Officials claim this year’s show was a record-setting success, but concerns about the future <\n>of the nation’s oldest horse show are rekindled as a developer presents plans for a luxury community next door.
DEVON, Pa. The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair ended its annual 11-day run May 31 with no outward sign of the deep and bitter dispute that has split the organization’s governing body, leaving the country fair faction in charge and the horse show side out in the cold.
The new board leadership lost no time in announcing a successful show and a record turnout for this year’s edition of the nation’s oldest horse show.
“We could not be more pleased with the show this year,” said Devon chairman Wayne W. Grafton. “We are way ahead of last year on many fronts, especially at the gate and country fair sales as well as an increase in competitors. In fact, we may have some record-setting numbers to report after the show ends this weekend.”
Under the circumstances, Grafton, show president Richard M. O’Donnell and the country fair board members who ousted last year’s leadership in a controversial closed-door vote just before Christmas, had a lot riding on the success of this year’s show.
Yet even as the gates for the 119th show opened May 21, a simmering battle over control of show grounds was beginning to boil up again.
The main concern of the ousted president Sarah Coxe Lange and chairman Henry L. Collins, and the half dozen or more board and senior staff members who were also purged in the coup is, they say, the preservation of the historic Philadelphia Main Line show grounds in the face of building development pressure.
Their worry is Devon Yard, a planned urban lifestyle community development by Urban Outfitters. It would include a five-story, 135-unit luxury apartment building, a large Anthropologie store, a Terrain Garden Center, two Marc Vetri restaurants, a Glasshouse Café and boutique stores designed around a main street like a trendy “town center.”
The development, which was formally presented April 27 before a packed meeting of the Easttown Township Planning Commission, would occupy the six-acre former Waterloo Gardens property, immediately adjacent to the Devon Horse Show grounds.
Although some concerns were expressed about parking, traffic and water and sewage, most residents who spoke after the plans were presented at the meeting welcomed an upscale development on busy Lancaster Avenue (Route 30) in Devon.
Only one member of the horse show community spoke up at the meeting. Sara Coxe Lange, the ousted former president of the show, asked the planning commissioners to have consideration for the impact of the development on the horse show and the preservation of its cultural history.
The developer’s representatives avoided discussion of the Devon Horse Show, stressing only that the project had nothing to do with the show.
Until now, Lange has been one of the few who has spoken out publicly about her ouster in what she called a “hostile takeover” in a hastily called board meeting while she and Collins were out of town.
She said she feels strongly that she was ousted because she had been in discussions with national and regional land conservation organizations about having the show grounds protected from development by easements.
When in March the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission approved a new historic marker for the Devon Horse Show which was requested by the Lange-led board last year, the new board reportedly told the commission it didn’t want the designation.
For months the members of the horse show community who supported Lange and Collins kept a low profile and showed no sign organizing any moves to counter the Christmas Eve leadership purge. But a week before the Devon show opened, an organization called Devon Preservation Alliance, announced its formation. The goal of the alliance formed a week before the opening of this year’s show, is to preserve the grounds from development.
Devon Horse Show owns the show grounds, the adjacent dirt parking lot and former gas station lot on Lancaster Avenue. The grounds are also used for the Dressage at Devon Show in the fall, which is run by a separate organization, and the Brandywine Valley Summer show series.
The new board’s opposition to the alliance was immediate. A press release denounced the organization as having no relationship with the Devon Horse Show Foundation, which it added, was the only organization authorized to accept donations for the show grounds.