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Wellington council moves forward with proposed equestrian development after late-night meeting

3 council members publicly express ability to reject proposal later
Posted at 11:56 PM, Nov 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 00:24:36-05

WELLINGTON, Fla. — The Wellington council approved a rezoning change Thursday night that would allow developers to build homes on the current equestrian showgrounds and build a new showground facility in the south of the village.

The meeting concluded just before 11:30 p.m.

The village council made the decision after a group of developers, led by Wellington Lifestyle Partners, offered the village 59 acres of green space land at Thursday night's meeting. The new offer was an increase from the 50 acres originally offered.

However, three council members approving the project indicated they needed more information to give the final approval during a different meeting.

Councilman Michael Drahos said he believed the exchange was a good deal because it would guarantee the sport's future in Wellington while gaining land.

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"We don't own the land that we’re all here talking about," Drahos said. "It's owned by a private entity."

Wellington Lifestyle Partners, who is the applicant, argued a new facility, a stadium and additional showgrounds are needed to compete with other areas like Ocala. The change would take 96 acres out of the Equestrian Preserve Area, which reserves land for equestrian-related activities.

"The status quo isn't an option," Douglas McMahon, the manager of Wellington Lifestyle Partners, said.

According to state documents, Mark Bellissimo was the manager of Wellington Lifestyle Partners until he was removed as a manager in September 2023.

Paige Bellissimo-Nunez is listed as an executive vice president for Wellington Lifestyle Partners, according to her LinkedIn.

State documents also show Mark Bellissimo owns different companies that are part of the project.

Multiple people against the project criticized both Bellissimo and the complex ownership structure throughout the three days of comments.

Michael J. Napoleone, who is also a council member, said he wasn't comfortable giving the applicant full approval because he didn't understand the ownership structure of the applicant. He also said he had questions about the type of horse show the community would receive if it received approval.

Village staff said the next step is council and the applicant setting up an additional date for a second reading.

Councilwoman Tanya Siskind said she was giving approval on Thursday night because there was no consequence at this time. However, she indicated she wanted to see additional conversation and possible changes.


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Those council members asked direct and pointed questions of the applicant for almost three hours on Thursday night.

Councilman John T. McGovern, who asked the most questions, was visibly frustrated with the applicant not giving direct answers various times throughout the night. He also voted to approve the first reading, but said he needed more details to approve the project at the second reading.

"We've gone a long way," McGovern said. "But I believe there's more way to go."

McGovern said he doesn't believe traffic concerns have been addressed by the applicant. He also said he had concerns about the zoning, density and conditions the village put on the applicant to not build homes before certain construction is complete.

Wellington Councilman John T. McGovern raises questions about a proposed equestrian project during a village meeting on Nov. 17, 2023.
Wellington Councilman John T. McGovern raises questions about a proposed equestrian project during a village meeting on Nov. 17, 2023.

"If they're not bulletproof," McGovern said, "I'm a no at second reading."

He also said he believes additional conditions need to be added to the land swap offered by the applicant.

"I don't want land and a tax bill on the residents to build it," McGovern said, 'so, that's gotta get worked out."

Wellington Mayor Anna Gerwig, who publicly expressed her vote after three council members moved the project forward, said the equestrian element makes Wellington unique from other cities.

She is concerned conditions aren't enforceable on the development as they are currently written, but she thinks they could change in future conversations.

No date has been set for a second reading on the project.