Zoning Board Strikes Cautious Tone On Equestrian Proposals

A map showing the proposed southern expansion of the Wellington International showgrounds.

A village panel recommended last week that Wellington should deny or delay hundreds of luxury residences on land, including 96 acres in the Equestrian Preserve Area, until more detailed plans for an expanded showgrounds can be evaluated.

Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board voted Wednesday, Aug. 16 to send the Wellington Village Council a go-slow message on a contentious piece of the application from developers working with equestrian businessman Mark Bellissimo.

Voting 6-1, the board approved a portion of the venture, Wellington South, with conditions aimed at lowering the project’s density. In 5-2 votes, members urged rejecting or putting off the Wellington North proposal that removes land from the preserve.

The point is to see what happens with proposed improvements to the Wellington International showgrounds, set to be considered in a separate approval process, officials said.

“It’s important to know the details of what we’re getting if we’re going to make a concession of that magnitude,” Committee Vice Chair John Bowers said regarding a vote to remove land from the preserve.

The guidance is not binding on the five-member Wellington Village Council, which holds final say and is slated to take up the items at a series of meetings tentatively starting Tuesday, Oct. 10. Still, plenty of concerns from advisory groups set the table. The village’s Equestrian Preserve Committee voted 7-0 in opposition in June.

The zoning board approved the Wellington South package after developers offered concessions to reduce density. That started with reducing 442 residential units to 391 in the Wellington Country Place Planned Unit Development area, with committee recommendations for 137 fewer units and creating more small farm lots.

Pickleball courts, which some neighbors said could create a noisy nuisance for nearby stabled horses, have been dropped, a developer representative said.

The Wellington South area consists of more than 269 acres near South Shore Blvd. and Lake Worth Road, east of Gene Mische Way.

The Wellington North project sits near South Shore Blvd. and Pierson Road, with development plans involving more than 100 acres. Plans would reclassify 96 acres now designated as part of the Equestrian Preserve Area, opening it up to denser development.

The Wellington South plan proposes to sell land to double the Wellington International showgrounds to 190 acres, consolidating hunter riding, show jumping and dressage in one place with seating for up to 7,000 spectators. Dressage would move there from its current, separate space at Equestrian Village, slated to be part of Wellington North.

“Our goals are clear and shared,” said Doug McMahon, chief executive officer of Wellington Lifestyle Partners, the group shepherding the residential development. “Let’s successfully move dressage to the new showgrounds, and work to further expand and enhance those facilities. Let’s create a new residential community that adds to all of Wellington. We’re committed to ensuring that Wellington remains the horse sports capital.”

Neighborhoods that feature golf and other amenities can serve as a feeder system for future horse show participants and spectators, McMahon and his associates maintain. All of it is important to compete with rival equestrian venues in places such as Ocala, proponents contend.

In the end, the committee recommended rejecting or delaying rezoning requests and amendments to comprehensive and master plans related to Wellington North, until it can be considered alongside a full assessment of the showgrounds proposal. The Wellington North plan seeks 300 residential units, 278 of them multi-family.

The committee held hearings over three nights on the issue starting in July, with the third night’s meeting Aug. 16 stretching past five hours. Several neighbors reaffirmed a stand against the plan as interested parties. “The amount of opposition, the amount of time that we’re taking, just highlights that we need to do a reset,” said James Gavigan, a lawyer representing the Jacobs family, owners of Deeridge Farms on Pierson Road.

Some residents say the plan is welcome, among the more than 270 written comments on the Wellington North proposal.

“I fully support this project,” resident Anthony Calle said. “Not only will it increase the housing options for people who live here full time, but it will also give us more activities to do in our town. With a limited housing market in the State of Florida, this will provide more inventory and higher taxes for the village. Job growth will follow for the locals as well.”

However, a majority of written and spoken comments expressed opposition, with a common theme that it risks spoiling what makes Wellington special.

“This is a pure attempt to get rich on luxury housing not even intended for our equestrian community,” resident Kristine Holloran said.

Others invoked the refrain, “Horses before houses.”