby and dressage venue.

    And his assertion that he is doing what the staff is recommending is a lie. Staff recommended granting an extension to allow the filing of the plat. He and Willhite and Greene are using the issue to destroy the new facility.

    Just about everywhere I go both inside and outside of Wellington people are wondering what is going on in Wellington? I am ashamed that we allowed a billionaire to buy the town and shape the equestrian industry to his liking.

    Well, we need to take our town back and recall these corrupt council members.

  6. I watched the council meeting and was thoroughly disgusted. John Greene was squirming from the questioning by Howard Coates regarding the new dressage facility. But Coates forced him to show his true intent: Get it torn down because Jeremy Jacobs wants it torn down.

    It it is said that once a Marine always a Marine. But it is sad to see that is not the case with Matt Willhite. Politics have taken honor and valor out of him. I was Army and we left no man behind. Willhite is leaving the Village behind.

    As Howard Coates said, this council is taking a scorched earch approach against Wellington residents on behalf of the Jacobs family.

    And I salute the Crier for keeping residents informed. You can bet the Jacobs family and his council members Margolis, Willhite and Greene do not want a light shown on what’s happening.

    And a thank you to council members Howard Coates and Anne Gerwig for standing up for the people against this well-funded and well coordinated

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