On June 7th and 8th, the Wellington community filled the seats, including an overflow room, in heated opposition to two proposed, related projects to build within the Equestrian Preserve Area. The proposals went before the Equestrian Preserve Committee, a special committee which advises the Village Council. The project was proposed by entrepreneur Mark Bellissimo of Wellington Lifestyle Partners, also backed by NEXUS Luxury Collection. NEXUS, part of the Tavistock Group, includes Justin Timberlake and Tiger Woods among its investors.
While plans to build residential units and other facilities for both Wellington North and Wellington South loomed large over the two-night marathon sessions, the Wellington community responded with a resounding “no” to the proposal. The multi-part proposal would have utilized approximately 96 acres of land in the Equestrian Preserve for Wellington North and 173 acres of land for Wellington South. The Equestrian Preserve Committee, comprised mainly of equestrian residents, unanimously opposed both proposals.
After the two nights of meetings, I talked with Leonard Feiwus, Partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP. He began by saying, “Wellington is a unique community in the sense that it is dedicated to an equestrian lifestyle.” Regarding the nature of the Equestrian Preserve, he states, “What we have here is 9,000 acres of land that is expressly dedicated for equestrian use and activities. It’s recognized by the comprehensive plan of Wellington of being a low-density, horse-friendly community, largely made up of farms with minimum acre plots of 2 acres and maximum acre plots going up into the hundreds.”
Feiwus explained that the proposed residential areas and corresponding amenities would be attractive to the community, but just do not belong inside what has been defined as an Equestrian Preserve. For example, the luxury golf community envisioned for Wellington South could be built anywhere and could very well be a successful venture. It just, again, does not belong within the borders of the Equestrian Preserve.
Regarding his law firm’s involvement, Feiwus explained, “Our senior partner, Marc Kasowitz, lives in the Equestrian Preserve with his family, who are dedicated equestrians. Marc has committed the resources of our firm to represent a coalition of people from the community who oppose the proposed development.”
The Wellington North would include 278 multi-family units, golf amenities, tennis courts, pickleball courts, a clubhouse, a field house, sports fields, a dog park and more. The Wellington South would include 148 luxury, high-density residential homes, as well as equestrian-related amenities.
Feiwus pointed out that more residential units would add to local traffic along South Shore Boulevard. “It’s a congestion issue, it’s a population issue, it’s a taxing-on-the-municipalities issue…it’s common sense . . . I don’t think it takes an expert to know this is going to be a big problem for everyone who lives here.” He added that growth in an organic way is welcome, but that it’s not necessary to build within the Equestrian Preserve. While developers want to take advantage of the bucolic landscape, this preserved, natural landscape is one of the big reasons many people choose to live in Wellington.
I asked Feiwus about Ocala. How does Wellington compare to Ocala, as an equestrian community? He answered that they cannot be compared, as Ocala is not the “winter equestrian capital of the world.” Wellington includes organic, low-density open spaces with lots of farmland.
I also spoke with a concerned Wellington citizen about the proposed project. Jim Mantrozos explained, “It would take away from the equestrian world. The land here is limited. It’s a unique world and I’m concerned about more of it turning into a concrete jungle.”
Many Wellington residents have taken to the slogan “horses, not houses” as they’ve spread the word via social media and signs. They also say, “Save Wellington! No on Wellington 3.0.” To see more about the Equestrian Preserve and sign the petition, you can visit SaveWellington.com.
The next committee meeting takes place July 19th, where this proposal goes before Planning & Zoning in Wellington. After that, the proposal will go before the Village Council in August.