Commentary: Wellington council putting politics over people
By Mark Bellissimo
Managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners.
At a time when people are struggling to pay their bills, the newly elected members of the Wellington Village Council — John Greene, Matt Willhite, and Bob Margolis — are on a mission to, at the very least, suppress Wellington’s equestrian industry. This would eliminate investment, cost jobs, misallocate taxpayer monies and potentially raise taxes and lower property values. Why?
Those council members would like you to believe that their efforts are to protect Wellington from an abusive and out-of-control development process. Remarkably, the only basis provided for the Equestrian Village dressage facility revocation was the alleged late filing of a required plat. The village was complicit in the delay, due to an unresponsive village attorney who was embroiled in the reelection fiasco. The plat was due March 31, and the election debacle began on March 19.
To most people, the late plat is a minor issue related to extraordinary cirstances. The more likely explanation for the revocation is that the Jacobs family, which spent more than $500,000 getting Mr. Greene, Mr. Willhite and Mr. Margolis elected, doesn’t want any development near its 200-acre Pierson Road estate, and is challenging all elements of the project.
The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) master plan, which was approved in October 2011, is set for a revocation hearing today, based on an alleged inconsequential “omission” within the history section of the application. A village consultant found that every application within this area omitted the same history (and other history) and was approved. The more likely explanation is that Victoria McCullough, whose mansion abuts the proposed road to the PBIEC facility, is challenging the approval and is a long-time friend and political supporter of Bob Margolis and Matt Willhite.
Council member Howard Coates commendably challenged Mr. Greene on his motives: “If you accept massive campaign contributions from an interested party, I have a hard time believing you can be objective up here.” These hearings, he said, are about repaying “political promises.”
This is about a small group of wealthy individuals using certain council members to reverse equestrian approvals so they can pursue private political agendas. It is a clever scheme to shift to village taxpayers legal fees that these landowners would need to defend their “back yards.” Mr. Willhite’s contention that it doesn’t matter and that the “village will get sued either way” is wrong. These council members are knowingly trading simple lawsuits – which challenge the granting of development orders and are relatively less expensive and easy for the village to defend because the decisions are supported by staff — for lawsuits that take away property rights based on technicalities and rarely used and ill-defined hearing procedures that defy due process and are against staff recommendations.
These lawsuits are more complex, and much more expensive for the village to defend. The winners would be the wealthy political supporters whose legal fees get greatly reduced or are eliminated. The losers are all other Wellington residents, who would pick up the tab and lose out on opportunities for economic growth.
Our partnership is committed to Wellington’s long-term future. We will fight to protect our investment, and continue to pursue our vision to make Wellington the premiere equestrian destination in the world, which we believe will benefit all residents. We are confident that the courts will see through these actions.
Whether what is going on is illegal or unethical is for others to decide. But what is clear to most observers, fellow politicians, community leaders, business owners and residents is that, at the very least, these council members’ actions are irresponsible and disrespectful to those they truly should represent — the majority of the people in the community.
Mark Bellissimo is managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners.
Like · · See Friendship
Dean Turney I wish everyone were here at Wellington city hall to see firsthand what a great waste of time and money the hearing is on the PBIEC/Country Place PUD. The issue is whether or not a reference to an old master plan suspension should have been included in the Master Plan application that was approved last year.
Testimony revealed that Victoria McCullough had correspondence with individual council members and convinced them to pursue this action that could result in the revocation of the PBIEC/show grounds master plan. As a result the council allocated an initial $250K in public funds for legal services.
All significant testimony has gone in favor of Wellington Equestian Partners. Staff and expert witnesses have testified that the omission was not a material issue nor was it misleading.
Nevertheless the council denied a motion for a summary dismissal.
So the village will continue to use taxpayer money to dismantle the Equestrian industry.
But it is heartening to hear that there is growing discontent and that organized opposition is being formed.
about an hour ago · Like