Members of the Wellington Village Council last week extended its exclusive contract with the organizers behind the Palm Beach Horse Park, an equestrian development proposed for the village-owned K-Park property on State Road 7.
Earlier this year, council members agreed not to discuss other proposals while the Palm Beach Horse Park secured funding and drew up plans for the site. The contract was set to expire Monday, but on Dec. 10, council members agreed unanimously to extend the contract — and the exclusivity provision — until the council’s Jan. 14 meeting.
Village Attorney Laurie Cohen requested the extension during her attorney’s report. She said she was still reviewing the paperwork and wanted to give organizers ample time to respond to her comments. “I think it would be fair to give them the opportunity to review the changes I’ve made,” she said.
Vice Mayor Howard Coates wanted to clarify that the project wasn’t a done deal just yet. “It is subject to approval by [the] council, right?” he asked.
Cohen said that council approval is still required.
Coates asked if the council must extend the exclusivity provision of the contract. “By agreeing to extend this, do we have to extend the exclusivity period where we can’t speak with anyone else?” he asked.
Cohen recommended that the council extend the exclusivity period.
“We did agree to have an exclusive arrangement until the expiration of the contract,” she said. “They did submit the application to me. I have reviewed it. I just haven’t been able to get it back to them. I think the exclusivity should be extended.”
But Coates was not convinced. “Can we extend the time period of the contract but say the exclusivity period is over?” he asked.
Cohen said it could be possible. “If they are agreeable, I think you can,” she said. “I think it makes sense to just extend it to the first meeting in January so it’s not an issue. They have expended a fair amount of money to get to where they are right now, and they did it in good faith that we aren’t going to be talking with anyone else.”
Councilman Matt Willhite pointed out that talking to other proposers didn’t mean Wellington would not choose the Palm Beach Horse Park.
“The agreement says we’re not going to be considering any other proposal,” Cohen responded.
Coates pointed out the agreement ends on Dec. 16, but Cohen said she felt it would be unfair to rush them. “I can get them the changes tomorrow,” she said. “But I think in fairness, they should be given extra time to review those changes.”
During public comment, which occurred prior to the attorney’s report, developer Chuck Mineo asked the council to consider other offers, noting he, too, has a proposal for the site.
“There’s no obligation on the part of [the] council to the Palm Beach Horse Park,” Mineo said. “They’ve had up to six months. I don’t see how it prejudices the process or a decision about their proposal if the council were to consider mine.”
Mineo said he has a “very real” proposal with written agreements from other interested parties.
“I view that site [K-Park] as Wellington’s last and best chance to define what Wellington is going to be in the future,” he said. “I think I have a better idea for Wellington’s future and Wellington’s families. I would prefer to see families gathering in that place. We have a lot of amenities that we lack in order to compete with other communities. We can provide those amenities to our residents.”
He requested that the council let the exclusivity provision with the Palm Beach Horse Park expire.
“I simply want to be permitted to speak with council members,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t continue to consider whatever the Palm Beach Horse Park has to present.”
Village Manager Paul Schofield said he would have staff speak with Mineo once the contract had expired.
During discussion on extending the contract, Coates asked if choosing to do so would keep Schofield from speaking with Mineo about his proposal. Cohen said it would. “I would recommend he not do that,” she said.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said it made sense to extend the entire contract. “I was against exclusivity in the first place,” she said. “I thought it was a fairness issue. But if we are going to extend it, I don’t think it makes sense to separate [the provisions].”
Cohen said Wellington is not locked into a decision.
“We have to be comfortable that what they’re providing to us is financially feasible and that the business plan is sound,” she said. “We have to make sure it meets the requirements to where it can be self-sustaining and can repay any infrastructure improvements the village floats bonds for.”
She said Wellington would be sending the plan out to experts for review. “It will take us at least a few weeks to do that,” she said. “That puts us in January anyway. I think it makes sense to extend the whole thing.”
Coates made a motion to extend the contract to the council’s first meeting in January.
“I’m fine with that,” he said. “I wasn’t in favor of the exclusivity to begin with, but I agree.”
Willhite seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.