The Wellington Village Council approved a master plan amendment for part of the Wellington Country Place planned unit development last week to add two access points along the north side of Lake Worth Road east of South Shore Blvd., adding easier accessibility to five polo fields there.
At the Feb. 9 meeting, Planning & Zoning Director Bob Basehart said that the request is for the Grand Champions Polo Club property, which has been used for polo events and is designated in the PUD master plan as commercial recreation property.
“It has been used as a competitive equestrian facility, predominately polo, for a number of years,” Basehart said.
The two driveways, one on the east end and the other on the west end on the south side of the property, have been there and used intermittently with special approvals and special-use permits granted by the village to allow cross access, but their general use has been prevented up until now.
“This request is to make those access points permanent,” Basehart said, adding that staff had recommended approval with eight conditions, including a 25-foot buffer along the north side of Lake Worth Road, a 20-foot buffer along the east side next to a canal and a 5-foot compatibility buffer along the north and west sides to separate the facility from residential properties.
However, village staff had since reconsidered the buffer along Lake Worth Road and the canal.
“The purpose of the buffer is to screen view of the property from the general public and also to protect the uses of the property from adjacent land-use activities, but when you really look at it, it makes little sense to us to require a vegetation buffer to screen the view from Lake Worth Road of a polo field, or frankly any other open space such as a golf course,” Basehart said. “The benefit of a view of open space is superior to what a planted buffer would be, so we believe that the polo fields in this case should be able to serve as the buffer for those two property lines.”
Some property owners in the area have expressed concern about the use of the gates on a daily basis.
“People are afraid that they’ll be used for general access to get into the Southfields area, and people prefer that except during event times, those gates be closed,” Basehart said.
He pointed out that the application states that the gates will be closed except during events and would not be used to access other areas of the PUD. The gates will remain closed when the polo fields are not in use. “We think that should satisfy the issue,” Basehart said. “We feel that binds the applicant to that requirement.”
He added that the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board and Equestrian Preserve Committee both recommended approval.
Councilman Matt Willhite noted that the western entrance has been in use for many years.
“Whether it has been approved or not, it has been used as an access point to that property,” Willhite said. “To some extent, I think it’s a much better plan than what’s currently being used, let alone, I never agreed with anybody accessing that property using our canal banks or village-owned park properties, so I appreciate the owners coming forward trying to make this parcel right and trying to make the correct application.”
As long as the use remains polo fields, he had no objection to eliminating the buffers, but if it should be changed, there should be a provision that the buffers be required.
Basehart said it is understood that the buffer would be required by the code if the land use were to change.
Village Manager Paul Schofield suggested leaving the buffer requirement in place but not requiring planting unless the land use changes.
Vice Mayor John Greene said he agreed with not requiring the plantings. “Traveling along Lake Worth Road, I think the polo fields are what the people would like to see in Wellington,” he said.
Greene said his bigger concern is allowing as much space as possible for riders to play safely.
“I’m OK with the recommendations that you made,” he said. “If creating a buffer creates a potential hazard for riders, I won’t support it.”
Mayor Bob Margolis said he would like the conditions for the gates’ opening to be more specific, pointing out that the western entrance will be near homes.
“When you say polo activity, I would like to be more comfortable with the definition of polo activity,” Margolis said. “I don’t want trailers if they’re not playing events or practicing. There could be other events going on with trucks going up and back seven days a week. I want to be confident that the gates will only be open for competition or practice.”
Basehart reiterated that the application stated that the gates would be open only if there is a competition or practice at the property.
Jon Schmidt, agent for the applicant, said that his clients were OK with any of the scenarios mentioned.
“Our goal is to get the access points, number one, and to clean up some of the events that were going on,” he said. “We would rather postpone any buffer requirements along Lake Worth Road and within the property to a time when the property became more intense.”
Willhite made a motion to approve the application with the buffer on all sides, but not requiring planting unless there is a land use change, and that the gates be kept closed and secured when not used for polo. The motion carried 4-0 with Councilwoman Anne Gerwig recusing herself.