Wellington Approves Special-Use Permit For Dressage Festival

The Van Kampen Arena at Equestrian Village.

The Wellington Village Council approved a seasonal equestrian use permit for the Equestrian Village site at the northeast corner of Pierson Road and South Shore Blvd. on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Equestrian Village is home to the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. The council has continually granted seasonal permits for the request.

At one point, the council approved a resolution that designated Equestrian Village as a commercial equestrian arena, if it met certain conditions. That would have eliminated the need for a season permit. However, the complex has had issues complying due to standing litigation from a lawsuit that was filed in 2012.

A main area of concern, and a condition that hasn’t been met at the complex, has been the requirement by the village to complete road and intersection improvements.

Vice Mayor John McGovern wanted to know if there were any significant road failures or other causes for concern related to the pending improvements.

“On show nights, there is a lot of traffic out there, so we’re going to have traffic issues with show let-out times,” Village Manager Paul Schofield said.

There is supposed to be about an hour in between shows that are back-to-back, in order to allow for more ease in traffic flow when people are coming and going into the complex.

Village staff said that with the pending litigation and development order extension issued by the state, the improvements have not been completed.

“Under the new permit provisions that we passed, if this application gets approved tonight, and it comes back next year as the identical application, would it come before the council again?” Councilman Michael Napoleone asked.

Planning, Zoning & Building Director Bob Basehart said it would only return to the council if the special permit it is approving this year changed over the coming year.

“When this was approved last year, the condition was that the road improvements would be done, and it wouldn’t have to come back anymore… and we’re sitting here again with the improvements not being done,” Napoleone said.

He said that he would like to get the situation resolved.

“I understand there was a declaration of emergency that gave them another extension, but I don’t know that there has been any movement by the applicant to try to even pull permits and make any efforts to get the improvements completed prior to the declaration of emergency,” Napoleone said. “So, I don’t want this to keep coming back here and to have the same problem that the work that is supposed to be done to allow this to function there is still not being done.”

With state law overriding the actions the council can take, Mayor Anne Gerwig said it puts the council in a difficult spot.

“But we would have the option to place an additional condition that if this particular application comes back, we could have it appear before us,” she said.

McGovern agreed that such a condition is important for continuing to follow up to ensure that the improvements are made.

“I want to see this special-use permit passed with all of the conditions that are there, but I do think that we should add the condition that they should come back yearly for us to look at what’s happening in that area,” he said.

The ongoing traffic issue is a concern, McGovern said.

“I think the things that are happening at that site are important, whether it be dressage. I think Gladiator Polo is a great addition, something that we’ve all been there to see and participate in,” he said.

Councilwoman Tanya Siskind supported the shows at the Equestrian Village site.

“The shows are very valuable,” she said. “Yes, there is an increase in traffic, but a lot of people are enjoying them.”

In the special permit use request this year, the applicant wanted to add 86 stalls mainly to be used during dressage events throughout the season. McGovern said that the recommendation made by Basehart and his staff to add the stalls would alleviate the need for horse owners to bring trailers onto the property to deliver horses at events.

There was a general consensus that the council wanted to continue to see the special use permit brought back as an agenda item for review in order to monitor the progress made at the complex regarding the improvements.

“I think it would be prudent to make sure we see this every year,” Councilman Michael Drahos said. “I think it needs to be communicated rather clearly that each year that we see this, and these conditions of approval have not been met, it’s putting this council in a very difficult position, because we want to see this succeed. It does provide a lot of benefits to the community, yet we cannot have these conditions just continue to be unmet for years on end.”

Drahos voiced his concern that the litigation is not the main reason that the improvements have not been completed, and Gerwig agreed.

“We want to know that the intention is for this to be a commercial arena permanently, like it was applied,” she said. “Somehow, that’s what we’re trying to get to.”

McGovern made a motion to approve the special use permit with all conditions recommended by staff and the condition to have the applicant return next year for council approval. Napoleone seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.