At long last, a settlement has been finalized for the controversial Equestrian Village project after members of the Wellington Village Council declined to reconsider the issue at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Although Councilman Matt Willhite asked the council to reopen the issue and clarify a motion made at the Oct. 24 meeting, he was without support on the dais.
Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of property owner Wellington Equestrian Partners, told the Town-Crier Wednesday that he’s prepared to drop the lawsuits that were filed after several permissions were revoked for the site.
“We will accept the settlement,” he said. “I believe that there’s a great path forward for this community, and we should do everything we can to distance ourselves from the controversy.”
After the issue devolved largely into a discussion of Robert’s Rules of Order, Willhite made a motion to reconsider the issue, but none of the council members seconded the motion.
“I think this opens us up for a challenge,” Willhite said.
Last month, Willhite made a motion to approve a master plan amendment and compatibility determination for the Equestrian Village site. With it, he altered several conditions in the application. The motion passed 4-1.
But during a break following the vote, representatives of the property owner voiced concerns about some of the conditions, Village Attorney Laurie Cohen explained Tuesday.
When the council reconvened, Vice Mayor Howard Coates asked to reopen the issue.
“He made a motion for clarification and requested to clarify several specific things,” Cohen said.
Among the clarifications was whether the site plan for Equestrian Village, which must be submitted to the council for approval, must “substantially comply” with a conceptual site plan that was included in the application.
Coates suggested, among other things, removing the condition that the site plan must substantially comply with the conceptual plan. His motion passed unanimously.
“The question was raised following the motion whether the motion for clarification actually changed the language of the original motion Councilman Willhite made,” Cohen said.
Cohen said she reviewed the transcript and also consulted with experts in Robert’s Rules of Order and found that there is no such thing as a “motion for clarification.”
“I came to the conclusion that the motion for clarification was, in effect, a motion to amend,” she said. “There was a lengthy discussion at agenda review, and there seems to be some disagreement to what was intended.”
To be absolutely clear on what the council intended last month, she recommended that council members reopen the item for discussion.
“From a legal perspective, given the uncertainty, it would be beneficial for the village if the motion for reconsideration is passed and then the item is voted on again,” she said.
Willhite said he asked for the issue to be brought up again only to discuss his original motion.
“I did not request this be brought up to have something torn down or to change the intent of my motion,” he said.
But Coates disagreed.
“The reason we’re here right now is because of your assertion we didn’t comply with Robert’s Rules of Order,” he said. “I think there needs to be a motion and a second before we even discuss this.”
Willhite made a motion to reconsider the item, but it died for lack of a second.
“There is no such thing as a motion for clarification, yet that is the motion that was made,” Willhite said. “I believe that is out of order. My motion tonight was going to be to restate the [original] motion and pass it again with the language that was understood to be in there.”
He said he reviewed the tape, and the condition for substantial compliance with the conceptual plan was left out of Coates’ motion.
“I think this potentially opens us up for a challenge,” Willhite said, “because, according to Mrs. Cohen… the motion was out of order.”
However, Cohen said that she did not believe the motion was out of order.
“What I stated was, that even though it was called a motion for clarification… it was, in reality, a motion to amend,” she said. “But I recommended, because of the discussion yesterday, that you do reconsider it to make sure there’s no confusion on the issue.”
Cohen said that if Coates was not amending Willhite’s original motion, a vote would not have been necessary.
“If that particular provision was not intended to be put back into the motion, it would have been completely unnecessary [to vote],” she said.
Coates said the issue should have been raised during last month’s discussion if Willhite felt the vote was inappropriate.
“If it was out of order, it should have been made at the time the motion was made, seconded and voted on,” he said. “Everyone voted [unanimously]. My position is… that by voting on the motion, the council deemed it was an appropriate motion.”
Bellissimo said he was grateful for the leadership on the council.
“I was most impressed with the emergence of a leader in our mayor, Bob Margolis,” Bellissimo said. “I think he distinguished himself, and I think he stood strong.”
ABOVE: The Van Kampen Arena at the Equestrian Village site.