Ken Adams and the 1990s Planning for the Equestrian Preserve in Wellington
Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Tuesday, January 1, 2019
Wellington, Florida attracts passionate people. Since the 1970s, it has attracted the best in the horse sports, not only from within the United States but also Europeans, South Americans and Asians travel to take advantage of the warm six month winter season. Riders prepare their horses for a confident and fit competition season. The International caliber of wins from the strategies of these riders in their use of training in Wellington comes with Olympic Gold Medals, World Equestrian Games achievements and World Cup Championship trophies. Wellington is a key component to their success. How did Ken Adams take part to incorporate the local government to help the equestrians reach their dreams to succeed?
Only 22 years ago in 1995, the Village of Wellington was formally incorporated with its 28,960 acres in total. One-third of the land was designated for the 9,200-acre Equestrian Preserve. The other two-thirds of the land planning has almost completely built out into small developments with one acre per residence, whereas the Equestrian Preserve is zoned for up to 10 acres per residential built home. The idea was to work to keep enough land necessary for horses with the growing population and land purchases. A one-acre lot is not enough space for a horse to train and thrive.
A former Palm Beach County Commissioner, Ken Adams played a key role in the organizing The Village of Wellington and in the formation of the Equestrian Preserve. He recalls, “When I moved here, there were more alligators than people.” Ken arrived in Wellington in the early 1980s from Upstate New York after selling his chain of hardware stores, “During the winter, I’d come down here to play polo. I made a mistake one day and told a friend that I was kind of bored.” That friend, Arthur William “Bink” Glisson had been hired by Charles Oliver Wellington to purchase 18,000 acres of land that later, became known as the Village of Wellington. Bink brought Wellington’s son, Roger, to speak with Ken. “They had something in mind for me to do."
He smiled in remembrance, “At that time, they were working with ACME, a group in charge of the water system throughout Wellington’s vast agricultural farms. They told me that I should become a Palm Beach County Commissioner even though I had never been involved in politics of any kind. That was in 1985.”
After just one month serving as Commissioner, Ken was appointed Chairman. “There was no real government planning as there is now in Palm Beach County. It was a happy place and had incredible growth potential, but no organization to keep it safe and clean in a clear, positive direction. I made the mistake of letting the group here in Wellington know this, and they all said, ‘Great, you fix it.’ So I spent the lots of years doing just that.”
“As we put the Palm Beach County’s incorporation into place, I realized that Wellington was in the same position. Bink and Roger thought somebody should lead in the growth of Wellington, especially someone who worked on the Commission of Palm Beach County. Apparently, that was going to be me. Roger and Bink asked me to chair the committee creating the Wellington Charter and another creating a master plan where we introduced the Equestrian Preserve and established The Village of Wellington’s first budget.” (In 1995 when Ken arrived in Wellington, its population was 25,530. It has been projected to reach 65,500 this year.)
Wellington was incorporated on December 31, 1995, as a home rule municipality (the ability for its residents to pass laws as long as they obey state and federal constitutions) and formally adopted a Charter (codes and ordinances of guidelines and regulations by local government), a concept developed in Europe during the Middle Ages.
“It took some time to put Wellington’s incorporation together,” Ken said. Although it is not actually a “village” under any U.S. standard definition of that term, it is still officially referred to as the “Village of Wellington.” Bound by a Charter establishing municipal services such as a police force, fire department, assessors, ability to acquire property, borrow money and issue bonds).
The History of Wellington
Tracts of Wellington land changed several hands after Mr. Wellington, one of which was Gould Florida, a division of the large electronics corporation that bought most of Wellington. “A very good friend of mine, Gary Stribling, the Gould General Manager in charge of development was a very sharp man. Wellington was becoming a world-class Palm Beach lifestyle place to live and Gary wanted to attract more home buyers, especially the equestrians. He knew that Gould’s Chairman, William Yilvisaker, was an avid polo player so he told his boss that he knew a fellow named Gene Mische who, if hired, would come down for the winter season and start a large horse show.” It was Yilviksaker’s contribution that produced the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club and for many years he organized the world-class polo tournaments.
