Friday, May 24

Wellington equestrian, luxury homes project clears likely last hurdle

The Village of Wellington Council approved the showgrounds compatibility determination for a controversial project on Tuesday night.

Their decision is likely the last council action that developer Wellington Lifestyle Partners, a company of several investors, is required to obtain before building new showgrounds, closing Equestrian Village and then building luxury houses. The proposal was controversial because it took away 90 acres from the Equestrian Preserve Area, which is 9,000 acres voters established for people to perform equestrian activities.

The council approved the zoning and master plan changes in February. But people have complained about environmental concerns as construction has started on the property.

Nick Offerman, who is with a nonprofit focused on the environment called Palm Beach County County Environmental Alliance, Inc., said he has videos of protected species on the property. He said he’s frustrated bulldozers are filling in land as protected species, like Wood Storks and Snail Kites, are flying around the property.

“Everything is frustrating about this,” Offerman said. “From the fact that this is the lowest and last remaining impact wetland that Wellington has that wasn’t encroached upon.”

He also said he’s frustrated with the developer’s environmental report, which said “no signs of listed [protected] wildlife species were observed” from EW Consultants. Offerman wishes a third party conducted the environmental report.

Mary Lindgren, who wrote the report for EW Consultants, declined to talk with WPTV about the report in an email. She directed our questions to the developer’s environmental attorney John Fumero, who lists his previous experience as the general counsel for the South Florida Water Management District.

Fumero, who spoke at the council’s meeting on Tuesday night, said the area is inhabitable for protected species because old world climbing fern is on the property. He said species are now coming to the area because construction is revealing food like bugs and worms.

“As the earth moving is occurring and the earth is turning over we have rats, rabbits, worms and insects, which are fantastic eating opportunities for wading birds,” Fumero said. “They are opportunistic eaters and word got out theres lots of great bugs in Pod F and they are feeding in that area.

WPTV sent the videos to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission. Both say they’re not investigating Wellington Lifestyle Partners.

Offerman said Fumero’s argument is a good defense, but doesn’t think he’s correct. He believes the council is trying to approve the project as quickly as possible before a new council is elected in less than two weeks and could possibly reverse their decision.

“Why is this being rushed through within weeks of a lame-duck session when three of the council members are going to leave their post,” Offerman said. “That is my worry.”

Jane Cleveland, who was kicked off the Equestrian Preserve Committee at the behest of developers, also argued her removal was to speed up the project’s final approval before new council members are elected on March 19.

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