A plan to develop condo-hotels within the Equestrian Preserve Area is on the agenda of the Wellington Village Council. It should not be.
This issue of developing hotels and condo-hotels within the Equestrian Preserve Area consumed more time than any other issue while I served on the Wellington Village Council and as vice mayor. It caused major rifts in our community over the last five years. It unfairly pitted equestrians and non-equestrians against each other, when historically, everyone co-existed and prospered.
The issue consumed large amounts of staff time, and kept the village from focusing on other quality of life issues that affect all residents.
That’s why while on the council, I proposed we let Wellington voters settle the issue once and for all. It was time to get beyond politics and never-ending development pressure and determine a clear path forward so Wellington could move on.
The council voted to put the question on the ballot and let voters decide directly.
Residents voted in record numbers, and their decision was clear. Nearly 60 percent voted to prohibit hotels, condo-hotels and similar developments in the Equestrian Preserve Area. What’s more, two-thirds held that the Equestrian Preserve Area was so important that it should be in our village charter. Both sides made their arguments, and spent plenty of money on their campaigns. At the end of the day, informed voters put the issue of hotels in the preserve to rest, once and for all.
But, here we are again, as developer Mark Bellissimo relaunches his efforts to build condo-hotels and more within the preserve — asking us to ignore the recent voter decision. To me, that is not only the wrong direction for Wellington, it is also disrespectful to its residents and their wishes.
Throughout my career in the U.S. Navy, as a local firefighter, as a council member and now as a state representative, my guiding principle is to respect the people I serve. Wellington voters are not only my constituents, but my neighbors, my friends and my family. They deserve respect.
The voters spoke, and their decision should be final. Yet, Mr. Bellissimo is trying to maneuver around our democracy. He knew the rules when he purchased his property. He doesn’t agree with the voters’ decision because it curtails his profit potential if he can’t develop properties within the preserve. So, he wants to change the rules that every other citizen of Wellington needs to abide by. That’s wrong.
Council members must respect the will of the voters and deny this application — and all others that defy our charter.
Mr. Bellissimo claims that the equestrian industry will die if he does not get his way. We’ve heard this before. History shows that over-development is what could kill the equestrian industry. Traffic and horses do not mix well. There are countless places in Wellington where Mr. Bellissimo can develop his condo-hotels, today, without controversy. We don’t need to sacrifice the very thing that makes this all possible.
State Rep. Matt Willhite, Florida District 86
Editor’s note: Mr. Willhite served on the Wellington Village Council from 2008 until 2016.
Thank you State Representative Matt Willhite.
I voted to preserve the Preserve and against development. i want my vote to be respected and honored by this Council. The will of the residents was loud and clear…No Development in the Equestrian Preserve!
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