Months of debate over whether to build a multi-million-dollar equestrian center on dozens if not hundreds of acres of Keney Park came to a close in a hot city council chambers Monday night.
Asked by Mayor Eddie A. Perez to name the Ebony Horsewomen the tentative developers for the project in the city's North End park, the council answered:
The full council voted 8 to 1 against the plan. The only affirmative vote was from Democratic Majority Leader rJo Winch.
The horsewomen, led by Patricia Kelly, wanted the city to declare the organization the "tentative developer" for at least 60 acres of park land, if not more. She and her supporters have argued that the project would bring money and jobs to one of the city's poorest areas.
But neighbors and neighborhood groups fought the plan. Some didn't like the idea of turning over a big part of the park to a private user; others didn't like the prospect of traffic and congestion that the center could bring. There were several meetings on the matter.
Despite a legal opinion from city attorneys that apparently cleared the way for an equestrian center, the voices of the neighbors and neighborhood groups had more sway with the council.
The meeting of the full city council was preceded by a nearly two-hour meeting of the council's planning and economic development committee. This was the committee's fifth meeting on the matter. After a good deal of public comment, the committee voted the plan down 3 to 1.
This was the second council committee to vote the project down. The first, the city's parks committee, did so by a 2 to 1 vote, after several meetings and a first hefty round of public comment.
On Monday, most on the council said they supported the Ebony Horsewomen, but they didn't support their idea for an equestrian center in Keney Park.
"This is what I'd love to see in Hartford," said Councilman Matt Ritter. "Just not in a public park."
Councilman Luis Cotto was, and has been, vehemently opposed to the plan.
"The presenters are correct," Cotto said. "This is the perfect site for this space, because you need a lot of land. Unfortunately, it's park land. And it's our land."
But Winch said she supported the project, and still does as it works to scale back its plan.
"The project, you know, it's going to wind up somewhere," Winch said. "And it really would be sad it if [was] somewhere else in New England and we missed the project in the city of Hartford."