Equestrian Preserve Master Plan amendments approved during five-hour board meeting
An overflow crowd packed into Wellington City Hall during a marathon session of the Planning, Zoning and Adjustment board meeting on Jan. 4 to review Wellington Equestrian Partners’ 96-acre dressage showgrounds and commercial development, currently under construction at South Shore and Pierson Roads in Wellington, Fla.
Development issues surrounding the historic property inside the Wellington Equestrian Preserve have effectively divided the dressage community  in recent weeks. A growing group known as the Wellington Equestrian Alliance has vehemently opposed the construction of a proposed 240,000 square feet hotel/condo and retail structure on the south east end of the property.
At the same time Wellington Equestrian Partners, which owns the property and the nearby Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, has defended its plan to create an “Equestrian Village” at what is considered the gateway of Wellington’s unique equestrian region.
The 96-acre property is divided into four parcels, with the dressage showgrounds planned to occupy 56 of those acres. Currently under construction, crews are working overtime to swiftly construct four competition arenas, an oversized indoor arena, 400 stalls of permanent stabling, and a VIP concierge area and berm in time for the first show, slated to begin Feb. 2. The showgrounds themselves are largely supported by those in favor of bringing a lengthier dressage circuit to the area.
The point of contention lies mainly in the proposed commercial development, which will occupy 16.5 acres, and is planned as the second phase in construction of what will be known as the Global Dressage Festival. A five-story hotel complex and 75,000 feet of commercial retail space has raised the ire of many in the community who argue that such development in the Equestrian Preserve goes against the intended purpose of the area.
Phelps Media Group Founder Mason Phelps, equestrian property owner Lou Jacobs and Wellington resident Carol Coleman have been among the group opposing the development, pointing towards increased traffic, noise, and perceived increase in crime that the development could attract. Because the property lies inside the Preserve, and is protected by limits to development, Wellington Equestrian Partners has been required to apply to the City of Wellington for amendments to the Preserve Master Plan.
It was those amendments, five in total, which were voted on and ultimately passed in 6:7 and 5:7 ratios by the Planning and Zoning board.
Prior to the vote, many residents took to the podium during a lengthy public hearing to voice their concerns and support for the project. Chris Kaufman, a resident of the adjacent Polo Island neighborhood and one of the closest residents to the dressage facility, made a heartfelt speech about the changes occurring less than 200 feet from his property line, and implored the board to protect the interests of the Polo Island residents.
Other residents in the area echoed his concerns, questioning whether adequate event parking and traffic planning had been thoroughly thought through.
Dressage riders Isabelle Leibler, Kimberly Boyer, Terri Kane and Robert Dover all spoke in support of the development, arguing that the showgrounds will be a positive next step for Wellington, and a definitive move to firmly place Wellington on the global dressage stage.
Dennis Shaughnessy of FTI Consulting also spoke in support of the development, pointing towards corporations such as FTI that would be attracted as sponsors of the new Global Dressage Festival. FTI Consulting is the title sponsor of the 2012 Winter Equestrian Festival.
The newly approved recommendations will now move on to the village council for final approval at the end of January. As the area has long been zoned for commercial equestrian use, construction at the showgrounds is continuing on schedule.