Committee Reviews Comp Plan With An Eye On Impact For The Equestrian Industry

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee extensively discussed the elements of the village’s comprehensive plan that relate to the Equestrian Preserve Area (EPA).

Assistant Planning, Zoning & Building Director Michael O’Dell provided a recap of the plan that was covered at the previous meeting, detailed the changes that had been made at the suggestion of the committee and collected additional input from the discussion.

“The comprehensive plan is the 30,000-foot view,” O’Dell explained. “It says what we’re going to do over the next 10 to 20 years.”

He said that it is meant to be aspirational, rather that detailing specifically how things will be done.

“We don’t want to get into the weeds discussing details,” O’Dell suggested.

But committee members had other plans, focusing on a number of “what if” hypothetical questions and topics beyond the scope of the agenda as laid out by O’Dell.

O’Dell’s goal for the evening was to talk about and get approval of a portion of the comp plan. He explained that the goals of the elements under consideration are to preserve the equestrian lifestyle, maintain a multi-modal transportation network in the EPA and to support Wellington‘s equestrian competition industry.

To do this, the plan includes a macro-view of the emergency evacuation plan, an objective of maintaining the overall density of the EPA, continuing to investigate alternatives for horse waste disposal, providing regular review of the equestrian trail circulation plan, planning to widen Lake Worth Road and South Shore Blvd., and adopting regulations that provide for the operation of golf carts.

Another objective is to assist in development of educational programs supporting the equestrian industry for area schools, such as one that may someday be built on property owned by the school district in the EPA.

The third element is water quality and quantity education, with the objective of educating homeowners and builders on subjects like water quality through Wellington public service announcements, the village’s web site and through the distribution of existing documents, as well as encouraging best management practices on equestrian properties to stop water leeching from the land.

The next item was the objective of maintaining competitive components regarding equestrian venues to maintain Wellington‘s world class status by adapting to and accommodating venue modifications that arise from market conditions or which contribute to an increase in numbers of participants.

Committee Member Haakon Gangnes thought the village should be ponying up for the venues.

“If they aren’t going to pay for any of the [infrastructure], then what kind of support are they providing?” he asked, adding that he was looking through the plan for areas where the village would provide funding.

Committee Member Annabelle Garrett commented that the village needs to recognize that the area was an equestrian community that Wellington grew up around. “None of us would be here if it were not for the equestrian competitions,” she said.

O’Dell explained that the village can provide and maintain the roadways, the bridle paths and the canals, but the rest of the EPA is privately owned, and the owners are responsible for their own impacts and infrastructure.

Some committee members, however, thought that Wellington can and should have more responsibilities in the area, listing other analogous situations where they thought more direct funding had occurred.

There was also an in-depth discussion on whether or not horses are responsible for high levels of phosphorus in the area’s water discharge, an ongoing argument that dates back decades.

Committee Chair Jane Cleveland was worried about the necessity of meeting state limits in the release of phosphorus that are coming soon. “I am worried that trying to clean up water quality would be a threat to the equestrian industry,” she said.

Gangnes wanted to discuss where the phosphorus is coming from. “As an engineer, I know you can’t solve a problem unless you know where it is coming from,” he said.

He wanted language in the comp plan saying that studies would be done to determine what percentage of the pollution is attributable to horse manure.

Michael Stone, president of Equestrian Sport Productions, was invited to the meeting to give input on the comp plan after sending the committee a letter last month complaining that his organization had not been involved enough in the development of the plan.

Stone said that the venues don’t expect the village to pay for their infrastructure. But he reminded everyone that those venues are crucial to Wellington as an equestrian area. “Without the equestrian competitions, you don’t have an equestrian lifestyle. You just have a few horses knocking around,” he said. “We work with the village because we want to have the proper standards even though a lot of our property is agriculture.”

Stone thanked the committee for inviting him to the meeting.

“Including the venues as a major part of the development of the plan was one of the major issues that we had,” he said.

Stone also thought that the plan should specifically say the village is going to work on identifying the causes of the phosphorus issue.

There was also, by his description, several small wording issues that were all noted by staff. He was less concerned about peak time traffic issues. “You go to any major sporting venue, and there’s traffic,” he said.

Stone said that his biggest concern is that land in Ocala is cheaper, and the trend may be toward people having a farm in Ocala, staying up there and then only coming to Wellington for a few weeks each year.

“That will never happen,” Garrett interrupted. “Wellington has Palm Beach with all its restaurants and the airport, while Ocala has nothing but the horse show.”

Stone thanked the committee for hearing from him, and the discussion returned to more hypothetical situations. The committee didn’t want the traffic that a potential new school could generate; why particular roads were paved and who paid for it; and if the community outgrew the venue, why shouldn’t it pay for additional infrastructure.

“Again, I think you’re going down a rabbit hole that’s not going to get us anywhere when we’re trying to do the 30,000-foot view,” O’Dell said.

Committee Member Glen Fleischer had a different view of what the comp plan should include. “I think the document should be living and breathing — encouraging us to keep our ear to the ground to changes that occur over time,” he said.

O’Dell said that the many changes, including the deleting and rewording every place that the word “exurban” was used, were significant enough that it will need to come back for further review. He said that village staff will review the tape of the meeting to ensure they have the language changes just as the committee wanted it.