Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach
By Valentina Palm
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.