Some Paddock Park Residents Seek To Keep Horses On Their Properties

The Wellington Municipal Complex.

By Chris Levy

Some residents of Paddock Park Phase I seeking to be allowed to keep horses on their properties addressed their wishes to the Wellington Village Council on Tuesday, Aug. 14.

Marysue Jacobs, who owns a residential property on Haymarket Court, is leading the charge for those residents of Paddock Park I in favor of allowing horses to be kept in the neighborhood. She began her 15-minute presentation by providing 131 comment cards from neighbors she claimed were in support of her cause, which represents just under 50 percent of the area’s properties.

Jacobs was calling for a change in code to allow residents of Paddock Park I to keep horses on their property. She suggested placing Paddock Park I within the existing Equestrian Overlay Zoning District (EOZD) and Equestrian Preserve Area (EPA). She further suggested limiting the development to two horses per acre, versus the four horses per acre the village permits within other areas designated for horses.

“I think it’s one of the nicest neighborhoods in Wellington. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in Wellington, and for many, many years, even before Wellington was Wellington, it was one of the first areas where there were horses in Wellington,” Jacob said. “We back up to the horse trails.”

Jacobs feels that allowing horses in Paddock Park I will be a benefit for the neighborhood.

“It’s one of the few places in Wellington that’s really family oriented and has a lot of year-round residents,” Jacobs continued. “I’ve been here 30 years. Originally, most all the horse people were in Paddock Park I. That’s why it’s called Paddock Park I. The streets are named after horses.”

Jacobs, who works in real estate, pointed out that homes in Paddock Park I are far more affordable than those in the current equestrian preserve.

“Paddock Park I is one of the only neighborhoods left where normal people can afford a horse,” Jacobs said. “You can have a backyard trail horse, or your kid can have a 4-H project, or you can get a rescue horse. We’re not asking to have commercial barns. We’re not asking to have big facilities, but we all can’t afford equestrian properties anymore. They have become out of reach for any normal person in this town.”

That last sentiment was echoed by Tara Zimmerman, a five-year resident of Paddock Park I, who came out in support of Jacobs. “I have a daughter who does ride, and I would like the opportunity to, if I choose to, have horses,” she said. “I don’t want a big commercial barn. It is very expensive to have riding lessons. My daughter is at a point that we could get a horse that she could ride on her own. It would be quite a savings for me.”

Moreover, Jacobs explained that given confusion as to whether horses could be kept on the property had led to Realtors providing home buyers with misinformation, further complicating the matter. Also, many of the properties include land that cannot be developed due to a Florida Power & Light (FPL) easement, which Jacobs claims was intended for grazing. She cites the confusion and lack of buildable land as two factors that have been detrimental to property values in the community.

Rick LeAndro, an 18-year Paddock Park I resident who is also a local Realtor, expressed the view that the inability to keep horses was detrimental to the property values there. “For years it was, ‘you’re allowed to have it.’ There’s barns in our neighborhood,” he said.

One confused resident was Mayor Anne Gerwig, who purchased a property in Paddock Park I in 2002 as the EOZD and EPA were first going into effect. Gerwig shared an e-mail she wrote to Village Manager Paul Schofield in which she purchased property with the intention of keeping horses but was later informed she could not.

The confusion shared by Jacobs, Gerwig and other Paddock Park I residents has to do with the implementation of the EOZD and EPA in August 2002. Paddock Park I, along with much of the Village of Wellington, fell outside of the proposed and approved equestrian boundaries. The neighborhood’s sister development, Paddock Park Phase II, was included in the boundaries and remains a largely equestrian community.

According to Jacobs, one of the factors contributing to the confusion is the way Palm Beach County and Village of Wellington regulations overlap. Palm Beach County requires horses to sleep in a barn, whereas Village of Wellington regulations prohibit the construction of barns for this purpose outside of the EOZD and EPA.

Jacobs said that she had been informed that she and other residents could have horses on their property during the day for riding, lessons and 4H activities, but that they could not be kept overnight. She found such a suggestion costly and impractical.

Further confusing the matter is that properties outside of the EOZD and EPA, including those in Paddock Park I, were permitted to keep horses on their property provided they did so prior to September 2003, and that their presence on the property was not interrupted for more than six months. That is why a handful of Paddock Park I properties continue to have horses.

Jacobs claims that her property kept horses prior to 2003 and, therefore, should be grandfathered in. Other witnesses added this was true, but a review performed by village staff found no records of this, nor did their review of aerial photographs support Jacobs’ contention.

What both Jacobs and the village agree upon is that during the 11 months that Wells Fargo Bank owned the property after a foreclosure, no horses were kept on the property. This period is greater than the six months the code permits.

Jacobs is currently subject to code enforcement violations regarding horses on her property and is in litigation against the Village of Wellington. This pending litigation resulted in a lack of comment by Vice Mayor Michael Drahos and other members of the council, three of whom are attorneys.

In 2009, the Wellington Village Council reviewed a proposed land designation regulation to permit horses in Paddock Park I. At the time, the three proposals offered were no horses permitted on any property, horses permitted on all properties or horses permitted on properties adjacent to horse trails. Residential feedback was evenly split between the three options and the council voted against the change.

Councilman John McGovern stressed that the council reserved the right to revisit the 2009 vote.

For her part, Gerwig, who is personally affected by the issue as a resident of Paddock Park I, said that she had not made up her mind on the issue.