Wellington Lifestyle Partners, which is backed by investors such as golf stars Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, and pop star Justin Timberlake, is seeking approval for the recently revealed site plan to build homes and condos in the equestrian heart of Wellington.
The village’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board will consider the land use applications change for both Wellington North and Wellington South on July 19. The two applications are linked, and they would require a 4-1 vote by the Village Council at a later date to pass.
However, the village’s Equestrian Preserve Committee unanimously recommended denial of the applications at a June meeting after hearing hours of objections from residents.
Often called the “equestrian capital of the world”, Wellington is a destination for Olympic level equestrian athletes to train and for wealthy families that participate in the sport. Its Equestrian Preserve zoning category sets aside 9,000 acres for equestrian uses, with most of the homes on two or three acres with their own barns.
Wellington Equestrian Partners, led by Managing Partner Mark Bellissimo, first filed plans for the two residential projects in 2022. His company owns about 600 acres in the village.
In April, WEP formed a joint venture with Orlando-based Nexus Luxury Collection, led by billionaire Joe Lewis, who also leads Tavistock Development, to create Wellington Lifestyle Partners (WLP). They said investors in the project included Woods, Els, Timberlake and Jeff Skoll, who was previously president of eBay. However, specific plans weren’t released at that time.
Ahead of the July 19 hearing, those plans have been disclosed.
Wellington North would cover 101.9 acres at the northeast corner of South Shore Boulevard and Pierson Road. WLP wants to remove 96 acres of that site from the Equestrian Preserve, which would allow it to demolish the equestrian dressage stadium and build homes. Its plans call for 22 single-family homes, 278 condos and a host of sports club amenities, including a driving range, a putting green, a dozen tennis courts, a dozen pickleball courts, a dozen padel courts, four pools, sports fields, and an 80,000-square-foot field house with a fitness center, spa and indoor sports.
Douglas McMahon, the president of WLP and a senior managing director at both Nexus and Tavistock, said the sports club would offer membership to both homeowners and people from the outside community.
“We are trying to do the next evolutionary development for Wellington,” McMahon said. “There has always been parallel luxury real estate development along with Wellington’s development as the equestrian capital of the world.”
To make up for removing the dressage stadium, McMahon said they would sell 90 acres next to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center to Global Equestrian Group, which owns that venue for jumping and hunter equestrian sports. The application would rezone that same 90 acres from residential to equestrian commercial, allowing the Equestrian Center to expand, he said.
Michael Stone, president of Global Equestrian Group, confirmed that his company has 90 acres under contract from WEP, contingent on it obtaining zoning approval for both Wellington North and Wellington South. He hasn’t started crafting plans for this property because that would be quite expensive without owning it, but the idea is to double the size of the Equestrian Center and combine dressage with jumper/hunter sports on one site, he said. The jumper/hunter events have more attendance and require more horses than dressage.
“It’s better from an operational point of view because all of the horses would be in one venue and it’s easier to transport the horses there,” Stone said. “There are economies of scale having everything in one venue. We don’t have to worry about providing hospitality and food services on both sites.”
The second land use amendment is for Wellington South, covering 269.4 acres to the south and east of the Equestrian Center. In addition to rezoning 90 acres there equestrian commercial, the plans would permit 148 single-family homes, including a lake and pickleball courts.
There are numerous problems with the WLP proposals, said Leonard Feiwus, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents the neighboring Equestrian Club Estates community of 99 homes. There is no language in the agreements that requires a new dressage stadium to be constructed or explains how it would be financed, so there’s no guarantee equestrian development would take place on the 90 acres rezoned as equestrian commercial. And even if that development took place, the small road on the south side of the Equestrian Center isn’t designed for the horse trailers that would need to go down there to support dressage, he added.
The proposed residential communities are too dense for the Equestrian Preserve and don’t have room for residents to have barns, Feiwus added.
“The lot lines of the homes are very small,” Feiwus said. “It’s the type of suburban community you would see in Boca Raton or West Palm Beach. They are dissimilar from the other types of homes within the Equestrian Preserve.”
There are no condos in the Equestrian Preserve, so that type of project is also inconsistent, he added. The neighbors would have no problem if the developers want to build homes on one-acre lots, as they are allowed to now.
Feiwus referenced a 2016 referendum approved by Wellington voters that prohibited condos, apartments and hotels in the Equestrian Preserve.
WLP’s McMahon said many people who live in homes without barns support Wellington’s equestrian community, whether they attend shows or keep their horses in nearby barns. The new people in these homes and condos would only boost the equestrian economy more, he said.
“It’s a misnomer to think the status quo can remain,” MacMahon said. “All of these lands are privately owned and have private development rights. People are dying for better amenities here and more beautiful homes to suit their lifestyle.”