Discussion of the controversial Equestrian Village proposal in Wellington may have come to a resolution last Thursday night, but confusion over the approvals granted by the Wellington Village Council could bring up the issue again in the near future.
Council members approved two measures Thursday, Oct. 24 — a master plan amendment for the site and a compatibility determination — but both were approved with conditions. The conditions could be deal-breakers, representatives of show promoter Equestrian Sport Productions said after the vote was taken.
The master plan was approved unanimously with an additional condition that would leave an entry point at Pierson Road as it exists today instead of moving it further east as requested. That was not contested.
The compatibility determination was approved 4-1 with several additional conditions, chief among them that the applicant not be allowed to construct a left-turn lane into the site on Pierson Road. Instead, council members requested additional studies be done over the next year to see if the turn is necessary.
The turn had been contested by the Jacobs family, whose Deeridge Farm is east of the Equestrian Village site on Pierson Road.
Attorney Amy Huber clarified Thursday that her client was requesting no left turn access into the site from the west by vehicles, but did not want to limit riders from using the entrance.
“We’re not opposing hacking into the site or using Pierson Road,” Huber said. “We also heard from residents of Southfields who want to be able to make a right in off Pierson and then, when it’s time to leave, make a left turn out of the site and head west on Pierson Road. We’re not asking to prohibit that.”
She said the only maneuver her client was asking to prohibit was a left turn into the site.
But attorney for the applicant Dan Rosenbaum said the turn lane is integral to plans for the site.
“We have to do certain culvert work and other improvements that we’ve agreed to,” he said. “Everything was engineered around that turn lane. If there’s not going to be a lane there, everything we had in the land development permit needs to be changed.”
Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo noted that the left-turn lane was proposed by village staff.
“We had hundreds of hours of meetings with attorneys, traffic engineers and staff,” he said. “Staff produced this report, and it included a left-hand turn lane.”
The proposal was approved by Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee and Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board as well, Bellissimo said.
“There is overwhelming support for this,” he said. “Then you have one family who says they don’t want it. I think it’s our responsibility to listen to the people we trust.”
Bellissimo said it was also a situation where the developer was willing to pay for off-site improvements.
“We’re willing to pay for the cost of the turn lane,” he said. “Usually someone wants to add off-site improvements and the developer is fighting it. The reason we’re not is because of safety.”
Bellissimo said his organization was willing to accept the application and put an end to the lawsuits that have been plaguing Wellington.
“We are not willing to compromise the safety and operation of this site because one family believes they should have a bigger say,” he said. “I hope this can be the beginning of the end of a dark chapter in Wellington. I hope there is the leadership here to end it.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she thought a left-turn lane was necessary to prevent traffic from backing up, especially when other events were occurring.
“If you’re trying to get your trailer in there, it seems like it could be difficult without [the lane],” she said. “I think it could cause a safety situation.”
Vice Mayor Howard Coates asked whether it would be possible to limit it only to trailers, and Village Engineer Bill Riebe said that could be possible.
“I think we could compromise to make it a limited left-turn access so the trailers and equestrians could continue to use that access,” Coates said.
Riebe said Wellington could put a sign there.
Councilman John Greene said he believed Wellington needed a dedicated person to handle equestrian issues in the village, especially on weekends when shows are occurring.
“Maybe we should have someone internally who is there to facilitate things between the village and the applicant,” he said.
Mayor Bob Margolis agreed. “It’s not because we don’t have staff that is willing and able,” he said.
Councilman Matt Willhite suggested a hotline or web site where residents could have their concerns addressed directly.
Greene asked how the vote would affect the lawsuits.
Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said it would be a path to settlement with Equestrian Sport Productions and its parent company, Wellington Equestrian Partners.
“If approved, the litigation would be dismissed,” she said. “But we don’t have any kind of a settlement with the Jacobses or Ms. Huber. It would be up to them if they want to continue.”
Willhite made a motion to approve the master plan with the Pierson Road access as it exists today, which passed unanimously.
He then made a motion to approve the compatibility determination, but made several changes to the application. Among them, the village would appoint a liaison for the equestrian venue and delay the turn lane for a year while staff studies the traffic patterns to see if it’s necessary.
Coates said he thought it was a good compromise.
“I feel this motion represents an acceptable compromise,” he said. “I’m hoping that… both sides will recognize it’s time to move on. I think this moves us forward and brings [the] council together in a way that it’s the best solution we can come up with.”
He seconded the motion, which passed 4-1 with Gerwig opposed.
After the compatibility determination was approved, there was confusion over several changes to the application required by the council, including questions about a conceptual site plan in the application and which body would approve that site plan.
Cohen suggested that the council direct staff to put all the conditions in writing and discuss them with Equestrian Sport Productions. Then, if problems remain, council members could ask to reopen the discussion at an upcoming meeting if they wish to modify the motion.
ABOVE: The Van Kampen Arena at the Equestrian Village site.