Wellington approves controversial Bellissimo-led development that takes land out of equestrian preserve 

After a series of meetings in January where residents aired their concerns and criticisms over Mark Bellissimo’s plan to build two projects in Wellington’s equestrian preserve, the village council voted to approve the proposal at a six-hour meeting on Wednesday night. 

The approval means that 96 acres will be transferred out of the 9,000-acre preserve, which has never been done before. Wellington Lifestyle Partners, a joint venture between Bellissimo’s Wellington Equestrian Partners and Nexus Luxury Collection, is the applicant. Nexus includes a handful of celebrities, including Tiger Woods.

Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone was the sole “no” vote at this week’s meeting, the Palm Beach Post reported. Napoleone voted against Wellington North, a portion of the luxury residential project. He voted in favor of Wellington South, which the council unanimously approved. 

Mayor Anne Gerwig and council members Michael Drahos, John McGovern and Tanya Siskind voted in favor of both Wellington North and South. 

Nexus also includes British billionaire developer Joe Lewis’ Tavistock Group, golf great Ernie Els, singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake and founding eBay president Jeff Skol. Lewis pleaded guilty last month to insider trading charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, after turning himself in last summer. The federal government alleged he orchestrated a “brazen insider trading scheme.”

Wellington North calls for building 49 single-family homes, 47 townhomes, a clubhouse and golf facility that will replace the Equestrian Village showgrounds. 

Wellington South would include 107 luxury villas and five 4-acre farms on 290 acres of undeveloped land.

Opposition to Bellissimo’s plans has been fierce since the project was first proposed a year and a half ago. The three back-to-back meetings in January totaled roughly 18 hours, many of that dedicated to public comment. 

Bellissimo threatened to close Equestrian Village if Wellington rejected the proposals.

This week, at the last-minute, property owners in the preserve said they were ready to offer Bellissimo $25 million to buy the Equestrian Preserve, in an attempt to block Wellington North, the Post reported.

The village council voted on first reading in November to approve the land use and density changes. Some village council members and the mayor are facing a recall effort over their support of the project, though Gerwig and Drahos are term-limited and will be out of office in March, before a recall effort could be successful. 

–– Katherine Kallergis

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