We ask Mayor Anne Gerwig about development, the equine preserve and the future of Wellington.
You have lived in Wellington for 26 years! Where else have you lived?
A: I grew up in central Palm Beach County, having moved here at the age of 5, when my family came here from Warsaw, Indiana.
Briefly, what are your top two or three goals as Mayor?
A: I ran for mayor to provide better leadership to the Village. As a council, we had earned a reputation for being unpredictable and disorderly. I wanted to restore the Village to sound leadership and bring the community together, instead of divided. Also, I think that there is a need for our community to look toward the future and possibly add a performing arts venue that had long been contemplated but never accomplished.
What do the horse shows do for the business and broader community?
A: The horse show and local equestrian events provide a seasonal influx of people from all over the world. Many local businesses rely on this season to remain profitable. Our restaurants, realtors, dry cleaners and even the hospitals experience this effect. It helps to protect our property values, which benefits all local residents. The money spent here provides a tax base that offsets our local residents and allows us to have one of the lowest property tax rates in Palm Beach County, while providing one of the best levels of service. Our parks provide an incredible amenity to residents.
Tell me about the equine preserve and what that encompasses? When was this land preserved?
A: The Equestrian Preserve Area was created and delineated to respond to the Equestrian Element in our comprehensive plan, as laid out in our charter 20 years ago. Previous to incorporation, there were many properties dedicated to equestrian uses by choice of the owners. Most of this was in the southern half of our borders. The Equestrian Overlay Zoning District sets up the standards that are applied to that area. The Comprehensive Plan calls for the “preservation of the equestrian lifestyle and the equestrian industry”. So, when we use the word “preserve” it is not like one of our environmental preserves, where land is set aside and maintained by a trust or the government. The equestrian preserve is actually privately owned but given protections so that it can remain a vital lifestyle here.
How has the equine preserve impacted or slowed development over the years? What are some specific examples?
A: Development standards are applied to the preserve that prevents many of the dense residential uses, and many of the commercial use. This was done to keep properties from all becoming single family homes, which was the most lucrative development for a while. The end result is properties that are worth much more, because of the equestrian uses instead. The very high-end neighborhoods of farms are not unique, but the amount that Wellington has is unique. Other equestrian areas – like Caloosa to our north – exist, but we have so many more of them than other communities because of the preserve. And because of the longest running horse show in the world, combined with polo and dressage.
How do we balance the preserve with the growing demand for resources like homes, hotels and equine businesses that serve the industry?
A: This is an ongoing discussion. We will continue to try to perfect that balance. It is not without difficulty as there is only one hotel in Wellington at this point. I have heard of local residents that actually rent their homes out for the season to equestrians, and either rent an apartment elsewhere or stay with friends. There are also many seasonal rentals that go unused the rest of the year. Also, many equestrians buy homes here in our neighborhoods and rent barns or stalls in the preserve.
Besides the horse industry, what are some of Wellington’s treasures?
A: The number one reason that the majority of our residents moved here for is our great schools and great neighborhoods. Our public schools are some of the best in the state, along with excellent private school choices also. When my sons attended Binks Forest Elementary they were ranked #7 in the state for their science scores. Our crime rate is very low and the sense of community here is unmatched.