A new plan for the controversial Equestrian Village project cleared its first hurdle this week when members of the Equestrian Preserve Committee unanimously recommended approval Wednesday of a new master plan amendment and compatibility determination.
The items now head to Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board before going before the Wellington Village Council. If approved, the changes would allow the site to operate as a commercial equestrian arena, meaning events could be held on the site year-round.
Property owners Wellington Equestrian Partners agreed earlier this year to resubmit necessary plans for the site to cease litigation after several approvals were rescinded by the council.
A site plan submitted Aug. 1 shows that the site would have a 14,600-square-foot temporary banquet hall with kitchen and restrooms, temporary stalls and a two-story open-air tiki hut. A bridle path surrounds the property.
The master plan, if approved, will give the site a commercial recreation designation and allow an access point along Pierson Road, Growth Management Director Bob Basehart told committee members.
Meanwhile, the compatibility determination will label the site as a commercial equestrian arena, meaning property owners will not have to go before the council each year for a special-use permit to operate the Global Dressage Festival.
Wellington staff recommended approval of the applications with several conditions. Among them, property owners must make improvements to the canal easement along the property, provide a horse crossing at the access point on Pierson Road and follow Wellington’s manure management standards.
Equestrian Village owners will also have to provide deputies from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to direct traffic after large events, coordinate event times with the Winter Equestrian Festival to minimize traffic, and limit the hours of operation to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., except for one night a week on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, when the hours of operation are extended to 11 p.m.
Though committee members were largely in favor of the project, concerns about parking took up much of the discussion Wednesday night.
As part of the conditions of approval, property owners agreed to provide overflow parking and ban visitors from parking along the roads.
Committee Chair Cynthia Gardner said that although 750 spaces were required on the site for 3,000 seats, she only saw 662 spaces.
“I see 640 event parking spaces and 22 handicap spaces,” Gardner said.
Engineer Michael Sexton, agent for the applicant, noted that additional parking for events will be in some of the grass arenas that are used otherwise for riding.
“We did not want to pave the whole area and make it look like a parking lot or mall,” he said. “The overflow parking is for big events.”
Basehart said that although the site is designed to accommodate a high number of people, it’s unlikely the property would be at capacity on a regular basis.
“As far as staff is concerned, the amount, location and design of the parking shown on this plan complies with the requirements in the code,” he said. “We are confident the code is met with the parking provided on this plan.”
But Gardner said that although the parking at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center meets code, it is not adequate.
“Unless you have a designated parking spot or go in a golf cart, parking at the horse show is extremely difficult,” she said. “If you can’t accommodate your clientele, they’re not going to come.”
Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone said Equestrian Village will not get the same traffic as PBIEC.
“Since we’ve been doing this, we haven’t even gotten close to filling the grass parking,” Stone said.
Committee members were also concerned about the circulation plan and ability for the traffic — especially trailers — to navigate the site.
“I have heard that it is very tight,” Committee Member Linda Elie said.
But Committee Member Dr. Kristy Lund said Equestrian Village staff is on hand to keep vehicles going in the right direction.
“The staff during events are always on top of you about where you park your trailer, where you turn around, which direction you go,” she said. “They definitely have the staff to address the traffic flow.”
Sexton also noted that PBSO deputies would be hired for major events to alleviate traffic issues.
Gardner said another concern of hers was the loudspeakers, which she said have irked nearby homeowners.
“For six months of the winter, people who live in the condominiums [nearby] are not able to sit on their porch and have morning coffee because the loudspeakers are going,” she said.
But Stone said he believed that was an exaggeration.
“We live in an environment where things are exaggerated,” he said. “We must abide by a sound ordinance that we cannot breach.”
Lund said it is difficult to hear the loudspeakers from within the property. “I can barely hear the announcers in the barn,” she said.
Committee members also asked whether the equestrian arena designation would mean events could be held on the site every weekend. Basehart said it is possible, but Stone noted that the site is bound by the licenses it gets to host shows.
Gardner asked whether any jumping shows would migrate to Equestrian Village, aside from the planned derbies.
Sexton said it was unlikely. “Those have been incorporated into the other site at this point,” he said.
Lund added that holding any other type of competition would ruin the dressage footing.
Board Member Michael Whitlow made motions to recommend approval of the master plan and compatibility determination.
Both motions carried unanimously.
ABOVE: The Van Kampen Arena at the Equestrian Village site.