Wellington’s Equestrian Committee Refuses To Approve Changes To Comp Plan

Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee has spent months going through an in-depth review of the village’s updated comprehensive plan. This has involved hours and hours of discussion. So, some might be surprised that after several more hours of discussion on Wednesday, Jan. 6, committee members in the end refused to pass a vote approving their own work.

Assistant Planning, Zoning & Building Director Michael O’Dell explained that the purpose of the meeting was to review previous input to ensure that the committee’s recommendations were exactly what it wanted them to be. The recommendations will next be submitted to the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board, which will review it and add its own recommendations and changes. After that, a report will go to the Wellington Village Council, which will review all the recommendations, as well as those from village staff, before making its own final decision.

Several committee members, however, were not happy with the process and felt that their views should be presented as more than just advice to the council and other boards.

Village staff had made all the requested changes approved at previous meetings. O’Dell said that the committee’s recommendations would be dutifully passed along.

Staff’s recommendation, however, was that two of the changes recommended by the committee not be made. This would be reported to the PZA Board and the council, stating the Equestrian Preserve Committee’s recommendations, alongside staff recommendations.

Staff recommended the use of the word “exurban” to describe the Wellington Equestrian Preserve in the introduction of the plan and also to include comment on the commercial possibilities of property that has long been zoned commercial. This did not sit well with committee members, who wanted O’Dell to join their consensus against those two items.

While O’Dell began the meeting asking members to speak only one at a time to facilitate using the recordings to develop a transcript for the minutes, that was not often the case. The meeting frequently operated more like a casual chat rather than using parliamentary proceedings. Committee members explored wide-ranging queries and “what ifs” while moving from topic to topic, often touching on past grievances.

Moving through the meeting, however, the recurring theme that the committee members know more about horses than others in Wellington, and their opinions should, therefore, be given more weight when it comes to the comp plan.

Committee Member Haakon Gangnes wondered aloud why they didn’t make the comp plan state that the village would pay to solve the manure situation, since water quality is everyone’s issue.

Committee Chair Jane Cleveland commented that such an idea is not likely to happen, since many consider horse waste a horse community issue. Gangnes felt that such a facility should be added to the capital improvements budget.

The committee was adamant that the word “exurban” not be used in the comp plan. Several said they had never heard it before. After a discussion, it was determined that it referred to property beyond a suburban area that is typically affluent. They especially didn’t approve of the meaning of the word if it seemed to denote affluence. Dr. Kristy Lund said that she knew many people who had horses and didn’t consider themselves affluent.

Gangnes continued to press O’Dell regarding the use of the word. When Committee Member Glen Fleischer tried to play the voice of reason, Ganges asked him if he trusted the village. Taken aback, Fleischer said that of course he did. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” he said.

Also at issue was the word “commercial.” The committee wanted something more like “consumer,” even though that is not a zoning designation. A range of wording was worked on, some enumerating the actual uses they would support. Village staff warned against including anything that could be construed as a “taking” of someone’s legal property rights, which is likely to stir up litigation.

The committee discussed that some of them should go to the PZA Board and council meetings to lobby for not using the word “exurban” and do something about limiting “commercial.”

Lund remarked that while she may trust the current council, the equestrians needed a safety net for possible future councils. She added that she would not approve their own changes because she was hoping that someone would ask why she didn’t approve it. Then she could tell them it is because she doesn’t like the word “exurban.”

“I think it puts a red flag [on the report] by dissenting,” Lund said.

During public comment, local equestrian Cynthia Gardner, a former chair of the committee, said that she works in real estate and hears the word “exurban” almost every day referring to places like The Acreage or Jupiter Farms. “There is nothing elegant about it,” Gardner explained.

Gardner recalled that there had been uproars when Publix tried to build in the Equestrian Preserve Area and complained that staff had previously supported a wide range of inappropriate retail uses in the Equestrian Preserve Area as well.

Gardner said that the most damaging thing that could happen to the preserve would be to four-lane collector roads. It would invite cut-through traffic, she said. The committee discussed this and decided not to ask for some of the collector roads to be four-laned as they had originally recommended.

In the end, Cleveland said that she felt their comments would be swept under the rug by the council, and this seemed to be the consensus. She next ensured that O’Dell would pass along all their recommendations in the staff’s report to the PZA Board and the council. Finally, the committee made the decision of attempting to attract attention to its concerns by refusing to approve their own recommendations. A motion to approve the changes died for the lack of a second.