The public Keney Park can be used as a private equestrian center, "so long as uses are recreational in keeping with the definition of a public park and for the benefit of all the public," according to a legal opinion from the city's attorneys.
So the question now is this: Will the $65 million, at least 60-acre equestrian center that the Ebony Horsewomen want to put in Keney Park "benefit all of the public"?
"Yes," says Patricia Kelly, of the Ebony Horsewomen.
Maybe, say councilmen Luis Cotto and Matt Ritter.
The horsewomen, led by Patricia Kelly, want the city to declare the organization the "tentative developer" for as much as 200 acres of land at the park. Supporters of the Ebony Horsewomen have come out to praise both the plan and Kelly's work. They, and Kelly, say an equestrian center would bring needed economic development to one of the city's poorest areas.
But neighbors who don't want to lose parkland in their back yards have come out to oppose the plan, as have a series of neighborhood groups.
The plan had for a time stalled in Ritter's committee, as he awaited a response from the city's lawyers as to whether an equestrian center was legally allowable.
But the legal opinion issued Thursday by the corporation counsel's office left Ritter and Cotto scratching their heads.
"It was so unclear that I had to read it twice," said Cotto.
"The legal opinion basically leaves some wiggle room," said Ritter.
Cotto, whose parks subcommittee has already voted the plan down, said that it will soon be time to put the horse park issue to a vote of the full council.
"I think we need to move beyond it," he said.
Ritter said that his planning and economic development subcommittee will take the matter up in the next couple of weeks for a vote.
"But whether or not the equestrian center is contemplating being a facility where anyone can walk in? I don't know," Ritter said. Because while it may fit the legal definition of a public use, "does it fit the council's perception of what is a proper use of a public park? Those are two distinct questions."
Kelly, who has gone to a series of council meetings to try to convince the city's elected officials and Tower Avenue residents who abut the park that the equestrian center is a good idea, said the only restrictions on the park will be when there are horses in town for a big horse show for a few days at a time.
"For the first time in 30 years, kids will be able to freely walk and have activities in that part of the park without fear of their safety," she said. As for the concerns that residents have had, "It's not the boogeyman project that they've been told."
"I don't think city council people would jeopardize all of Hartford and not consider the masses of Hartford," she said. "They are the legislators of Hartford. Not of one street."