Vet Clinic Gets Zoning Board OK For Land Use Change

Members of Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board unanimously approved changes Wednesday that will designate the Palm Beach Equine Sports Complex as a commercial recreational site, allowing it to expand its veterinary practice.

The roughly 12-acre site, located at the southwest corner of Pierson and Southfields roads, is home to the Palm Beach Equine veterinary clinic, which has been trying to expand for several years but was limited by its land use description.

Wellington Planner Cory Cramer explained that the clinic was built long before Wellington was incorporated, and its site was designated as residential use. “The owner is required to correct the nonconformity before it can expand,” she said.

By passing the comprehensive plan amendment, the site would be designated commercial recreation and would then conform, she said. The application was vetted by Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee, which passed it unanimously.

Jon Schmidt, agent for the applicant, said that Palm Beach Equine was built in 1978. “I think the problem is because of a mapping error back when this area was governed by the county,” he said. “The site has been operating as a vet clinic since then.”

But because of the residential designation, the clinic’s owner, Dr. Scott Swerdlin, cannot expand his practice. “Unfortunately, if something were to happen to the vet clinic — if the place burned down, or there was a tornado and we lost the facilities — we can’t rebuild,” Schmidt said. “That’s the reason we’re in here, to correct this error. There are plans for a small expansion for a recovery area at the vet clinic, and that has really brought this to a head.”

Last August, Palm Beach Equine requested a change to Wellington’s code to allow veterinary clinics in parts of the Wellington Equestrian Preserve, but opponents worried it could open the door to more commercial enterprises.

“We tried to change the code at one point to allow veterinary clinics in residential [areas], but that wasn’t gaining steam, so we pulled the application,” Schmidt said. “We decided to go this route. We think it’s the better option. It corrects what has been going on there for quite some time.”

Board Member Carol Coleman asked about the allowed floor-area ratio, and Schmidt noted that the site would actually be less dense than if it were a residential site. “By going to commercial recreation, it reduces it in half to 10 percent,” he said.

She then asked about the planned expansion. Schmidt noted it would be about 1,200 square feet total.

“Will there be any further extensions beyond that?” Coleman asked.

Schmidt said he was not sure. “Obviously, it would have to meet code requirements,” he said.

Coleman then asked whether the change would require a majority approval from nearby landowners. “If this is in the Country Place PUD, why is this not subject to getting approval from 66 percent of the [property owners]?” she asked.

Cramer said that because the master plan shows the property as an equestrian facility, the applicant does not need to amend it. Only a master plan amendment requires that approval.

One concern for board members was increased traffic. Chairman Craig Bachove noted that the levels of service would go up by approximately 50 percent, but Cramer said it is consistent with levels of service in the equestrian preserve.

Board Member Paul Adams was also concerned about increases in traffic. “This is for the existing facilities, not for future expansion,” he said. “I was over in that area the other day at about 4 p.m., and traffic was backed up from Pierson to Lake Worth. It was incredible.”

Cramer said it still meets the level of service.

“The information [for traffic] is based on existing uses,” she said. “Even though it looks like an increase… it still meets the level of service provided within that area. It’s what’s maintained in the equestrian preserve in order to keep the roads at a lower capacity and not to expand them.”

But Adams was still concerned. “I want to help him with his business, but I worry about the traffic,” he said. “It’s already bad. If we do this and he expands, it may be fine. But if he sells to someone else, it could be a problem.”

Cramer said any change on the property from a veterinary clinic would have to go through a master plan amendment, which would give the opportunity for Wellington to control any traffic changes.

Board Member Mike Drahos said a traffic study showed no issues coming out of the clinic, but Adams said it is still an issue in the area. “I don’t understand us accepting something that isn’t working today,” he said.

Drahos said that traffic issues were not on the agenda. “It has nothing to do with Palm Beach Equine,” he said. “We’re here to discuss the clinic, not the way they classify the roads.”

Coleman said she had concerns about parking at the site. Schmidt said the site owners plan to address that issue.

“We have re-evaluated parking along Pierson Road and getting it cleaned up, but our hands are tied until we get this done,” he said.

Drahos made a motion to approve the change, which passed unanimously.