About 150 angry protesters jammed the West Vincent Township supervisors' meeting Monday night, where a sign identified the room's capacity of 49, and another 150 attendees strained to hear the proceeding from the hallway.
The rancor centers on a vote earlier this month by the board to seize by eminent domain the 33-acre tract owned by the Ludwig's Corner Horse Show, a nonprofit that has been hosting a popular Labor Day show and other events for 68 years.
The supervisors have said they want the land for a park and ball fields and plan to increase its equestrian use. Those affiliated with the show have questioned the practicality of that arrangement as well as the necessity for such extreme action.
So far, the outcry over the parcel on Route 100 has included two politicians - State Sen. Andrew E. Dinniman (D., Chester) and Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello - and the fallout has cost one of the supervisors her job.
On Monday, the board of the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust announced it had voted unanimously to end its more-than-five-year relationship with its executive director, West Vincent Township Supervisor Clare Quinn. Her vote to condemn the horse show grounds represents "a fundamental conflict with the trust's long-standing mission of voluntary land conservation," the trust said in a prepared statement.
The condemnation issue was not on last night's township agenda - and many in the crowd expressed frustration that it wasn't.
At the Dec. 5 meeting, which attracted a similar audience, Quinn delivered what the eminent domain opponents viewed as positive news: The supervisors would vote on whether "to rescind the condemnation" when all three members could participate. A date was not set.
At the time, Quinn was joined by Supervisor Zoe Perkins, a cofounder and chairwoman of the West Vincent Land Trust. The third board member, Ken Miller, was not present.
Quinn said a special public meeting would be held in a larger venue after the supervisors had an opportunity to meet with the horse show officials, a meeting scheduled for tomorrow.
The horse-show supporters countered that the vote to rescind the condemnation should precede the horse-show meeting, and they showed up Monday night to urge that outcome.
But Quinn and Miller, the two supervisors present, made it clear that they were not receptive to that approach during a 2 1/2-hour questioning session that generated few answers but much acrimony.
Many residents questioned the need for eminent domain, urging the supervisors to rescind the condemnation order. Some waved signs that said, "Rescind or Resign."
"We will not rescind," Miller repeated.
Several residents referenced the eminent domain catastrophe that plagued Coatesville, where a seven-year battle to seize a family farm for a golf course generated negative national headlines and left the city millions of dollars in debt from legal fees.
The reminder prompted one resident to suggest that only the lawyers would benefit if the township proceeds with condemnation. Then he asked Stephen V. Siana, the township solicitor, for his hourly rate, to which Siana replied: "$190."