A controversial plan to build hundreds of homes and high-end amenities on two sites in Wellington while opening the door for expansion horse show grounds received a mixed bag of votes from the village’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board on Wednesday night.
The Wellington Equestrian and Golf Club, also known as The Wellington North and South, received recommendations of support and possible denial or delay from the board, across five votes after about 15 hours of presentations, public comment, closing arguments and deliberations that happened between two meeting nights in July before last night’s marathon session.
Before we get to the votes, some important background …
For more information about the project, read my three-part, in-depth report on the issues surrounding The Wellington:
What does the project include?
The Wellington consists of two main parts, which are being developed alongside a project to expand the horse show grounds at Wellington International, formerly the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center on Pierson Road.
The Wellington North would be located on about 100 acres on the north side of Pierson Road east of South Shore Boulevard. It includes three pieces of land: The former site of the storied Player’s Club, later approved as the Coach House multi-family residential project; the Equestrian Village, where the Global Dressage Festival is held; and White Birch Farms, which includes two polo fields.
What’s proposed for The Wellington North?
- 278 multi-family units in 12 buildings
- 22 single-family homes
- A 56,000-square-foot clubhouse with four pool
- A 119,000-square-foot field house
- A covered stage
- A kid zone
- A dog park
- Sports fields
- Tennis and pickleball courts
- Golf amenities including a driving range and practice space for short-game and putting, plus a golf clubhouse
- The 18-hole Cypress golf course that is in Palm Beach Polo and Country Club, and which was purchased earlier this year by a company managed by Mark Bellissimo
The Wellington South spans a much larger area: about 270 acres, which are divided over several parcels west of South Shore Boulevard between Pierson Road on the north and Gracida Way on the south.
As proposed last night with changes, The Wellington South would include:
- 137 single-family homes, with five on 5-acre lots on the north side of the development and the rest on lot sizes at least a half-acre in size
- A preserve
- An equestrian amenity site
- Bridle and multi-purpose trails through the property from South Shore Boulevard west to Wellington’s equestrian trail that connects to Wellington International
Who is the developer?
The project was pitched and applied for by Wellington Lifestyle Partners, which is Wellington Equestrian Partners and NEXUS Luxury Collection.
Wellington Equestrian Partners is helmed by Wellington resident and entrepreneur Mark Bellissimo, who is credited with developing and modernizing the former Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, now Wellington International, on Pierson Road. He also developed Equestrian Village on the northeast corner of South Shore Boulevard and Pierson, where the Global Dressage Festival is held.
NEXUS is part of Tavistock Group, which counts Justin Timberlake, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods among its investors. Tavistock was founded by noted entrepreneur and investor Joe Lewis.
The CEO of Wellington Lifestyle Partners is Doug McMahon, the co-founder of NEXUS.
Mark Bellissimo’s daughter, Paige Bellissimo, is executive vice president and partner of Wellington Lifestyle Partners. She grew up in Wellington and is a lifelong equestrian.
All of the residences in the Wellington North and South would be higher-end, luxury homes and condominiums, on par with other properties in NEXUS’ portfolio, McMahon has said.
As part of the applications, the developers would be required to make cash contributions to Wellington and the Palm Beach County School District to cover the impact on utilities, roads and schools.
The show grounds are owned and managed by Global Equestrian Group.
How did they vote?
On The Wellington South
There were two applications related to The Wellington South.
Comprehensive plan amendment: The board voted 5-2 with council members Jeffrey Robbert and Adam Rabin dissenting to recommend approval of the comprehensive plan amendment as requested.
This included requests to:
- Change the future land use on what is known as Pod F, about 114 acres directly south of the current Wellington International showgrounds, from residential to equestrian commercial recreation.
- Change the land use designation on a roughly 6-acre piece of land on the northwest corner of Gracida Way/Lake Worth Road and South Shore Boulevard from commercial to residential.
Master plan amendment: During the meeting, the development team with Wellington Lifestyle Partners agreed to reduce the number of dwelling units to 137, while growing the minimum lot size from a quarter-acre to a half-acre.
The master plan amendment included requests to:
- Consolidate two pods of land in the Wellington CountryPlace PUD and about 18 acres of another into one new pod, where The Wellington South’s homes would be located.
- Label a preserve area in the newly formed pod as a preserve amenity site.
- Approve the project standards manual.
- Approve updated conditions of approval.
The board voted 6-1 to recommend approval of the master plan amendment, with Rabin dissenting and with these recommendations:
- Wellington Lifestyle Partners should further cut the number of units and increase the number of small farm lots. Currently, there are five 5-acre farm sites planned.
- An updated site plan and project standards manual should be provided to the Village Council.
On The Wellington North
There were three applications related to The Wellington North. For all three applications, the board voted 5-2, with members Dr. Satesh Raju and Maureen Martinez dissenting, to recommend the council either deny the application without prejudice, or table the application until the compatibility determination for the show grounds expansion south of Wellington International is submitted to the village and has been reviewed by both Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee and the Planing, Zoning and Adjustments Board, so the council can review that application alongside the three Wellington North applications.
