Horsemen from across the Delaware Valley united to protest West Vincent Township's plan to take the Ludwig's Corner Horse Show grounds by eminant domain, to make it available for other forms of recreation. Photo credit: Ed Bacon
Resounding support from horsemen and pressure from the community at large helped the Ludwig's Corner Horse Show Association persuade the West Vincent Township Board of Supervisors rescind a motion that would have condemned the Horse Show Grounds.
On Nov. 28, 2011, the West Vincent Township Supervisors voted to condemn the Horse Show Association property at the intersection of Routs 401 and 100 in Ludwig's Corner, Chester County, and take possession of the land by eminent domain. The Township's stated plan was to take over the property for use for playing fields and other recreation facilities for the community.
“Shock doesn’t begin to describe it,” Horse Show Association President John Jacobs said. “Disbelief, then anger and betrayal.”
Jacobs explained that the Township had contacted the Association a year and a half earlier to ask if they were willing to sell the show grounds. “We were unanimous we didn’t want to sell our property. We were afraid of what it would have done to the annual Horse Show event,” he said.
The Ludwig’s Corner show grounds are used for a three-day show each Labor Day weekend that usually draws 600 entries. The show celebrated its 68th year in 2011. Visitors also enjoy a country fair and antique car show alongside the horse show. Throughout the year the grounds are used for many other activities including smaller horse shows, dog shows, community events and a gun club.
Mortgage Paid Off in 2009
The Horse Show Association paid off their mortgage on the land just two years ago and has made major improvements to the site, including a new warm up ring installed last year.
A message from Jacobs, printed in the 2011 show program, reads in part “What the horse show represents is a part of the fabric of our community, something that everyone should cherish and hold dear. Can you imagine in today’s world a group of five families donating land, money and time to start a community horse show? That is how LCHS was started 68 years ago. The tradition continues due to the hundreds of volunteers, donors and sponsors who give of themselves and generously donate to support our mission of protecting this property as open space for equestrian and community events.”
The township did not show detailed plans for their vision of the property but the supervisors indicated that they would focus on passive and active recreation for the 33 acre site, including walking trails and ball fields, while preserving the land as open space in accordance with their Ludwig’s Corner Strategic Vision and Community Design Plan.
The Horse Show Association was also interested in preserving the land, and according to Jacobs, had asked the Township if they could negotiate the sale of TDR (Transfer of Development Rights), but never completed discussions. The sale of TDRs would ensure that the property would not be developed while giving the Horse Show Association additional funds to work with.
In their first press release the supervisors indicated that they would allow the Association to continue to hold the annual horse show that has been a tradition in the community for 68 years.
Jacobs does not see how the continuation of the horse show could be possible since every bit of space is used for parking, stabling, and attractions. “Horse trailers don’t mix with ball fields,” he said.
As word of the Supervisors’ vote spread, members of the Horse Show Association quickly organized a protest rally for the next weekend. Show supporters turned out with horses and hounds along with area residents and politicians who were eager to go on record in opposition to the condemnation action.
“It clearly caught the township by surprise,” said Jacobs, who was amazed by the outpouring of support shown for the Association. “Wow what a surprise, it was an early Christmas present. Without that, we would have gone nowhere.”
Opposition to the eminent domain action came from the equestrian community and the general public. It even included a county commissioner who indicated that he would vote against any township request for funding of park improvements on that property.
Also going on record as opposed to the use of eminent domain to obtain open space was the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust. Shortly after the township action, the Trust dismissed their executive director, Clare Quinn, who is a township supervisor and who voted for the original condemnation.
Another Vote – to Rescind
In the face of the overwhelming weight of public opinion against the township, the two supervisors present during a township meeting on Dec. 27 indicated that they would take another vote on the eminent domain action and potentially rescind it. That action did occur, and the Association remains in possession of the grounds.
A second planned rally by the Association turned into a victory celebration, and Jacobs can draw something positive from the experience. The community has shown its support for the Horse Show and may now be re-energized to help keep the event a successful part of the community. “We’re really energized!” he said.