Wellington Zoners Reject Request To Allow Home On Small Little Ranches Parcel

The Wellington Municipal Complex.

Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board on Wednesday, Oct. 19 rejected a request from a property owner seeking to build a home on a small parcel currently designated as open space in the Palm Beach Little Ranches equestrian community.

At issue was a request by property owner Neil Winer to amend the Wellington PUD Master Plan to add one unit in Little Ranches at 977 Cindy Drive.

Wellington Senior Planner Damian Newell made a presentation for the village before turning it over to Winer for his presentation.

The proposal focuses on a small parcel of just under a quarter acre at the south end of Palm Beach Little Ranches that backs up to West Rambling Drive. The land was designated as open space/recreational in the original plat of Little Ranches in 1974.

In 2006, the current owner bought the property from the Palm Beach County Tax Collector’s Office for $3,900 in a tax deed sale due to delinquent property taxes unpaid by the developer. However, the new owner was informed at the time that the parcel has no development approvals and is designated as open space. The open space designation was required as part of the original Little Ranches approval by Palm Beach County.

Winer’s request is to add one dwelling unit for a single-family home on the parcel, along with site-specific development standards that would make that possible.

Lots in Little Ranches run from approximately two acres to five acres, which is much bigger than the lot in question, Newell said, along with significantly larger setbacks. The request reduces the required side setbacks due to the size of the lot. Current rules require that new lots in Little Ranches be at least five acres.

If the property was still public open space, it would provide a missing connection to the village’s bridle trail system. Before it was purchased by Winer, the site served as a bridle trail connection from Little Ranches to the drainage easement south of the neighborhood.

Newell said that village staff has determined that the request is not consistent with the Little Ranches community and recommended denial. He added that village staff has received more than 30 public comments opposed to the change. The change was rejected 4-0 by Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee on Oct. 6.

When it was his time to speak, Winer said that his goal was to “build his dream home” on the property. He was critical of Wellington for blocking his every attempt to do so over the past 15 years.

He added that he has modified the side setbacks to 15 feet from his original request of five feet to provide more space between neighbors, although that will allow a buildable width of just 20 feet.

“I want to try to make this fit in and be a part of the neighborhood,” Winer said, adding that the home will be designed to look like a barn to better fit in with the area.

Winer asserted that he is being robbed of his “constitutional rights” and his “American dream” by being denied the use and enjoyment of his property, further noting that the change would have no effect on traffic and public services in the community.

“Having a home on the property is certainly better than an empty lot that no one will be able to use,” Winer said, adding that there is now open space at the entrance to Little Ranches that didn’t exist when the community was first developed.

Furthermore, he said that the property was not formally listed as part of the bridle trail system before he purchased the property.

Also presenting at the meeting was attorney Tatiana Yaques, a resident of Little Ranches, speaking on behalf of the Little Ranches Homeowners’ Association.

“This is a very important issue to the community,” she said noting the more than 30 comments from residents opposed to the change. “We are one of the oldest equestrian communities in Wellington.”

She said that the plan of development for that area is very clear. It is a large-lot community with most lots between three and five acres. “It is all supposed to be equestrian parcels and farms,” Yaques said. “That is how the community has been developed from the beginning.”

She noted that the original plat has Winer’s land listed as open space/recreational. “What you can do on an OSR parcel is very limited,” she said.

According to Yaques, taxes on the parcel were overlooked by Wellington’s original developer, but even so, the land should not have been auctioned the way it was in 2006.

“Allowing a parcel like this to go to a tax deed sale was a mistake,” she said. “Mr. Winer should not have been allowed to buy it.”

Previously, the land was the only way to connect east and west Little Ranches on horseback. Winer then put up a fence and a gate to stop that.

“It was never the intent for that parcel to become owned and become a residential piece of property,” Yaques said. “I believe there is a little bit of a credibility issue with what Mr. Winer is claiming.”

Responding to Yaques, Winer said that he would be willing to work with the HOA to allow access to the easement if possible. “In 15-plus years, no one has approached me for any concessions or access,” he said.

It was noted at the meeting that the village has offered to buy the parcel, but not for an amount that Winer was willing to accept.

“I feel there is very little justification to propose this and feel it is in context with the neighborhood,” Board Member John Bowers said.

Bowers’ motion to deny the master plan amendment passed 6-0 with Board Member Ron Herman off the dais due to a conflict of interest.