In a 3-2 decision Tuesday, the Wellington Village Council granted a seasonal permit for Equestrian Sport Productions to host the 2016 Global Dressage Festival at the Equestrian Village site at the corner of Pierson Road and South Shore Blvd.
The permit is similar to last year, but with additional stabling allowed for the season, and a lower daily attendance limit.
The decision has been complicated by a lawsuit brought by the Jacobs family that Equestrian Village representatives said could result in the demolition of the stadium, and hesitation by the applicant to improve the intersection of Pierson Road and South Shore Blvd. until the lawsuit is resolved.
The 59-acre tract is located at the northeast corner of the intersection. In 2013, the council approved a resolution that designated Equestrian Village as a commercial equestrian arena. As a commercial equestrian arena, it would not need a seasonal permit — but only after a series of conditions had been met.
As part of the approval, the applicant was required to construct numerous on-site and off-site improvements. Many of these improvements have specific date certain deadlines, but under a bill passed by the state legislature, Equestrian Village representatives exercised their right for an extension to complete the improvements, according to a Wellington staff report.
In order for the site to meet the needs of 3,000 spectators, the applicant must complete all improvements. As a result of the extension, the applicant had to obtain a seasonal permit for the upcoming year.
The applicant requested to increase the number of stalls by 86 and to increase the number of seats by 200. Village staff did not support an increase in intensity. Additionally, based on traffic concerns from the 2014-15 season, staff recommended a reduction in the intensity of the approval.
Planning & Zoning Director Bob Basehart said the application is similar to last year’s, except for a request for a 2,000-person limit on attendance on any given day. Staff, however, had requested that the number be reduced.
“Our recommendation this year is that the permit be approved, but that there be no increase in intensity,” he said. “We feel that there’s an interest in the community in having this event and serving the equestrian community. But because of intersection improvements that have not yet been mitigated, there is also a need to balance that interest with the impacts that are created for all the citizens of Wellington. Because of the road situation, we are asking that the attendance be reduced to 1,500 for this year.”
Basehart said that the applicants had agreed to the 1,500-person cap on attendance, but said they would like to have the additional stabling. “Staff feels it should be same as last year,” Basehart said.
Attorney Dan Rosenbaum, representing the applicant, said the circumstances are complicated due to the pending litigation, which is set for December, and that they plan to have the intersection improvements complete by 2016, as well as planned improvements along 40th Street South.
“Hopefully, this will be the last time I will be here on this specific issue,” Rosenbaum said. “Unless the court finds otherwise, I think that will resolve this entire matter. Really, the issue we would like to reach a compromise on is stabling.”
Adding the 86 additional stalls, he said, would involve making the 100-stall tent into a 150-stall tent, along with a 36-stall tent just to the south.”
Rosenbaum said that as a compromise, they would limit the use of the additional stabling to between Jan. 5 and March 31, when the facility has the most use, and added that having more stalls would mitigate traffic because it would reduce the amount of horse trailering to and from the stadium.
“We feel that we have a growing dressage industry that benefits the village,” he said. “We understand the need to balance these issues, and we want to do everything we can.”
Rosenbaum added that the extra stabling would be only for overflow, and did not anticipate that the extra stabling would be fully utilized.
Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo said that he did not want to be in a position of having to turn away riders’ horses.
Engineer Michael Sexton, representing the applicant, said most of the horses would be brought in Tuesday and hauled out on Sunday.
“The extra stabling doesn’t add traffic for the events,” Sexton said. “The other tent is the same size, but with more stalls,” he said.
Vice Mayor John Greene said that he did not think concerns had been mitigated about impact on the community.
Rosenbaum said that the only reason the intersection improvements had not been done was the pending lawsuit and the possibility that if they lost the lawsuit, the stadium would be demolished.
“If the trial is not won, we are in a situation where we lose several million dollars’ worth of investment,” he said.
Greene said he did not support the increase in stalls, but wanted to continue working together.
Bellissimo said he thought that it was far safer to house the horses in stalls at the stadium than to trailer them back and forth daily.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig asked about the change in seating, and Rosenbaum said that the number of bleacher seats would be reduced in order to increase the number in the VIP tent.
Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone said they were willing to work with a 1,500-person attendance limit.
Mayor Bob Margolis asked whether there had been any complaints from residents about Equestrian Village, and Basehart said there had been none, other than one from the Polo Island community about items being stored near them.
“We called Mr. Stone, and the [equipment was] gone,” Basehart said. “We also had some traffic complaints.”
Village Engineer Bill Riebe said that there had been some traffic failures, based on his observations.
Councilman Matt Willhite said he liked the spirit of negotiation, but asked if they could forgo the additional 36 stalls separate from the main stabling tent.
“I would support a motion for 150 stalls and forgo the 36,” he said.
Bellissimo said he wanted to assure that participants in the competition have their needs met.
“We want people to come have a good experience, then come back and buy a home,” he said. “We asked for more stalls because that was the number we could add under the tent.”
Greene said he could not support an increase in intensity without the intersection improvements.
Councilman John McGovern asked what had been in the area where the temporary tent was requested for 36 stalls, and Bellissimo said it has been a staging area.
After several unsuccessful motions, McGovern made a motion to approve the resolution with the additional stalls and allow the additional VIP seating. Margolis asked for weekly or monthly counts of stall occupancies. The motion carried 3-2, with Willhite and Greene opposed.