Equestrian Board Skeptical Of Palm Beach Polo, Polo West Requests

Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee considered two amendments Wednesday to the Wellington PUD Master Plan requested by the Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club and Polo West.

At a quasi-judicial hearing, board members heard the requests and approved some of the changes, while rejecting others, after hearing from attorneys representing several groups and many members of the public.

The meeting opened with the Palm Beach Polo Property Owners Association requesting to be considered an interested property, to which attorney Alec Domb, representing the applicant, disagreed.

“The properties in question tonight are not part of the properties governed by the declaration of bylaws,” Domb said. “They have no jurisdiction with respect to this and cannot be interested parties.”

Wellington Village Attorney Laurie Cohen disagreed.

“They may not have ownership interest in the property, but they are impacted in some way by the proposed land use change,” she said.

Cohen advised the committee to err on the side of caution and allow the POA to be considered an interested party.

The first of two requests was a Wellington PUD master plan amendment that made a number of changes to the Palm Beach Polo property. The changes would: create two new pods within Palm Beach Polo, to be known as Pod 80 and Pod 81; remove the reference to the “Wellington Clydesdale Facility” to the land known as the Powerline Property; add an access point along Forest Hill Blvd., along Royal Fern Drive to access Pod 80; add two access points along Polo Club Drive and one access point along Sunnydale Drive to access Pod 81; add two access points along Stribling Way to provide access to the Powerline Property; and to modify the master plan for Pod 80 and Pod 81, as well as the Powerline Property and the entire Palm Beach Polo Golf Course, to change the designation to “open space – recreation/golf course/field sports and equine sports” from its current designation as “open space, recreation golf course.”

According to Wellington Senior Planner Kelly Ferraiolo, village staff does not support the access points along Birkdale Drive and Royal Fern Drive, as those are proposed access points on public property to benefit a private entity, with no benefit to the village. Also, she said, the Birkdale Drive access does not provide sufficient room between property lines and will have a negative impact on residential properties.

Staff recommended approval to remove the reference to the “Wellington Clydesdale Facility,” as well as add one additional access point along Forest Hill Blvd., two access points along Polo Club Drive and one access point along Sunnydale Drive. Village staff also supported the open space designation change, with conditions.

Domb noted that the application was not to change zoning, not to build anything, but just to change the definition of open space recreation to add field sports and equine sports. He explained that for the last two years, special use permits had to be applied for, and issued, by the village, for a number of various events. The change in designation would eliminate the need to obtain those permits.

Attorney Laura Manning-Hudson expressed concerns on behalf of the Palm Beach Polo Property Owners Association.

Manning-Hudson expressed concerns about access points utilizing privately owned roads, problems with events occurring without permits, resident privacy and safety, and applications being brought through the village pipeline while there are still active code enforcement cases, liens or fines.

Cohen explained that the planning director has the option to suspend processing, but if an application is intended to cure a code violation, which this one is, it should be processed.

“This board has no jurisdiction to determine whether to process such an application,” she said, explaining that the decision was made by the planning and zoning director.

During public comment, Carolyn Tribble, a resident of Chukker Cove in Palm Beach Polo, said that she is concerned with gate access and security, because various crimes, some serious, have been committed in relation to the soccer events that occur over the weekend.

Committee Member Dr. Sergio Guerreiro suggested a border surrounding the area where soccer is being played to protect residents from players coming on to their properties.

After considering multiple options, the committee rejected most of the requested changes, accepting only the new access points on the Powerline Property and the expanded open space definition. Committee Member Dr. Rachel Eidelman made the motion, which passed 4-1, with Committee Chair Jane Cleveland opposed.

The accompanying Polo West amendment would add an access point on Greenview Shores Blvd. and modify the designation of the Polo West golf course from “open space, recreation/golf course” to “open space – recreation/golf course/field sports and equine sports.”

The access point on Greenview Shores Blvd. would align with the intersection leading into Wellington High School, Ferraiolo said.

Polo West resident John Lacy said that various actions by the property owner, such as building a barn facility at night and failing to obtain permits, demonstrates neglect and disregard for those living within the community.

Lacy objected to the soccer games, noting that people have been caught urinating on his property and changing their clothes in front of his young daughter.

“Wellington has the capacity to hold people compliant and abide by rules and regulations,” he said. “This is a ploy to get access to the road to develop it.”

Michael Bach, a resident of Greenview Shores, expressed concern about traffic near the high school. As a golfer, he does not see a way to create an entrance without eliminating the Par 3 hole, effectively killing the golf course.

Ken Valdespino, president of the homeowners’ association at Polo West, expressed concerns about problems with soccer games, noting that he received many phone calls the Sunday that a soccer game occurred on the property. The goal, he asserted, is to eliminate golf and open the restaurant.

Domb pointed out that his client purchased a dead golf course, spent money constructing a new golf course, and is the rightful owner to the green space, not the nearby residents.

Committee Vice Chair Dr. Kristy Lund said that she didn’t think an access road was appropriate, and that the applicant didn’t prove satisfactorily why it was needed. The biggest complaint she noted from residents was the change to include field sports.

Committee Member Kathleen Gannon-Ledsome said she understood where residents were coming from, complaining about sporting events in their back yard.

“But how many times can you play polo? You can’t do it more than two times a week, then its unsafe for the horse and rider,” she said, suggesting that since soccer seems to be the main concern, it could be eliminated.

Lund made a motion to approve the amendment without the access point on Greenview Shores Blvd. and removing “field sports” from the open space designation, which was seconded by Gannon-Ledsome and passed 5-0.

The Palm Beach Polo and Polo West requests next head to the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board on Wednesday, Oct. 11.