The Wellington Village Council approved a seasonal use permit Tuesday, Nov. 13 for Equestrian Village, site of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, which will allow the dressage show grounds to operate over the winter season despite a years-long delay in implementing several of its original conditions of approval.
A primary concern was regarding access to the site, located at 13466 South Shore Blvd. at the northeast corner of South Shore Blvd. and Pierson Road. A promised turn lane and additional access point to relieve congestion remains incomplete, a year after show officials said they hoped to have it completed soon.
The public hearing was held as part of the council’s regular meeting Tuesday, which featured a light agenda. The only other item up for discussion was a technical item regarding a water main project along South Shore Blvd. It was an authorization to pay for engineering services that had previously been discussed, planned and budgeted. It was only pulled from the consent agenda because Mayor Anne Gerwig had to recuse herself from the largely procedural vote.
No members of the public showed up for the public hearing, and there was no public comment. Aside from village staff and the council, the only speaker was attorney Dan Rosenbaum representing Wellington Equestrian Partners and Equestrian Sport Productions, the owners and operators of the dressage facility.
The seasonal use permit for the successful event has been approved year-after-year despite the same perennial issue with the conditions. In fact, if the conditions do get fully met, the seasonal use permit will become unnecessary and the facility will be able to operate without special council approval.
Rosenbaum cited numerous reasons for the delay, including the still-unresolved lawsuits regarding the original approvals of the Equestrian Village facility, which is now going through an appeal process.
“There are a lot of moving parts that we have right now,” Rosenbaum said. “One involves an appeal of the trial we had last year with regard to some neighbors who had some objections to Equestrian Village and sought to raze the structures.”
As expected, the seasonal use permit passed unanimously, allowing the 2019 dressage festival to go on as planned.
While it is unthinkable that the council would not approve the permit for the 2019 show series at this late date, council members expressed frustration at being backed into a box. They essentially brainstormed for nearly an hour over ways to compel the applicant to complete the required improvements before next year.
Village Manager Paul Schofield explained that two years ago, the turning lane on Pierson Road received a qualified bid of nearly $1 million. This amount would be paid to the village, and the work would be included in a project it already plans for the same road. This project has been delayed until the funds are received, so as to not tear up the same road twice. “It will be one project,” Schofield said.
Show promoters have delayed having to pay such a sizable sum, and the law is on their side. According to state law, any time a state of emergency is declared including Palm Beach County, the clock stops on the expiration of developers’ permits until six months after the emergency has ceased.
Hurricanes, the Zika virus outbreak and the ongoing opioid epidemic have all given the developer cover under declared states of emergency to delay the road improvements without having to worry about losing the site’s development approvals, which otherwise would have expired years ago.
“Under the law, developers are entitled to these extensions. We can neither grant nor deny them,” Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said.
The consensus of the council is that it would like the event to have its permanent approval and not require annual permits. Additionally, it wants the turning lane and the additional access point completed before next year.
“We would like some cooperation from the applicant so [it] doesn’t have to come back year after year,” Councilman Michael Napoleone said.
The council considered requiring a $1 million bond as a condition of the permit, but Cohen said that village code requirements prohibit attaching such improvements to a temporary permit.
“A bond is not technically an improvement, but it is close enough to violate the rules of the village,” Cohen said.
Councilman John McGovern seemed stymied that the event was still operating under a temporary permit.
“Is this the seventh time we’ve been here to talk about this?” he asked. “We seem to say this every year, [but] I don’t intend to have this go on forever.”
Ultimately, McGovern suggested an additional condition be added requiring the applicant to come back at the first meeting in April 2019, while the facility is still operating under the temporary permit, and the council may have some leverage. At that time, show promoters would present an update on the progress on the projects and an estimated deadline for when they would be completed.
This was added to the permit, along with deadlines for interim attendance reports.
Mayor Anne Gerwig was upbeat at the end of the meeting. “I think we are headed for a very successful equestrian season,” she said, “and that should make everything easier to accomplish.”
The council’s second November meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 27 has been canceled. The next meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 11.