The interview I conducted last weekend with Mayor Margolis is so long I know that only the most dedicated followers of current affairs in Welly World would get more than half way through. So here is the first part; the second half will be posted around this time tomorrow to give you a chance to digest it all. When you read, please keep in mind that I did my best to ask questions that I thought were most meaningful in gaining an understanding of this tangled mess. I did not intentionally slant my questions to sound sympathetic to either the Jacobs side or the Bellissimo side.
Regarding sympathy, I have come to the conclusion that there is not a single person who knows anything about this battle who is 100% impartial. The personalities are too polarizing, the stakes too high – for dressage, for business, for preserving a unique landscape in the horse world. I would love to have put a set of questions to both the Jacobs and to Mark Bellissimo, but in the absence of the opportunity to get perspective straight from the horses’ mouths, I did what I thought was the next best thing: talk to the mayor. I believe the next logical step would be to talk to council members on both sides of the voting patterns over this issue, and I hope to do that when I return to Welly World in January.
As always, I welcome comments at the bottom of this blog. Just keep in mind that I am not a fan of made-up names and anonymous ranting (that’s what HorseShowDiva is for). John T. Ball, please come back when you’ve grown a pair and are ready to own your words. Everyone else, feel free to weigh in and by all means share the questions you would like me to ask, and of whom.
(I have inserted a number of links into the text below so that if you are not up to speed on an issue or organization you can easily get to an outside source for information)
An article posted recently on Dressage-News.com gave the impression that the rug is being pulled out from under the Global Dressage Festival this year. Does Mark have the special use permit for this season? Yes! Nothing is preventing him from holding his Global Dressage Festival this season. Nothing. We approved this on council. It goes through April 30th. Mark has come to us with a certain number of dates that he wants to have, though I’m not sure if he’s even lived up to those expectations. People are telling me he’s having more shows than what he’s asked for but I don’t know that. Nothing in the world is preventing him from having the dressage circuit. The Equestrian Forum is now saying ‘let’s make it permanent, year round. We need to have charity events’. I think charity events are great.
What is your background in the community and your involvement with horses? I became a permanent resident in 1983, when the population was 10,000 people. I’m not an equestrian, and no one in my family is involved with horses.
It seems to me that the elections this past spring muddied the waters still more than they were already. You bet. The elections are not over, even though we are finished with three recounts. The Jacobs got involved with their issues and Mark got involved with his issues. Mark worked very hard to see the outcome not result in a change to the council. He worked extremely hard to keep Darryl Bowen as mayor.
What about the voter demographics of the election? Out of 58,000 people, would there not have been only 10% from the equestrian community? We just did a survey about how many equestrians we have in the community. There are roughly 3,500 during the year and 5,500 during season. That’s not to say that people don’t come in during season, but out of 58,000, 95% of that are non-equestrians.
There is a perception in the equestrian community that the election was completely driven by Jacobs family and issues surrounding the Equestrian Village. There was an exit interview done with a number of voters after they voted. The number one issue in thevillage ofWellington, and why they voted for me, was because of the Inspector General issue – I believe the Inspector General should be funded and have another set of eyes come intoWellington. Mayor Bowen did not. All I’ve ever asked for is transparency and accountability. That’s what drove them out. Locals didn’t want to see millions of cars in that intersection. People go through there to go to the village gym, to drive kids to school. That’s what drove them out. I believe that equestrian issues had really nothing to do with it. The Jacobs spent a lot of money but if you take a look at their important issues, they were more focused on the mayor than on the equestrian issues.
I spoke to one international dressage rider (an Olympian, in fact) who says that we have to understand that finding work-arounds is what developers do – the nature of the beast, so to speak. The previous council, for whatever reason, saw only the opportunities that Mark was presenting to the village and to his investors for theEquestrianVillage. Look at all the votes that Mark had with the previous council. They voted in support of Mark. I believe they saw it more as providing a resource and income to the community.
I understood that the hotel and retail complex were never approved because the development had not got that far in the process. Is that not correct? That is not correct. When the master plan was approved by the previous council it’s my understanding it included the commercial part. It went up toTallahassee for review and came back that there were no questions.Tallahassee used to have department of community affairs which had more teeth than it has now. The last legislature watered them down to an agency that said ‘we don’t know, we don’t care, don’t bother us’. The head of the agency before that was a gentleman named Tom Pelham. He was the ultimate land use guy. He was called to make a presentation to the Wellington council on behalf of the Jacobs family, on why the commercial project was wrong. In the Equestrian Preserve you’re allowed a bed and breakfast.
But wasn’t the proposed hotel removed from the plan last spring? Mark told me that he took the hotel off the table, but it’s not off the table. He told me he did it to see if this new council was going to keep their word with regards to the equestrian part. But in conversations with Mark as recently as a month ago, it’s not off the table.
I interviewed Michael Stone last spring and asked him why they didn’t just put the hotel on the lot they owned across the street. He told me the lot was not large enough. Mind boggling! There are a couple of buildings on that lot. It was geared to put five or seven of those buildings. That piece of property is not in the equestrian overlay, and they can do what they want. I asked Mark the same question. He said, ‘we don’t want to do it’. He didn’t give a reason.
I have a question about the master plan. It seems to me that the structures at the site now are not in the same place or of the same nature that was on the master plan. Correct.
