Members of the Wellington Village Council were divided Tuesday over whether to give exclusive consideration to a horse park on the village-owned K-Park site at the corner of State Road 7 and Stribling Way.
Council members voted 3-2 to approve a letter of intent from proposers Palm Beach Horse Park LLC, with Vice Mayor Howard Coates and Councilwoman Anne Gerwig opposed.
Though council members were largely in favor of the idea of a horse park on the site, concerns about following the proper procedure caused the dissent.
“I like this proposal,” Coates said. “I just want to make sure everyone gets a fair shake in presenting to the council.”
Coates noted that a second organization had approached Wellington about putting baseball fields on the site but hadn’t yet had a chance to present a proposal to the council.
But by accepting the terms in the letter of intent, the council majority agreed to give Palm Beach Horse Park and the still-unnamed buyer behind the company 120 days to draft a feasibility study, financial plan and other documents to persuade council members to sell the property.
During those four months, Wellington would agree not to discuss selling the site to any other entity. The council still will have the final say on whether to sell the property.
Palm Beach Horse Park spokesman Jack Van Dell said that the development as proposed would include a hotel, veterinarian training facility and a stadium that could double as a civic facility.
The horse park would provide a space for western riding, most notably American Quarter Horse Association shows. “The concept is to make it a 12-month, full-service, completely equipped horse park like no other in the world,” Van Dell said.
On site would be eight hurricane-resistant barns and a stadium built to hurricane standards, both of which could be used by the county’s emergency operations. “[The stadium] will be able to house dogs and cats and people during emergencies,” Van Dell said.
There would also be a veterinary school, surgical suite and research/development facilities, as well as an international riding school for world-class training in any discipline and a barn where Wellington residents could learn to ride.
“We are the most complete horse place in the world, yet if you come here, you can’t get on a horse and go for a ride,” Van Dell said. “We want to have one barn dedicated to Wellington, filled with qualified horses and good trainers. It will get kids out to the facility and for a minimum amount of money, they can learn to ride.”
Van Dell said the site would be a mix of civic uses and private, commercial uses. He estimated that it would create 400 to 500 jobs and have a $50 million to $75 million impact on Wellington.
Attorney Barbara Richardson of Shutts & Bowen, representing Palm Beach Horse Park, said that the company offered $10 million for the site subject to appraisal by Wellington. K-Park was purchased for about $8.5 million, she noted.
During public comments, many western riders stepped up to support the idea.
Loxahatchee resident LaVerne Jones, a barrel racer, said that she had put her house up for sale and planned to move to someplace more friendly toward her discipline. “I live in a beautiful horse community,” she said. “But I can’t ride western. If this plan goes through, I would stay. I know a lot of people would come here.”
Many of the riders said they had been ousted from local horse arenas because barrel racing and other disciplines “ruined” the footing in the arena. “I was told that my event destroys the footing,” Jones said.
Alyce Michelbrink, president of the Palm Beach County Mounted Posse, said many of her former riders had moved north to Tampa because there was not an adequate facility where western riding didn’t get in the way of other disciplines.
“We can’t put horse shows on,” she said. “Your horses here don’t like us. We don’t need fancy footing. We just require dirt; we’re easy. We need cover. There is nothing that is covered for us, and there is nothing harder than trying to work a horse in the rain, thunder and lightning.”
Opponents of approving the letter of intent did not necessarily oppose the idea of a horse park but expressed concerns about the location and the process.
Wellington Chamber of Commerce President Victor Connor said he was in favor of a horse park but thought the decision was being made without going through the regular process of taking proposals before Wellington’s committees before council approval.
“The proposed park is a potential for broadening Wellington’s equestrian footprint,” he said. “For that, we encourage the group to move forward. But this is continuing in the absence of any process. This group received unprecedented support from council members without going through any of the required processes for something such as this.”
Mike Nelson, representing the chamber’s economic development committee, said that he was concerned about the entity behind the company proposing the park. “We have a buyer who will not disclose who they are,” he said.
Other residents focused on traffic concerns. Robyn Tanner said she moved to Oakmont Estates, just west of the proposed horse park, to get away from traffic congestion caused by equestrian activities.
“I am here 12 months a year supporting the village,” she said. “I have endured many traffic nightmares trying to get through the congestion caused by horse shows.”
Tanner was concerned that the new horse park would add to the traffic, and noted that K-Park was designed to be green space. “There are very few spaces left on [SR 7] that have not been developed,” she said. “This site needs to remain undeveloped green space.”
Equestrian veterinarian Scott Swerdlin warned that the proposed vet school could jeopardize Wellington’s equine veterinary practices.
“There is not one thing a veterinary school can bring to this area that isn’t already here,” he said. “We have every specialty there is. If you permit a university to come in here, you’re going to destroy all the hopes and dreams of all these veterinarians. It’s important to me you understand how many people you’re going to hurt.”
Councilman John Greene asked Village Attorney Laurie Cohen whether Wellington needed to put out a request for proposals before considering a letter of intent. She said it did not.
“You have the ability to enter into this type of agreement,” she said. “If you do actually enter into a contract to sell the property, then if there is an application for development, it would go through the regular process and there would be time for public comment.”
Greene asked for clarification that this was not an agreement to sell the site.
Cohen said it was not, but she noted that council members would not be able to discuss any other proposals for the site. “It limits your ability to discuss the parcel with anyone else,” she said.
Gerwig said she didn’t think the proposal was a “horrible idea,” but had concerns that it is not in Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve.
“You’re putting horses on a property not connected by our trail system,” she said. “That means residents can’t ride out to the facility. Any horses coming in there will have to be brought in on [SR 7]. That is a pretty busy roadway.”
