Plan for homes on former Wellington golf course met with icy reception

Sept 07, 2018
13th Floor Homes associate Landon Massel sets up renderings on easels at a presentation of the company’s plans for Polo North Club, a proposed residential development, in Wellington on Sept. 6. (Kristina Webb/The Palm Beach Post)

A Broward County developer received a cold reception Thursday night as company representatives presented plans to build more than 200 homes on a former golf course north of Forest Hill Boulevard.

The Polo Club North project from 13th Floor Homes has drawn concern from residents who live near the course, about 150 of whom attended an information session at the Wellington Community Center. Nearly all in attendance opposed the plans — something 13th Floor representatives said they will take into consideration as they decide their next steps.

“We’ll have to regroup,” company attorney Dan Daley said. “We were genuinely looking for feedback, and we got it.”

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The project would sit on the former north course of Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club and include 225 single-family houses and townhomes.

Over about an hour and a half, 13th Floor representatives fielded questions and concerns ranging from potential traffic safety issues to the apparent high-density of the project in its current form.

Other residents were clear: They don’t want any development on the land. One resident insisted the property could be used as a park or preserve and called on Wellington to buy it.

But Daley pushed back, saying the land as currently zoned could, with village approval, be home to a gas station or medical offices. “Ultimately something will be redeveloped here,” he said. “… It’s not an if, it’s a when.”

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As proposed, Polo Club North would have an unmanned gate and be accessible through one access point off Forest Hill Boulevard just west of Royal Fern Drive. In a nearly 20-minute presentation on their plans, Daley said the company could propose extending the left-turn lane from westbound Forest Hill onto South Shore Boulevard, while adding a U-turn lane on westbound Forest Hill just before that intersection.

Single-family homes would start about $500,000 and with townhomes starting about $400,000. Of the approximately 56 acres of land, about 27 would remain green space. That includes landscape and water buffers around the property, Daley said.

The plans are “very conceptual” and subject to change, Daley said. Before submitting applications to the village, he said resident feedback will be key. The company has not yet closed on the land, which it is under contract to buy from Palm Beach Polo Inc., an entity owned by Wellington developer Glenn Straub.

The course that opened in the 1970s has sat vacant for nearly 20 years. Past proposals for the property have included a congregate-living facility, an extended-stay motel and, most recently, a tennis camp.

PAST COVERAGE: Developer pitches homes for old Palm Beach Polo north course

“It (Polo North Club) is not nearly as offensive as some of the previous proposals on this site,” Daley said.

Three Wellington council members were present: Vice Mayor Michael Drahos and Councilmen John McGovern and Michael Napoleone.

Drahos — after asking his fellow council members to leave the room so as not to risk violating Florida’s public-meetings rules — told the crowd he shared their concerns. “This is a very sensitive issue for me personally,” he said, noting he grew up near the north course.

Drahos said he met with 13th Floor about the project. “I advised them I would not support it absent overwhelming support from you all,” he said.

To become reality, 13th Floor would have to request a comprehensive plan amendment to change the future land use from commercial recreation to residential, and a master plan amendment to change the property’s use from open space-golf course to residential, Wellington Planning, Zoning and Building Director Bob Basehart has said.

13th Floor can submit the application without the landowner’s involvement as long as it has permission from Palm Beach Polo, Basehart said.

The north course was the subject of controversy last year when Palm Beach Polo Inc. sought to include field and equestrian sports as approved uses there. The landowner also requested access points from Forest Hill Boulevard and to Royal Fern Drive, behind the library. Those requests failed to gain approval from the council at its Dec. 11 meeting.

Community presentations have been vital to 13th Floor’s planning in the past, Nunziata said. He cited the company’s project to build more than 500 homes on a former Villages of Oriole golf course west of Delray Beach, which initially faced opposition from neighbors along the course but eventually received a 95 percent approval vote, he said.

“We had a high level of success with our plan there,” he said.