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Wellington Village Council approves development to add new showgrounds, homes from Equestrian Preserve

Decision comes after months of meetings, land promised from developers and money for a new park
Posted at 11:44 PM, Feb 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-09 01:16:05-05

WELLINGTON, Fla. — New houses and showgrounds will be built in Wellington after two linked proposals received approval from the village council.

The proposal removes about 90 acres of land from a 9,000-acre area called the Equestrian Preserve, which is land reserved for people to perform equestrian activities. People, mostly against the proposal, filled countless village meetings against the proposal after it was revealed about 18 months ago.

Jill Townsend, who was protesting against the project before the council meeting on Wednesday night, said she's concerned the proposal will allow other developers to take more land away from the preserve.

Jill Townsend is among the Wellington residents who oppose the equestrian development.
Jill Townsend is among the Wellington residents who oppose the equestrian development.

"When they take this first piece of land out of the preserve, other pieces are going to come out either way," she said. "A precedent is set anyway."

Village staff said it doesn't believe this approval will lead to more developers trying to grab land from the preserve. However, a former mayor of Wellington has expressed a similar concern to WPTV in the past.


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Property records show Townsend has owned her home in Wellington since 1984. She said she built a barn on the property, which she uses as a business to rent out stalls for horses since she lives near the showground area in town.

"The horse show is the heart and soul of Wellington," Townsend said. "If you didn't have this horse show and protect the lands around it. Wellington would be no different than Boynton [Beach], Royal Palm [Beach] and Palm Beach Gardens."

She said restaurants and other businesses face a similar problem.

The applicant is Wellington Lifestyle Partners, which owns 15 different companies. It is proposing to close the Equestrian Village and build houses with a private golf club, then build a new larger facility along with additional houses.

Douglas McMahon, who is the managing partner and CEO, has consistently argued the change is necessary to keep Wellington competitive with other places also catering to equestrian activities.

"The group that controls Wellington International is actually up for sale, so throughout this process, we've provided a lot of stability to ensure the showgrounds can expand," McMahon said. "Literally double in size acreage and have the ability for Wellington to continue to garner new investment in the showgrounds. So, again all domains can thrive there and it can really be the horse sports capital. That's really critical to everybody."

Douglas McMahon currently serves as the chief executive officer of Wellington Lifestyle Partners.
Douglas McMahon currently serves as the chief executive officer of Wellington Lifestyle Partners.

Eight different companies directly or indirectly have an interest that exceeds 5% in Wellington Lifestyle Partners, according to county records.

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.

Lauren Brody, who testified against the project over the months of meetings, has expressed concerns about trusting Bellissimo's ability to deliver a new horse show due to the condition of the current showgrounds. Multiple people expressed similar concerns over the multiple meetings about the topic before and during the latest meeting on Friday night.

Tuny Page, who was part of a group offering $25 million to buy the Equestrian Village, said she was disappointed with the council's decision. She also said she's more passionate about the issue because the supporters of the developer laughed at their offer made on Thursday night.

"I think that the incredibly obvious lack of respect for the work that people on the other side put in and the effort put in," Page said. "I thought was absolutely obnoxious."

Developers said Equestrian Village wasn't up for sale.

The applicant has made various changes to their application to get the project approved. For example, the original proposal contained condominium buildings rather than the single homes approved.

Wellington Lifestyle Partners also promised to donate about 50 acres of land, pay $2 million to build a park, spend $6 million toward traffic improvements, a promise to finish building the new showgrounds before any homes are built among other requirements.

"They gave a lot of accountability to a developer like ourselves," McMahon said. "So, we have to do what we say we do or else we don't get to the opportunity to realize the financial end game that is important to us, which is the residential community."

Maureen Brennan, who organized a failed recall effort against council members voting for the proposal, said she was beyond disappointed with the decision from the Wellington Village Council in a text message.

"Disappointing does not sum up the disservice done to our town last evening when the Village of Wellington Council capitulated to a single person for nothing short of profiteering at the expense of the residents and equestrian community," Brennan said. "The equestrian community is the brand and identity of Wellington and that is now at high risk to continue being the Equestrian Capital of the World."

McMahon said the amount of animosity to get this project approved was more intense than normal projects. He said it was difficult to discuss information because opponents spread incorrect information and made personal attacks.

"They probably start when they can argue the law," McMahon said. "If they can't argue the law, they try to argue facts. If they can't argue the facts, they try to argue opinions and the opinions can be sensational whatever it is to make a case."