Zoners OK Limited Changes At Palm Beach Polo, Reject Polo West

Wellington’s Planning & Zoning Adjustment Board last week granted a very limited approval to a master plan amendment proposed by Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club and completely denied a related master plan amendment for the nearby Polo West property.

Like Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee a week earlier, the zoning board was skeptical of the changes requested by Palm Beach Polo owner Glenn Straub at twin public hearings held before a packed house on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

With presentations from several attorneys and dozens of comments from members of the public, the meeting did not adjourn until after 2 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12.

The Palm Beach Polo request was to create Pod 80 and Pod 81, allocating 57.1 acres to Pod 80 and 25.5 acres to Pod 81. The proposal also seeks to remove references to the “Wellington Clydesdale Facility” on what is now known as the Powerline Property. The plan requests the addition of several access points: along Birkdale Drive, Royal Fern Drive and Forest Hill Blvd. to access Pod 80; two access points along Polo Club Drive and an access point along Sunnydale Drive to access Pod 81; and two access points along Stribling Way to reach the Powerline Property. Finally, the plan seeks to modify the designation of Pod 80 and Pod 81 to “golf course/field sports and equine sports” and to modify the Powerline Property’s designation to “field sports and equine sports.”

Attorney Alec Domb, representing Straub, said that Palm Beach Polo has the right to use the fields on the community’s property.

“We have legally established polo fields in certain places, but we can’t use them unless we ask for permission, and what this will do is allow us to use those fields for stick and ball practices, for exhibition and other practice matches without the need to go through the process of applying for a special use permit each time we choose to do so,” Domb said. “We are asking for the presentation of sporting events and equine events within the Village of Wellington with minimal impact on the community. Most importantly, we’re asking you to allow us to expand the use of our open green spaces.”

On the Powerline Property, Palm Beach Polo has allowed its use for a soccer league that uses it by way of filed special use permits. PZA Board Member Alan Shullman wanted to know why the soccer league could not use public recreation areas already established in the village.

“Because there aren’t enough fields in Wellington for that purpose,” Domb said. “Especially during the season, when every piece of green space is used by polo teams for practice, because you can only use one field for one day, and then you have to leave it fallow for another day or two. So, they’re using multiple fields, and they don’t want people playing soccer and stuff on their well-manicured polo fields.”

Attorney Neil Schiller represented the Palm Beach Polo Property Owners Association at the meeting. His client did not support Straub’s request.

“There is a lot of inconsistency. There is a lot of misguidedness, misperception almost,” Schiller said. “It was almost indicative of the applicant’s presentation and his answering the questions to you.”

Schiller said that Palm Beach Polo and its representatives held the burden of proof. “They have to show that they’re consistent with the comprehensive plan, that they’re consistent with the land development code,” he said.

Schiller said that the applicant did not prove they were compliant in that in any way during the meeting. “We move that this application should be suspended, if not outright denied,” he said.

Village Attorney Laurie Cohen addressed burden of proof regarding the request.

“The applicant does have the initial burden to show that it meets the elements of our code,” Cohen said. “Staff has reviewed it, and staff is recommending approval of certain things and recommending denial of other things, and that is based on their evaluation on either it does meet those elements of the code or it does not meet those elements of the code.”

Cohen said the board does not have the authority to revoke the special use permit requested by Palm Beach Polo to use the green space for soccer.

“To our knowledge, there are no outstanding code violations that either haven’t been cured on these particular parcels or that this application isn’t intended to address,” Cohen said.

PZA Board Member Stephen Levin made a motion to approve only the Powerline Property for field sports and equine sports, along with the two access points proposed for that property. The motion was seconded by Carol Coleman and passed 6-0 with PZA Board Chair Elizabeth Mariaca absent.

The Polo West application was also a master plan amendment. It requested adding an access point on Greenview Shores Blvd. to line up with the intersection at Wellington High School, as well as to 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.”

Board Member Kenneth Kopp was critical of the proposal, particularly the request for an access road along Greenview Shores Blvd.

“Whether it’s a line or an arrow on a map, eventually the idea is to put a road in there, and I think there needs to be a very thorough study on the potential safety impact to the kids and to the drivers on the roads there,” Kopp said. “It’s a travesty to think that that’s going to work.”

Shullman took issue with the request to change the designation of the golf course.

“We need to do everything we can to maintain this golf course, and we need to do everything possible to make sure it survives,” he said. “I think by changing the master plan designation for the whole property just gives that much more to the potential failure to that golf course and future avenues.”

Coleman added that denying the requests doesn’t change the fact that special use permits can still be used to hold certain kinds of events on the recreation fields.

Levin made a motion to deny the entire master plan amendment as presented and maintain the status quo requiring special use permits. The motion was seconded by Coleman and also passed 6-0.