Horse Farms Forever President Bernard Little Clarifies Position on WEC Ocala Jockey Club

Friday, February 25, 2022
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Horse Farms Forever recently submitted a letter to the newspapers supporting the request from Golden Ocala Equestrian Lands for their plans at the Jockey Club. President Bernie Little  aware of the negative reaction of this position from many of the residents in the area, has communicated more detail as to why this important position, of the Marion County "Watchdogs" working to protect and preserve the essence of Ocala and what this region means to all.

I wanted to share the editorial that HFF has submitted to the newspapers supporting the request from Golden Ocala Equestrian Lands for their plans at the Jockey Club. I am aware of the negative reaction to our position from many of the residents in that area, and I get that. If you’ve looked at 1,000-acres of open pasture for decades it’s understandable to want it to always look like that. With that said, and I say this with no disrespect for anyone’s opinion, I think it was naive to think that any new owners of the OJC property were not going to develop it. That leaves the question, how best can an organization like HFF get a seat at the table to help monitor and influence that development?

When a 1,000-acre parcel of open pasture right next to an interstate exit, 20 minutes south of one of the premier universities in the country, and directly next door to Regional Activity Center and designated Commerce/Employment overlay zones is up for sale, our biggest fear is that it will be targeted for commercial development.

If a high-profile company like Microsoft or Apple had partnered with the University of Florida to build a technology complex there, the community and economic pressure on the commissioners would have been overwhelming. The boundaries of the Farmland Preservation Area are drawn in pencil, and the commissioners hold the eraser. It only takes 3 votes to change the comprehensive plan.

It’s important to remember that the Ocala Jockey Club is private property and it has a designated land use and zoning that gives the owner rights to use it. When the Roberts organization purchased the property, we were relieved and thankful. Their support of all thing’s equestrian is proven through their actions. Last year, when we were asked to review their plans for the WEC Jockey Club, we were impressed with their vision. For the most part, their plans aligned with the current use of the property. Their request to cluster homes on smaller parcels in a hamlet to allow a larger common area for equestrian activities matches the current design. Many people forget that there are already 35 clustered townhouses on the property and a clubhouse and restaurant facilities.

The primary two requests that require an amendment to the comprehensive plan are the hotel and RV park on rural land. Our directors, staff and land use professionals studied and debated this request at length. In the end, it was agreed that support for this request would reduce the in/out traffic and activity, not increase it. A key factor in this position was the Irvine/Sunny Oaks development slated for the east side of the I-75 intersection. That 453-acre parcel, just 2 miles east of the OJC property, has a land use that allows hotels and RV parks, not to mention retail, commercial and industrial development. The debate was, would it be better to have the users of the new WEC Jockey Club facilities drive in and out multiple times per day to go to a hotel and RV park on the east side of the interstate or to allow a hotel and RV park inside the complex? Thus, our position in favor.

Thank you for your support.