Wellington residents debate Equestrian Village during marathon meeting

WELLINGTON, Fla. - Controversy filled Village Hall in Wellington Wednesday night as hundreds packed council chambers for a public hearing.

The battle over a developer's plan to build a horse arena and a hotel on what used to be the Palm Beach polo stadium is pitting neighbor against neighbor.

Developers call Equestrian Village a way to market Wellington to the world.

Some residents worry the hotel and stores will ruin the small-town feel.

"Sometimes, a horse is going to get out of control," said resident Judith Gordon. "If you have traffic in that area, we have a problem."

Other residents have gone so far as to send lawyers to speak for them.

Geoffrey Sluggett represents some who live next door to the proposed 96-acre development dubbed Equestrian Village.

"When you have 400 horses 150 feet from somebody's property line, you're going to smell them, hear them all night long. You're going to have lights from barn checks in the middle of the night," said Sluggett.

Developers have already won approval for the arena and have started construction at the intersection of Pierson and South Shore.

Adding a hotel and retail stores to the complex, developers say, would draw horse enthusiasts from around the world and their money.

Wednesday night, the room seemed split on the idea, with some saying the project is a way to jump-start a slow economy.

"It will further enhance the world view of Wellington. It will bring a tremendous range of new industry," said resident George Nottingham.

One man said he moved to Wellington a decade ago because of its small feel.

"We had cows on 441," said Alexander Zilo.

He says he's been converted though, and hailed the developer, to the jeers of some in the audience.

"I respect the interest that he has in this community. This man is transparent," said Zilo.

The moment showed the division.

The project is also facing a lawsuit, filed by a resident who says it violates current development rules and that it could create a risk of flooding.

Village staffers largely support the project, saying there was room for compromise.

The next time this topic will be brought up in an official meeting will be Jan. 31.

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