“There were lots of acres they wanted to sell,” Ken explains. “Gene was known world-wide and he brought some of the best equestrians in the world to Wellington. Wealthy families who loved their children and loved their horses really trusted him. They knew their children would be safe. They knew they would get the top training in the world and that started the horse show. He did an incredible job. We have people training and showing in Wellington during the winter seasons all getting ready for the Olympics. They are the best in the sport. Gene was really able to attract the best of the best. And that is why Wellington is still so influential. Youngsters who dream of riding at the top of the sport come to Wellington to make that happen. They have to come here now. It’s the place. The credits they get for competing in competitions here apply in the world-wide rankings to get to the Olympics. It is that recognized.”
Creation of the Equestrian Preserve
It was Ken’s idea to start an Equestrian Preserve, which needed its own zoning codes and regulations for building horse-related facilities such as barns, rings, sheds, etc. He knew if that expanse of land was only controlled by Palm Beach County government without the Village of Wellington municipality, “all the land would have been 1-acre housing developments.” The land would have been one acre for every residence and there wouldn’t have been any restrictions to preserve the land for the equestrians and their horses.
He realized the need for every residence to have something close to two to ten acres with trails to sufficiently accommodate the needs of their horses. So, after Village of Wellington was formally incorporated, Ken went to work. Wanting the Equestrian Preserve to be a part of the Village Charter, “I saw that Ocala had a sort of equestrian preserve and I had become friends with the person in charge of land development in the state of Florida [in Tallahasee]. I talked to him about an Equestrian Preserve and he said we don’t have anything like that in Florida. He said that if I could define it and get the residents to vote for it and if I could get the state legislature to vote for it, then you can have one. At that time, those were a lot of ‘ifs’. No one had ever heard of me but that is exactly what we did. We worked a couple of years to get the residents to vote to approve the incorporation of Wellington and the first time, they voted against it, which was pretty discouraging. A couple of years later, they did vote to approve it and that let us go forward for the incorporation. It took us some time to get it all put together.”
The Land Development Regulations (LDR) are the zoning guidelines which include subdivision and landscaping codes, parking ordinances and are the codes developed for all the residents' building projects whether that is residential, commercial or designated equestrian.
“We had a majority vote from our residents and a unanimous vote from the Florida legislature, which was unheard of,” Ken advises. “Then, we went through a second attempt to get a unanimous vote from our council, which came through this time.” The 9,000-acre Village of Wellington Equestrian Preserve was approved.
Ken Adams and the Palm Beach Hounds and Land Preservation Passion
Together, Ken and his wife Arle kept a pack of foxhounds at their 40 acre homestead they owned in Wellington’s Little Ranches and, on the weekends, a large group of the community would ride from Little Ranches all the way through the Big Blue Forest and down to the canal that separates Wellington from the Everglades. “One summer, I was playing polo in Vermont and we returned to the hotel that night and my wife told me, ‘I bought something for you today.’ Worried, I asked, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ and she said, ‘A pack of foxhounds.’ Then she said, ‘All you have to do is go to this man I met this morning and tell him what you’ll pay him for them.’ And we did. We had a pack of foxhounds for many years down here in Wellington.”
Ken feels honored to have been a part of Wellington’s development. He credits others including Roger Wellington, Bink Glisson, Gary Stribling, Gene Mische, Bill Ylvisaker and many others as the real heroes. “I’m quite proud to have been the one to name Bink Forest [a Wellington community] and to have placed the fox heads on all the signage there.”
Ken Adams’ vision has certainly made a difference in many people’s lives in reaching their dreams through their equestrian goals. The incorporation of the Village of Wellington and the state approval for the Equestrian Preserve realized the vision of Roger Wellington and continues to bring the prosperity to those in the community.