Roadwork Concerns Continue As Wellington OKs Annual Dressage Festival Permit

The Wellington Village Council approved a proclamation declaring Nov. 12, 2021, as Wellington Community Foundation Day in honor of the great work done by the local nonprofit, which held its annual Red, White & Blue Jeans Event on Nov. 12. Shown here with the council are WCF board members Hope Barron, Tom Wenham, Maria Becker, Jim Sackett and James Seder. Photo courtesy the Village of Wellington

By Joshua Manning

The Wellington Village Council agreed on Tuesday, Nov. 9 to approve the event permit necessary to stage the 2022 Global Dressage Festival season at the Equestrian Village site at the northeast corner of South Shore Blvd. and Pierson Road, but not before once again demanding that the long-planned improvements at that crucial intersection be completed as promised.

The permit allows for a total of 75 horse show events between Dec. 6, 2021 and May 6, 2022. The long list of conditions attached to the permit is largely the same as in previous years, with the addition of current COVID-19 guidelines required by the CDC and U.S. Equestrian.

Planning & Zoning Manager Cory Lyn Cramer explained that the site was designated as a commercial equestrian arena in 2013. “That permit required onsite and offsite improvements,” she said. “In order for the venue to take full beneficial use of the CEA designation, those improvements must be completed. Until such time, a seasonal permit is required annually to operate the facility.”

Dan Rosenbaum, attorney for the applicant, noted that the permit has not changed due to the recent ownership change of Wellington’s equestrian venues announced over the summer. The same management team remains in place to operate the shows, he said.

Mayor Anne Gerwig noted that the dressage season was limited to the riders and staff last year, with limited vendors and no spectators, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rosenbaum said that the 2022 season will be more like a normal year, although safety measures will be in place.

While the permit was eventually approved unanimously, there was significant discussion regarding the delays to the long-planned intersection improvements.

“Will the change in ownership mean that there will be a change in approach when it comes to this intersection?” Councilman Michael Drahos asked. “We just can’t keep meeting like this every year. Neither side wants to meet like this. This is an issue that I want to get resolved before my time in public service is over. We have to fix the intersection, and we need your client’s cooperation.”

Rosenbaum said that the intersection improvements are part of the negotiations going on now between the different members of the new ownership group.

“In order to be successful at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center and this site, it is imperative that we get that intersection of Pierson and South Shore widened,” Rosenbaum agreed. “We do need to get that done, and I feel pretty confident that there is the commitment to get that done. It may ultimately be done by having the village do it and us paying for it with respect to offsite improvements.”

Gerwig said that the best way to get that done would be to work on it together.

“We know the intersection needs to be done, and a portion of that falls on your clients,” she said, adding that the majority of the work falls on the village, including drainage improvements. “We could do our part, but then your part would be remaining, and the area would get torn up twice.”

Rosenbaum said he is hopeful that sticking point will be resolved within a matter of weeks. “I’m told that the decision in getting the money to the village is imminent,” he said.

Council members noted that the roadwork is the primary sticking point between the village and the horse show owners, which otherwise enjoy a positive relationship.

“It just seems silly to me that every year we go through the same thing,” Drahos said. “Everybody recognizes that the intersection needs to be done. So, what more are we supposed to do but for eventually one or more of the five of us to vote no, knowing the damage that would cause the community?”

Rosenbaum said that he does not believe that will be necessary. He explained that while the external intersection work is fairly straightforward, there is internal work also required that could change now that the new ownership group is in charge. “It will come down to what the final project looks like,” he said. “The project has a long history. We need a plan that has been worked out between the parties as to what is going to be there.”

Gerwig noted that the ongoing states of emergency issued by the State of Florida — starting with the Zika virus and continuing through hurricanes and now the pandemic — have made it difficult for the village to enforce the requirements of the original approval.

Councilman Michael Napoleone agreed, but only up to a point. “The state of emergency has allowed the applicant to put off doing the improvements, but the applicant certainly could have done the improvements any time over the past eight years,” he said. “We need to have this intersection improved because it impairs the quality of life of our residents who have to navigate the intersection during the season. We are doing intersection improvements now, and we need the funding now to get this done.”

In other business:

• The council approved a series of revisions and amendments to Wellington’s code of ordinances. The changes simplify the code, removing unnecessary and obsolete provisions. Director of Sustainability Bob Basehart explained that the changes are part of a long-term effort to modernize Wellington’s governing documents. The effort began with revisions to Wellington’s land development regulations two years ago and comprehensive plan revisions over the past year. “The goal has been to streamline and simplify it all to be more user friendly,” he said.

The old code was technically 72 chapters, but 45 were unused, leaving 27 actual chapters. The new code will be 24 chapters, alphabetized by topic. At this meeting, the council reviewed the first eight chapters in the first of three sets. Once all 24 chapters are given initial approval, the entire document will be brought for a second and final reading.

• The council approved the first step in the creation of the 50th Street Unit of Development through the Acme Improvement District. This is a resident-driven petition that will allow assessments on 119 acres in southern Wellington known as Classic Estates. If the entire process is approved, the assessments will allow the paving of a half-mile section of 50th Street South from Ousley Farms Road to South Road. There are 12 parcels included in the unit of development, and 11 of the owners have signed the petition supporting the assessments. “This is a relatively small project, and it will come back several times for approval,” Deputy Village Manager Tanya Quickel explained.

• The council agreed to cancel its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 23 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. The only scheduled council meeting left in 2021 will be on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

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