Wellington vs. Glenn Straub: Village ready to foreclose on Palm Beach Polo Club sites
At the core of the decade-old fight between Wellington and Palm Beach Polo owner Glenn Straub is the health of the Big Blue Natural Preserve.

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Valentina Palm

Published February 17, 2023

 

WELLINGTON The village is taking steps to end a longstanding battle with a prominent developer over unauthorized construction in, and neglect of, the Big Blue Natural Preserve, Florida's largest remaining cypress hammock.
   

The Village Council has moved to foreclose on a roughly 1-acre lot once used as a dog park in the preserve, which is tucked inside Palm Beach Polo & Country Club. If approved, owner Glenn Straub must either pay up to $400,000 in fines and legal fees for the park or surrender the land to the village.

"The intention is to recover the amount of the liens that were placed on the property," Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig said recently. "And to recoup some of our expenses."

The move comes on top of a pending foreclosure that the village filled in 2019 on all the properties owned by Straub's Palm Beach Polo Inc., including the entirety of the 92-acre preserve and common areas such as the clubhouse, tennis courts and golf courses. The village is seeking $6.8 million in code enforcement violations for that case.

Straub, however, is not planning to surrender his properties anytime soon, said his lawyer Alexander Domb. The developer will petition for a fine reduction on both cases, again, at a Feb. 21 council meeting.

 

"It's just a political stunt," said Domb. "There is no need to bring a second foreclosure action against the same defendant, against the same parcels of property for another code fine that we don't know the balance of."

Wellington is poised to foreclose on an acre of land within Palm Beach Polo and may consider other legal options in its longstanding dispute with the property's owner, Glenn Straub.



Disputes date nearly 10 years old, led to several legal actions


The legal disputes date to 2014, when a Wellington magistrate found Palm Beach Polo had violated the village's zoning laws by transferring the acre of the preserve to the club's Property Owners Association for a dog park and creating a subdivision for it. It also issued 130 code violations for harm to the preserve.

A series of lawsuits followed. Circuit, district, and federal judges have sided with the village, but Straub has appealed the cases and their respective fines. Even though he complied by removing unauthorized construction from the habitat, he has not put any plan into place to preserve the environmentally sensitive site.

After eight years of litigation, an appellate court decided Dec. 6 to revive the original fines for both cases, restoring them to $400,000 for the dog park and $6.2 million for the 130 violations, from an earlier reduction of $89,000 and $1.3 million. Straub's lawyers petitioned for a rehearing, but the court said no on Jan. 6.

The council voted unanimously Jan. 17 for the village attorney for the first time to petition for a foreclosure on the dog park. If granted, Wellington could then file a foreclosure suit in circuit court and give Straub two options, either to pay up or to give up the property.

"The environment is something that this village has always taken very seriously, and this is just another way that we try to protect our lifestyle," said Gerwig. "We also have an interest in ensuring that property owners comply with our codes."

The Big Blue Preserve long has been considered a village 'treasure'

The Big Blue Natural Preserve, a 92.4-acre stand of wetland cypress trees, has been labeled a protected land since Wellington's inception and its conservation is outlined in the community's original 1972 master plan.

Arthur W. "Bink" Glisson, one of Wellington's first developers, discovered it and called it a treasure when he found it was home to diverse native Florida vegetation and wildlife species. He even had archeologists dig up a Native American burial mound discovered inside its thick forest.

The site, however, has always sat on private property, complicating its management.

Straub bought the 2,250-acre property that includes the preserve out of bankruptcy in 1993 and developed it into Palm Beach Polo and County Club, with million-dollar homes and golf courses.

Wellington first sued Palm Beach Polo Inc. in 2001 to determine he was obligated to preserve the natural state of the habitat. According to the village's Planned Unit Development Master Plan, the owner of the land is required to keep it open without development and to hydrate its water levels constantly.

A circuit judge ruled in favor of Wellington, but Straub appealed, saying it was the village's responsibility. Four years later, the court ruled he was responsible for not only preserving but also enhancing the habitat.

In 2014, the city issued a stop-work order on the property after finding crews had clear-cut 5 acres of the trees rather than removing invasive species. Straub sued Wellington, saying it should be responsible for keeping the property. The village sued again to enforce the earlier judgment.

Dog park case alone has Straub facing $466,600 in village fines
 

That year, a Wellington magistrate also issued Straub two violation orders. One was for transferring an almost 1-acre lot within the preserve to the clubs' property owner association and creating an illegal subdivision to use it as a dog park. The other was for neglecting and altering Big Blue's native vegetation, amounting to 130 separate violations.

Straub appealed both orders, but by 2017, the fines had accumulated to $446,600 for the dog park and $6.2 million for the other violations. Both parties agreed to pause them until a final judgment was made.

While both cases were still in court, Straub applied for a fine reduction and in 2020, a village magistrate agreed to reduce them to $89,800 and $1.3 million. But Straub appealed that decision, this time asking for all of the fines to be tossed out. He said the properties had already been brought into compliance.

The village argued that the magistrate didn't have the jurisdiction to reduce fines once they are legal claims. Only the council would have that authority. In the meantime, Straub deposited the amount of the reduced fines in an account with the village.


NEWS PAGE HOME FORECLOSURE