How material is that to the current situation? It’s material in the fact that there’s something called floor area ratio. I am not an expert, but my understanding is that when Mark presented the original master plan it called for a different type of barn structure; the walls were not going to be tied into the roof. If you have an open space then it doesn’t go into the floor area ration. What he submitted and what the village approved isn’t what was built. It is my understanding that Mark had issues with South Florida Water Management last spring – and there are still issues. More issues surfaced last week in the hands of the attorneys. I heard the attorney present that in our council meeting. You would have to verify this with Jeremy Jacobs’ attorney, but I understand that the water plans submitted to the Village of Wellington are different to those Mark submitted to South Florida Water Management. I don’t blame Mark at all for asking. Like you said, developers are developers and there is flexibility within the framework. I blame our village staff for giving it. I am hearing it every week: whether it’s Mark or somebody else, they say ‘we asked and they gave’.
On the topic of revoking permits, there is a great deal of confusion about this issue. At one point everyone thought the entire WEF was in jeopardy because of what was reported on Dressage-news.com. He was either misinformed or ignorant of the facts. I can give you the complete story of what happened with the revocation of the master plan for theEquestrianVillage. It has nothing to do with PBIEC. The master plan was approved by a previous council with conditions. There were 13 or 14 conditions. One of those conditions was that Mark had to plat the property within a certain time frame. He had to do it because that would have set into motion what other things he had to do with road improvements and other improvements. I think the time frame came that he was supposed to get his plat in and he didn’t do it. A week later he didn’t do it. And two weeks later he didn’t do it. I know our staff and they’re very honest. They went to Mark’s engineer and said, ‘Mike we need them. We have to move forward – where are they?’ The village staff were never asked for an extension to plat.
It has been implied in the media that the council was being heavy handed because Mark didn’t get an extension. He never asked for one. We are very proactive in the village of calling developers’ engineers and telling them we need things. That didn’t have to come to council. The staff could have given him an extension.
So you are saying it’s an incontrovertible fact that Mark never asked for an extension? What he’s coming back with are two things; first, that the village attorney was busy at the time due to the elections and problems with the elections; second, that his attorney had a conversation with our village attorney Jeff Kurtz (who by the way has been terminated). Mark’s attorney Dan Rosenbaum claims he spoke to Jeff. Jeff said ‘don’t worry, I’ll give you an extension.’ Jeff said that never happened. For him to have given that would have been against the law. He didn’t have the authority. We on council didn’t even know anything about it. We can’t find anything.
Why did Mark fail to plat the property? I can’t know for sure. I believe that Mark and his companies didn’t own all the property. There is a piece that Glenn Straub owned, under the cellular tower that is visible as a flag pole. Cellular companies are paying for that tower to be there. My understanding is that Mark failed to plat because he didn’t own that piece. When Mark failed to plat the property the village had, by law, the responsibility to bring to council a 5.9 hearing. We didn’t ask for it to be generated. No one on council said ‘you know what? Bring this to us; we want to revoke his master plan.’ It was the failure on Mark’s part to plat in the time frame that generated the 5.9 hearing that was brought to council for us to decide. I have no responsibility for putting anything on the agenda. 99% of the time staff puts items on the agenda. I could put something on if I really wanted to. I could say that I want the sheriff’s department to come and give an update on crime, but council really has no responsibility for putting things on the agenda. The word out there is that the new council put this on the agenda, but it was the staff.
What took place at the hearing? We heard hours of testimony about the reasons why Mark had failed to plat. I can’t be sure of this without a confirmation from Mark but I believe the reason he couldn’t plat on time was because he didn’t own the full property to get him to the plat and he couldn’t produce the platting documents. We heard all the evidence and considered the legal factors, and the council voted not to grant an extension.
Why wouldn’t he proactively go to the village and tell them this and ask for an extension? That’s a great question. We were pleading with him. Our staff, our village engineer was talking to Mark’s engineer two or three times a week, asking for the plat.
I don’t want to confuse this with PBIEC (because that confusion has already been created by media) but does Mark have violations at other properties that are at issue right now? Current issues? I’m not sure. Past issues? I’ve seen a document over the last six years that I’ve counted up to 300 violations in PBIEC. In Mark’s defense he can’t supervise every contractor. He puts in thousands of permits. We have a code officer that has 100% responsibility for the equestrian community. She spends most of her time with PBIEC.
Something else I’ve read in news reports is that Mark was given a 12 month special use permit and it was revoked. Is that true? His permit, which he requested for dressage, was a six month permit. Temporary permits are for 90 days. He’s gotten more than that. He’s never asked for a 12 month permit. Where there may be some confusion is with the master plan revocation.
Can we go back to that master plan revocation for further clarification? The hearing came to the council and we heard testimony from both sides. We had three options: continue to approve the master plan, not approve it, or give Mark a time extension. In a vote three to two we voted to revoke his master plan for failure to plat. Not because it was one day, not because it was five days, not because 20 days overdue. We’re talking months. Mark knew that and he never came to staff to ask for more time. We heard the evidence and considered the factors required by the land development regulations, and then we voted.
Does Mark now own it? I don’t know. Maybe the platting had too strict a time frame but the previous council set it and I agree with the previous council, that if you don’t do it you will have the master plan revoked. All Mark had to do was come back to the council and say ‘let’s do the master plan over again’. He refuses to do that.
You’ve twice been through mediation? They’ve been through it twice. But it wasn’t just the village – it was the Jacobs and Mr. Bellissimo. I wasn’t there, but I understand from Matt Willhite, who was, that was not successful.
What happened after the hearing and revocation of the master plan?
Learn the answer to this question and many more questions tomorrow!