Coates said he liked the idea of a horse park but was concerned about agreeing to the letter of intent before hearing other proposals.
But Mayor Bob Margolis said other groups had an opportunity to come before the council.
“I would have loved to hear them at the same time,” he said. “They had the opportunity to come before us. We aren’t signing a contract here.”
Both Margolis and Coates agreed, however, that staff should look into the impact that a vet school could have on local practices. “I’m not out to destroy any one part of our commerce,” Coates said.
Greene made a motion to approve the terms in the letter of intent. The motion passed 3-2, with Coates and Gerwig dissenting.
I agree with the previous comment. Also has anyone given any thought to what happens to all that horse manure?Will the residents of Oakmont Estates be hearing delivery trucks and horse trailers at some ungodly hour? And then there was the mention about parking RVs for the hired labor that take care of the horses to reside in. This is nothing more than a ridiculous example of the Wellington Equestrians and their money riding roughshod over the rest of the community and everyone who doesn’t benefit from this be damned.
I have an idea……If the so called investors want to do what’s best for Wellington, they should buy up all the slumlord quadplexes along Yarmouth, bulldoze them all down and build over there which is right in the heart of equestrian territory.
The Wellington Council is moving too quickly on this Horse Park matter. There has not been a proper vetting of the project.
1. Consider the nearby residents. If the residents in the Equestrian Preserve got consideration when it came to development and building in their neighborhood; then the same deference should be given to the people who live in Oakmont and Castellina and other nearby developments. I urge all communties to organize now!
2. Traffic on Stribling will be heavily increased and constant (just like Bellissimo’s project would increased traffic on SouthShore/Pierson.)
3. Where is the proposed linkage to the horse trails from the KPark site that the quarterhorse riders are seeking? That has never been shown. This Kpark/Horsepark site is far away from the Wellington trails and the riders will face more horrendous traffic than on Pierson/South Shore just to get to those trails.
4. Councilman Greene is recommending that the RVs, not wanted in the Equestrian Preserve, now be put on the Kpark/Horsepark. So now, what is not good enough for the elite equestrians can now be dumped on Oakmont and Castellina residents. You people in Oakmont and Castellina are not rich enough to defend this matter like the millionaire and billionaire equestrians are. You poor peons! (nearby residents should check the archived equestrian mtgs, planning/zoning mtgs and council mtgs where equestrians cited their concerns about having RVs in their backyards. They cited crime, noise, unsightly views, sanitation, security, etc. Those RV wil be constantly running, polluting your environment, not the wealthy elites in Preserve).
5.The retail shoppes planned along SR7 are not set in stone for this project. Just wait till the RaceTrac gas station goes on the corner (because gas is need of equestrians to haul their horse trailers. Plus, the gas station will bring in good income to help subsidized the Horsepark developers). Equestrians need manicures, haircuts, dry cleaning and clothing. These are they types of retail shops which will be going in along with a restaurant to feed the equestrians. (and those are not high paying jobs for Wellington residents. Mr Willhite do you remember asking questions like that of other developers?) Many of the shops currently deep within the village will lose out to these new shops. Just look at how Wellington lost control of the development of the fast food strip along Stribling and SR 7. The same will happen with the HorsePark developers. Wellington should keep the frontage of Kpark/Horsepark as proposed by previous council members.
6. Apparently, Wellington did not pay a penny for the KPark site. It was free, not one red cent of Wellington money went to acquiring the site. Certain council members are using some mumbo jumbo political talk of ‘utility funds’ paying for Kpark and claiming Wellington didn’t pay a cent toward the purchase or interest and upkeep of the Kpark site. Stop the lies. We paid!
7. Palm Beach County has a horsepark just east of the turnpike on Forest Hill where they would like to build the same type of thing. The County just doesn’t have the money to do so.
8. Mr. Van Dell is not a developer. He is a jeweler. His presentation are poor and confusing. A professional is needed to present a better picture of what is planned, not a jeweler who rides a horse. No hard questions are ever put to Mr. Van Dell like other presenters are asked; and the council just accepts what Mr. Van Dell states.
9. The council only caters to equestrians. What the equestrians want, they get. If the equestrians are unhappy then Wellington must fix what the equestrians want. The rest of the Wellington citizens must stand down and get behind them in the line of wants and needs in this village. Equestrians first! Our money is spent defending ourselves from equestrians who are fighting each other. Let them fight it out in the courts. Let’s use the money for things the rest of us want and need. Their battles are impeding our way of life and sucking us dry. Our taxes will be going up to pay for the additional costs of the battling equestrians. Money has been moved around to pay for lawyers who have to defend Wellington from equestrians. That money could have gone to the needs of the rest of us in the Village. The equestrians are becoming the ugly face in Wellington.
10. Many horse people from Loxahatchee and others who live outside of the Village spoke or wrote cards at the last council meeting endorsing this project. (when you read cards please include the addresses of the card writer not just their names) These people do not pay Wellington taxes, nor will they be impeded by increased traffic and noise. They can continue their way of life outside our village. Meanwhile, village residents will bear the problems and taxes and horse poop that appear to be coming. And a lawyer who works for the Horsepark developer and endorses the project should not be considered when making decisions.
This council is all for equestrians, the rest of us, be damned. You don’t count. You don’t have the money to contribute to their campaigns, nor the funds to buy them meals, invite them to dazzling events or the ability to hire lawyers or to visit the council members because you are working! The council has lost sight of the average real people of Wellington. They just see a way for the rich equestrians to resolve their problems in the Equestrian Preserve by taking this site away from the rest of the residents who do not ride horses.
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