OPINION: Cleveland: My Thoughts On The Recent Equestrian Preserve Committee Meetings

It continues to be a great privilege for me to chair Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee. As an advisory group to the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board, as well as the Wellington Village Council, our committee has just heard applications for Wellington North and South. I would like to share our experience with the Wellington community, as these hearings will go forward to the PZAB and the council through this summer.

The Equestrian Preserve Committee is made up of seven volunteers appointed by Wellington’s council. We all live in Wellington and are involved in the equestrian industry. Over the years, we have tackled dry but necessary projects, such as revisions to Wellington’s comprehensive plan, its land development regulations, our own plan of action and even an economic impact study of the equestrian industry on Wellington itself. As such, we were well-prepared to tackle the volume of information associated with the Wellington North and South applications.

After sorting through all of the planning documentation, zoning regulations, traffic studies, etc., the applications came down to a few questions: 1) Should land be taken out of the Equestrian Preserve Area to be developed into luxury homes (Global Dressage Festival/White Birch Polo/Grass Derby Field)? 2) Should residential density be doubled on vacant preserve land off South Shore for more luxury homes? And 3) Should land south of the current Wellington International horse show be commercially rezoned to allow for expansion of the show? It was packaged in an “all or nothing” set of requests, and promises were made relative to the horse show expansion that were not reflected in the actual applications.

Even with the hearings in June, with many of the equestrians away, the council chambers were packed, along with the committee room and village hall lobby. It was an impressive show of local opinion and passion for the equestrian industry. Additionally, we received hundreds of comments, e-mails and letters.

After 10 hours of presentations, questions, answers and comments from the community, the EPC voted unanimously to deny the requests. There are many details supporting our votes, but the following major themes were consistent across both hearings: 1) Land should not be taken out of the Equestrian Preserve Area — it is too valuable, in too scarce supply and is needed for horses, which need land for barns, grass and other open spaces. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. 2) While the developer presented plans for a high-quality residential product, the committee felt that the heart of the preserve is not the place for it. And 3) While we all would like to see the horse shows improved, and certainly more land on which to expand them, the current application shows no plans at all, rather just a reference to a contract to sell land for expansion, only if these requests are granted.

Wellington should be pleased that such a high-quality residential developer considers our village to be the sort of special place that could support their projects, but their applications reminded us why Wellington is so special in the first place — horses. One of the very last public speakers described it well when she said it was the farms rather than houses that were the most desirable in the preserve, and what made Wellington extraordinary was the ability to “ride in/ride out” from farms to horse shows, as we are able to do here year-round.

And lastly, our job as volunteers, like those elected to office, is to represent the citizens of our community. The views we heard were numerous and almost entirely in opposition.

Jane Cleveland, Chair, Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee