By Joe Holden

Follow CBSPHILLY Facebook  | Twitter

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A slide of land — some 40 acres — is what some call the crown jewel of Lower Merion.

Stoneleigh is the former sprawling estate of John and Kara Haas. The wooded hills and meadows have been transformed into public gardens and trails.

The peaceful place now sits at the intersection of a public battle.

Oliver Bass, with the firm Natural Lands, has summoned a force of 21,000 voices opposing preliminary interest by the Lower Merion School District in seizing under eminent domain a six-acre piece of the property for school expansion.

162fb3b5ba6d4458a0159fb52259ba15 Residents In Public Battle With Lower Merion School District Over Stoneleigh Garden

Credit: CBS3

“I think we can say with confidence that we have sent a clear message to the school district about how much this community cares about Stoneleigh,” Bass said.

Enrollment forecasts for the district over 10 years show the need for school expansion.

School district officials are eyeballing at least a half-dozen other sites.

The opposition to this property, in particular, has been stiff.

“I saw the yard signs everywhere that said ‘Save Stoneleigh,’” Babo Harrison said. “It just opened. How come we’re having to save it already?”

Harrison and her father, Bart Harrison, remain stunned that such a possibility could exist.

“It’ll be a huge waste of tax money to litigate this,” he said. “It seems wrong to me when it’s only been open a month to already talk about turning it into something else.”

The school district is also eyeballing St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, a 70-acre parcel of land on City Avenue that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has signaled it may be considering selling.

Documents from the district indicate talks broke down between the two parties in April.