Heeding concerns raised by residents in the Palm Beach Point neighborhood about safety in the gated community, the Wellington Village Council removed a planned bridge connecting a multimodal pathway loop from the village’s comprehensive plan on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
At issue was a proposed bridge across the C-24 Canal through Palm Beach Point that would complete a multimodal loop and connect Rustic Ranches to the Winter Equestrian Festival show grounds.
Eileen Yarbrough of Palm Beach Point said she lives at the front of the neighborhood not far from a multimodal pathway in the area near the Wellington Dog Park but avoids that trail to ride her horses.
“I’m very close to that park,” Yarbrough said. “We very rarely hack there. One of the reasons we very rarely go there is because of that pathway and the shared use. We ride that block daily, people from my barn. We encounter many more motorbikes than we do other horses that are coming from Rustic Ranches.”
When coming from Palm Beach Point, she said she often encounters street legal motorcycles on the trail getting onto Palm Beach Point Blvd. to go somewhere else in the village.
“There is a safety issue when you mix the motorized vehicle and the horse, and that path is quite narrow,” Yarbrough said. “I think if you study how it was being used, you would see that it is not necessary to have another one, at least for the equestrians. I don’t know any equestrians in Palm Beach Point who feel they are losing out that they can’t access that park.”
Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig said the multimodal question about the pathway is part of the discussion.
Vice Mayor John McGovern asked if the council had not made an amendment taking the multimodal part out of the plan, and Village Manager Jim Barnes said the amendment had not yet been approved, but based on e-mails that he and Strategic Planning Director Mike O’Dell had received from residents, they had discussed the possibility.
“We would still recommend as a fallback alternative to try and have at least some of the integrity of the original plan that was in place from 2016 and an overall goal for the Village of Wellington network,” Barnes said, adding that from comments by the public received that evening, he felt the plan accommodated some concerns about the compatibility of a multimodal pathway, as opposed to a strictly equestrian pathway.
Gerwig said she felt compatibility was not the whole issue.
“It feels like the equestrians, at least that we have access to, don’t even want horses crossing there, and I think the security issue is what’s forefront,” she said.
Gerwig said that the council could remove that particular crossing and not significantly affect the overall plan.
“You’re still going to have circulation,” she said. “You’re still going to have that one dead end. I think that is what Mr. O’Dell is trying to avoid.”
Councilman Michael Napoleone said he appreciated O’Dell’s desire to create a loop, but he also had concerns.
“As far as that crossing, I bike down Flying Cow frequently, so I know what you’re talking about with the speed,” he said.
Napoleone added that he hadn’t seen a demand or a need for an additional canal crossing.
“I think the C-22 [Canal] connection is just a mile up the road. I use that crossing if I’m biking up there. I think that’s perfectly acceptable for anyone who wants to get across there,” he said. “I appreciate the desire to create a loop there, so people don’t dead end, but I don’t see a need for people to have a crossing there, and I’d be in favor of deleting that crossing that we’re talking about tonight.”
Councilman Michael Drahos agreed.
“The way this system is set up, we have preserved all gated communities within Wellington,” Drahos said. “Once we start talking, if even aspirational, about breaching a gated community’s security, there has to be a considerable, compelling reason for me to even think about something like that. We have obviously come far short of that tonight. I don’t think that because it was on there in 2016, we shouldn’t fix that.”
Napoleone made a motion to remove the planned crossing over the C-24 Canal into Palm Beach Point from the comprehensive plan, which carried 5-0.
McGovern said the decision was important to the future of the village in regard to connectivity, pathway systems, recreation and safety.
He also thanked O’Dell for his efforts in implementing the overall plan.
“I just want to make sure that we as a council said thank you to you and your team,” McGovern told O’Dell.