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Updated: 9:40 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011
Posted: 7:20 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011
WELLINGTON — The Winter Equestrian Festival, which draws competitors from around the globe, should be easier for spectators to access and offer more activities and leisure this coming season.
But the changes come with resistance from some residents and riders.
The village council in late October granted approvals for Palm Beach International Equestrian Center to stay open later and have a southern entry.
It also approved master plan changes to the development that houses the center, including more homes and new internal streets.
Residents, equestrians and council members have been critical of some changes, citing disruption to neighboring properties and other factors.
“One thing you can’t do with master plan amendments is do it a la carte,” said Mat Forrest, executive director of the Wellington Equestrian Preservation Alliance. “That’s when you get bad planning.”
The 958-acre Country Place Planned Unit Development includes the equestrian center, residential communities and undeveloped land.
The council’s Oct. 26 vote added 38 homes, bringing the total to 479. About 330 homes have been built.
The council also approved a Lake Worth Road entrance running along Equestrian Club Estates and Mida Farms, both of which opposed the entry in favor of creating one along 40th Street.
Creating access from 40th Street, a dirt road, didn’t make sense because it would have to be paved, something riders often don’t want, said Mark Bellissimo, who heads the Winter Equestrian Festival and is managing partner of the group that controls the Country Place Homeowners Association.
Ultimately the Lake Worth Road entry will disperse traffic that now enters through Equestrian Club Drive, Bellissimo said.
The council’s recent vote also approved realignment of a road that had in fact been realigned early this year, under a process that allows permitting at the risk of a governing body not ultimately approving the work.
“The way that was handled infuriates me,” Councilman Howard Coates said Friday. “It’s just an unacceptable way of doing business. If it’s going to require council approval, we need to know it in advance. It puts us in a difficult position approving a project that has already been done.”
Coates and Vice Mayor Matt Willhite cast dissenting votes in the master plan approvals.
The realignment of Equestrian Club Drive also has drawn ire from Equestrian Club Estates, whose residents use the three-quarter-mile stretch to get to their homes.
Several homeowners in January sued the village, claiming Wellington had allowed the road to be moved without following proper procedures. The suit was voluntarily dismissed in March, but a different property owner filed a complaint in February. The case is pending.
The community is now assessing its options, said attorney Alan Ciklin, who represents Equestrian Club Estates’ property owners association.
Finally, in a separate vote the council granted the equestrian center operational hours beyond 10 p.m. Restaurants and banquet halls can stay open until midnight, and until 1 a.m. Friday through Sunday on part of the grounds. Competition in the main arena can go on until 11 p.m., and crews preparing and cleaning up grounds can work until 11:30 p.m.
The expanded hours are meant to draw more people to the showgrounds and “create a little bit of celebration,” Bellissimo said. “We tried to transform this facility from being this private club that wasn’t very accessible.”
All the changes should be a boon to the village, said Victor Connor, vice president of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s going to continue the growth of the equestrian community,” Connor said. “It’s going to continue to give us economic benefits. It’s going to continue with job growth.”
Staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.
Winter Equestrian Festival
When: Jan. 11 to April 1
Where: Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, Wellington
For more information: www.equestriansport.com