The Wellington Village Council rejected controversial master plan amendments requested by both Palm Beach Polo & Country Club and Polo West on Monday, Dec. 11.
The council considered each request separately, although both properties are under common ownership, at a meeting that lasted nearly eight hours.
Among the master plan changes for the Palm Beach Polo property was a request for the creation of Pod 80 (formerly the North Course) and Pod 81 (formerly the East Course), along with proposed entrance points for both; removing reference to the Wellington Clydesdale Facility property with two new entrance points to the old property; identifying two new entrance points off Stribling Way into proposed Pod 81; and the two former courses and the current 18-hole course within the community would be modified to a designation of “open space recreation/golf course/field sports and equine sports.”
When the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board heard the request, it rejected most of the changes, except for the approval of two access points for the Powerline Property (also known as Pod 81) and to change the master plan designation for the Powerline Property alone to “open space recreation/golf course/field sports and equine sports.”
Attorney Alec Domb represented Palm Beach Polo owner Glenn Straub at the meeting. At the beginning of his presentation, he said, “Golf is a dying industry.”
However, he stressed that the changes do not seek to construct anything new. “We’re not asking to build anything. We’re not asking to construct anything. We’re asking simply to allow open, green-space property to be used for open, green-space activities, including field sports and equine sports,” Domb said. “And, we’re asking for access, and that’s all that we’re asking for tonight.”
Attorney Neil Schiller represented the Palm Beach Polo Property Owners’ Association, which opposed the entire master plan amendment. Schiller noted two active liens that total more than $21,000. He said that Wellington would be rewarding bad behavior to grant the applicant his requests while liens are still active.
Schiller touched on the authority that the village has regarding some of the ingress/egress requests made.
“Polo Club Drive is a private road,” Schiller said. “The village can’t grant access over a private road. It’s private property.”
Michele Mellgren of the Mellgren Planning Group also represented the opposition to the master plan request alongside Schiller. She said the requests before the council contradicted the adopted comprehensive plan and land development regulations.
“The applicant, through an amendment to the master plan, proposes to introduce a whole new category of uses, but you don’t know what those specific uses are,” Mellgren said.
The opposing sides found different definitions for the meaning of “field sports.” Domb listed baseball, bocce ball, croquet, football, field hockey, lacrosse, lawn bowling, lawn tennis, softball, soccer, touch football, volleyball and t-ball as the types of activities that would be allowed with the approval of “open space recreation/golf course/field sports and equine sports.”
Mellgren warned that other uses could also fall under the broad category. “This category of field sports also includes, for example, skeet shooting, archery, paintball, arrow tag, BMX racing, laser tag and drone racing,” Mellgren said during her presentation. “Under this category of field sports, there is nothing preventing this owner from aggregating these uses of field sports and establishing an extreme sports park.”
The ambiguity of types of activities proved to be a point that stuck out to the council when they began to have their discussion regarding the master plan request.
Public comments were high in number at the meeting. The room was filled to capacity with residents who opposed the amendment request.
Councilman Michael Drahos said all residents in the village deserve due process, having the right to come before the council to petition for a right to use their property. However, he also said he believes his role as a public servant is to preserve the safety, security, tranquility and value of the residents’ properties.
“The only logical conclusion is an outright rejection of this application from page one to the very last page,” Drahos said. “I haven’t heard a single bit of evidence here that would justify what has been asked of this council by the applicant.”
Each member of the council spoke against the proposal.
Drahos made a motion to reject the master plan amendment application, seconded by Councilman Michael Napoleone, passing unanimously.
Next up was Polo West, where Straub wished to amend the Wellington PUD Master Plan to add an access point on Greenview Shores Blvd. and alter the designation of the golf course to “Open Space – Recreation/Golf Course/Field Sports & Equine Sports.”
The Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board recommended the denial of the entire proposed master plan amendment for Polo West when it heard the request.
There are already equestrian activities that take place at Polo West. When Straub became owner of the course, he converted the eastern 9-hole portion of the golf course to three polo fields and constructed a multi-purpose arena south of the clubhouse. The driving range along the west side of Greenview Cove Drive was also converted to a leveled grass field. A nine-hole course remains, along with a clubhouse and restaurant.
Similar to the soccer league run on parts of the proposed Pod 81 at Palm Beach Polo, the equine sports currently have been allowed through special use permits granted by the village.
The proposed access point at Greenview Shores Blvd. would have been concurrent with the entrance for Wellington High School, which raised safety concerns.
Prior to the meeting, the Polo West request to designate the land for “field sports” was removed by the applicant, while “equine sports” remained as part of the request.
Domb presented on behalf of Polo West. He agreed with the removal of field sports and detailed the reasons to allow for equine sports and events.
“We do believe that keeping nine holes and keeping the other portion of it for equestrian-related events in that area, in that part of town, is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Domb said. “It’s consistent with the visioning. It’s consistent with all of those things that were discussed as it relates what to do with a dead golf course. My client acquired the dead golf course, and he rebuilt it and enhanced it and put it out there. And, again, as an 18-hole golf course, it was not survivable, so we’ve cut back and added equestrian events. It has become somewhat more viable, and except for the soccer experience, I think that the overall experience at Polo West has been a good one.”
Attorney Matthew Pisciotta represented the Polo West Estates Homeowners’ Association, which opposed the master plan amendment in its entirety. He argued that the community was designated to have a golf course and there is no expectation that the property could be used for any other activity.
“The landowner’s application is incomplete,” Pisciotta said. “It either states that the plan that has been submitted has no impacts because they haven’t given enough information to assess whether there are any impacts, or that the impacts will be evaluated as part of some later development program, which is also unspecified. The intent of the code is to apply specific criteria… to evaluate master plan amendments.”
Mellgren also presented on behalf of the HOA. “You have unknown types of equestrian uses,” Mellgren said. “It will not protect or preserve the residential character. Again, because you don’t know the extent of it, you don’t know the frequency of it, and you don’t know the intensity of it.”
Napoleone found issue with the remarks by the applicant and his supporters that golf is a dying sport in general.
“The whole premise is flawed. You can’t premise your application because golf is dying if you killed the golf course. That’s my major flaw with this,” Napoleone said.
The council members, in general, found that the Polo West proposal was vague.
Drahos made a motion to reject the Polo West master plan amendment, seconded by Napoleone, passing unanimously.