Comprehensive plan amendments: This was perhaps the most controversial aspect of the applications presented for The Wellington. This amendment would remove 96 acres — comprised of Equestrian Village and White Birch Farms — from the Equestrian Preserve Area. The resolution also includes requests to:
- Change the future land use of the Coach House site to a less-dense residential designation that allows for three to eight dwelling units per acre.
- Change the future land use of the rest of the property from equestrian commercial recreation to the same residential designation as the Coach House site.
- Update the bridle path map, pedestrian pathway map, multi-modal village pathways map and bike lanes map by removing Equestrian Village as a venue.
Rezoning: This request would change the zoning of the Equestrian Village and White Birch Farms properties to remove them from the Equestrian Overlay Zoning District. This only needs to be done if those properties are removed from the Equestrian Preserve Area.
Master plan amendment: This request would combine several pods of land into one with the Wellington planned-unit development; assign 300 dwelling units to the new pod; and adopt a project standards manual.
Development could hinge on show grounds
When the meeting began Wednesday, Wellington planning staff said they and the developers had come to an agreement about a key condition of approval — that would require all equestrian facilities that are
offered at Equestrian Village move to Wellington International, whether on the existing or expanded site, before any development could happen at Equestrian Village for The Wellington North. Before any permits would be issued for construction, the new relocated facilities would have to be approved for licensing by the United States Equestrian Federation, the governing body that oversees and sets standards for most equestrian sports in the U.S.
The language also includes permission for the Global Dressage to continue to be held at Equestrian Village if that property is removed from the Equestrian Preserve Area, because equestrian competition would no longer be a permitted use there.
“The relocation will happen when the facilities are what exists today or better,” Paige Bellissimo said.
The master plan amendment recommended for approval by the board Wednesday included a number of development entitlements that would allow for the expanded show grounds to include:
- Up to 1,500 stalls at buildout
- Nine competition rings with a schooling area
- An international equestrian stadium with a schooling area
- A derby field with a schooling area
- Lunging rings with schooling areas
- Stadium seating for 7,000 people
- A hospitality venue for 4,000 people
- Up to 26,000 square feet of retail space
- 18,000 square feet of office space
- Up to 45,000 square feet of storage, warehouse and maintenance space
What happens next?
Speaking with me Thursday, Paige Bellissimo said Wellington Lifestyle Partners plan to move forward to the Village Council.
The council will begin reviewing the applications on Sept. 12, with meeting times reserved for Sept. 13-14 should the council need more time. The Equestrian Preserve Committee recommended denial of all applications related to the development. It took the EPC two nights to hear presentations, public comment and closing arguments before voting.
“We are making adjustments to the plans to reflect some of the comments we got,” Paige Bellissimo said Thursday.
“We’re working really hard as a team to see what we can do with some larger lot sizes and some of the other comments made, and working with GEG as well,” she added, referring to Global Equestrian Group, the organization that manages Wellington International and is developing the expanded show grounds. “We’re hoping to have more for council and still targeting the Sept. 12 date, and working hard to incorporate those changes to have the conceptual plans to those adjustments ready.”
What did they say?
Some notable quotes from Wednesday night’s meeting:
- “The application is not locked in stone at each level of review.” — Village Attorney Laurie Cohen, explaining to the board that it is common for development applications to evolve as they move through Wellington’s process.
- “We do not believe the developments as they’re currently proposed are appropriate.” – Attorney Janna Lhota with Holland & Knight, representing Victoria McCullough, who owns a property in Mida Farms, which is surrounded by land that would developed as The Wellington South.
- “If in the future the owner of Wellington North doesn’t comply and doesn’t continue with the Wellington North show grounds, how can the village enforce that?” – Attorney Jamie Gavigan of Shutts & Bowen, representing the Jacobs family, which owns the sprawling Deeridge Farm on the south side of Pierson Road near where The Wellington North would be. The family patriarch, Jeremy Jacobs, and Mark Bellissimo engaged in years of litigation over equestrian competitions and land use in Wellington.
- “The stronger the showgrounds are, the more confident we are and everyone else is to invest more and more in Wellington. … We’re in this for the long term and we believe we can do this together.” – Doug McMahon with Wellington Lifestyle Partners and NEXUS.
- “There’s a lot of interest in sports facilities at the moment throughout the U.S. in all different areas, and the amount of interest we have in the show grounds and for investors to be part of the show is significant.” – Michael Stone, president of Global Equestrian Group.
- “This has been a circus for one of the most monumental things to happen in this community. This whole thing is a shame.” – Maureen Brennan, an equestrian and Wellington resident who opposes the project, and who launched a petition that gained thousands of signatures from those who also oppose.
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