Members of the Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee approved a variance petition last week for the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, bringing several of its ring locations in line with village code.
Committee members voted 4-1 on Nov. 14 to approve variances for six rings on the property. The variances were necessary after the site won approval last year to operate as a commercial equestrian arena.
“The property owner went forward, at the village’s request, to take the equestrian facility and make it an official commercial equestrian arena,” said Michael Sexton, agent for the equestrian center. “The criteria for setbacks then changed. These existing rings have a larger setback requirement by code than what the existing rings were.”
Six rings that existed before the change do not meet the 100-foot setback requirement, Sexton said.
“We would document these existing rings, that were in place at the time of the change, are in village records as being conforming,” he said. “If we were to add new rings, we’d be looking at the full 100-foot setback. This would not give permission for any new rings to be constructed at less than the required 100 feet.”
The variance would allow the six rings to be within 13 to 54 feet of the property line.
Committee Chair Cynthia Gardner noted that the rings have been there for years.
“The majority of the rings were there prior to the applicant buying the property,” she said. “Those rings have been in the same place. They are the same size.”
Gardner noted that occasionally, riding rings are used for parking and asked Sexton whether the facility’s 679 listed spaces included parking in the rings.
Sexton said the number did not. “The parking spaces shown on the rings are purely event parking,” he said. “They are not shown on the paved, approved parking.”
Gardner said she wanted to be sure there would be no issue approving the variance if those rings could be considered a parking lot. Sexton said that was not the case.
Committee Member Linda Smith Faver was concerned about Ring 6, which is the closest one to a residence. “Are those property owners consulted?” she asked.
Sexton said all nearby property owners will be notified. “We have prepared notices that will be mailed to all of the property owners within 500 feet,” he said. “They will be told when the public hearing is going to be scheduled so that they can either send letters, e-mails or attend the hearing. They will have every opportunity to make suggestions.”
Faver asked about a private ring south of Ring 10 that was used last year for horse shows. Sexton answered that it was permitted by special use. “That is not part of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center,” he said. “That is under separate ownership.”
Faver was also concerned about the future of the property. “What if someone else buys the property and doesn’t appreciate the ring being that close?” she asked.
Sexton said that the current property owners would be notified of the variance petition and would have an opportunity to come forward if they considered the property’s resale value an issue. “It’s an existing condition,” he said. “The owners of the property now will be noticed, so if they have a problem they can point it out.”
Both Gardner and Faver said they felt the petition was simply a technicality. “You’re not asking for input,” Faver said.
Committee Member Linda Elie made a motion to approve the variance but wanted it noted that it should be site-specific and not serve as a precedent for variances on any other properties.
The motion passed 4-1, with Faver opposed. Committee members Michael Whitlow and Carlos Arellano were absent.
“I have an issue with some setbacks being OK and others not,” Faver explained. “I think this was done wrong. Just because the rings were set up this way before doesn’t mean it’s OK to leave them this way when it will impact neighboring properties.”
ABOVE: The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.