By Betsy LaBelle
The Wellington Village Council approved a seasonal special use permit Monday, Jan. 8 allowing up to 105 events to be held at the Polo West Golf Club from Jan. 9 through July 9, 2018.
The application got a unanimous approval from the council and came just weeks after the council denied a permanent master plan change for the property that could have made seasonal special use permits unnecessary.
The permit granted a special use permit for polo field number one and the clubhouse at the south end of the property. Polo fields two and three were removed from the special use permit.
Special events to take place at Polo West include the Dogs Night Out Charity Gala, Western in Wellington, Friday Night Lights and Polo on the Patio. Uses for the polo fields will be for the events Polo on the Grass and the Ridge Turf Tour.
The application was submitted by Jennifer Vail of the Wantman Group, on behalf of the applicant, Gary Fellers of PGPW Holdings Inc. The permit would allow equestrian events and gala events for the 2018 winter and spring seasons.
The applicants noted that events would not be held more than two weekday nights per week and will include weekends, going no later than 9 p.m. during the week and no later than 10 p.m. on the weekends.
One exception was granted for Feb. 14. Valentine’s Day will have extended hours of operation for the Dogs Night Out benefit. The hours will be from 6 to 11 p.m., with lights out on the arena at 11 p.m., and the tents around the clubhouse no later than midnight.
Wellington staff noted that the village received a letter of approval from the HOA representative for the Polo West Estates on an extra date from 104 events last year to 105 events this year, and the letter approved the extended time for the Feb. 14 event.
With the dates accepted, the council moved onto the land use portion of the permit.
The original application included 75 acres of the 150-acre golf club, which includes the clubhouse and polo fields one through three. Polo fields two and three were newly added to the application this year.
Council members were concerned with the addition of fields two and three.
“I’m just wondering what the impact will be for the homes there, with cars and trailers parked there next to the polo fields,” Councilman Michael Drahos said.
The site plan shows that spectator parking is only allowed at the clubhouse, Village Manager Paul Schofield noted.
Drahos said he was told that the permit would be exactly like last year’s.
“Here is the greater problem I see with this,” Drahos said. “It was pitched to me in a meeting in preparation for this meeting that this was just a renewal of the special use permit, and we are making just a couple of slight changes here or there. Then we get into this meeting today, and we have a presentation that shows polo field number two and number three with vehicle access in and out, which is different than it was last year.”
The council agreed to limit the use to polo field number one and the south side of the property, like last year’s permit, striking polo fields two and three from the permit approval as they voted.
Polo West is currently zoned for golf course use (commercial recreation golf). In years past, there were a few golf courses in Wellington with special use letters given to the land owners to allow polo practice fields.
“There was a letter several years ago, that basically said, ‘If you want to practice on those fields, you can.’ We did not approve polo matches,” Schofield said. “We did modify the permits to build the polo fields there, because there were lakes nearby. It’s the same as all the other polo fields that would have been done at Palm Beach Polo and the Wanderers Club.”
There were, however, limitations.
“It didn’t allow lights or anything like that,” Schofield said. “They have never been well-attended with spectators.”
Unused golf courses have often been used for that purpose in Wellington.
“At the time it was written, it was very common for polo to be practiced on the future use golf courses. It’s no different then as now,” Schofield said. “Just activities, not events.”
Polo West was granted approval for the existing polo fields.
“He was issued a land-development permit for the polo fields,” Schofield said. “The permit allowed equestrian uses there.”
“It’s a golf course,” Vice Mayor John McGovern clarified.
“It’s a vacant golf course,” Mayor Anne Gerwig corrected.
Schofield agreed. “It’s what these fields have been for many years,” he said.
The council agreed unanimously that the use of polo fields two and three would not be approved, but the applicant could seek a further amendment if he chooses to do so.
Fellers decided to remove them from the application, noting that property owner Glenn Straub is unsure of his long-range plans for the land.
“Perhaps we should strike out polo fields number two and three because I do not know what Mr. Straub is going to do with that property,” Fellers said.
The special use permit was supported by several members of the community.
Lauree Simmons, the founder and president of Big Dog Ranch Rescue and organizer of the Dogs Night Out events and gala, noted that her organization has saved thousands of animals. “Everybody likes to have a place to come with their dogs and hang out,” she said of the events at Polo West.
The Valentine’s Day event will raise money for a veterinarian for the organization that saves more than 2,500 animals a year that would otherwise be euthanized.
Olympic show jumper Nona Garson and George D’Ambrosio were there in support. They run the Turf Tour’s competitive show jumping schedule.
“As you know, we run the Ridge Turf Tour horse shows,” Garson said. “We’ve been doing this for a number of years now. I think we bring in a horse show that is a little bit different. We, as equestrians, look forward to being a part of the activities at Polo West.”