Neighbors fear his plans will overrun their leafy Latches Lane with picnicking tourists and exhaust-belching buses.
The lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County Court, raises the shrillness of the rhetoric that has characterized the dispute, a hostile relationship that goes back to when Albert Barnes, an eccentric physician and prescient art collector, presided over the place decades ago.
It accuses Glanton of defamation, based on his past accusations that the commissioners harbor racist motives in seeking to restrict public access to the Barnes' 170 Renoirs, 55 Cezannes and 20 Picassos, some of which toured the world last year.
In effect, the township lawsuit fires an answer to a federal lawsuit, filed by Glanton and the Barnes Foundation in January, in which Glanton charged the commissioners and 17 neighbors with conspiring to harm the foundation. It is based on public remarks Glanton has made as part of the political debate.
Glanton has asserted that racism - not neighborhood concerns - is the reason the township has blocked his efforts to extend visiting hours, raise ticket prices, and give the once obscure foundation a profile worthy of its artistic importance.
His lawsuit alleges that Lower Merion has selectively enforced its zoning, parking, police and fire regulations in a way it does not for nearby institutions such as Episcopal Academy, St. Joseph's University, and Temple Adath Israel.
``Thinly veiled racism'' he called it in a November interview, as he presided over the opening of the foundation after a $12 million renovation of its 70-year-old building, which Barnes left to the historically black Lincoln University. ``There is no way you cannot see racism in the way they are treating the Barnes Foundation.''
The township's lawsuit charges that statements like that ``maliciously and falsely'' accuse the commissioners of committing ``dishonesty in their elected office . . . a known lie designed to extort their approval.''
In retort, the township's lawsuit refers to Glanton's well-publicized 1993 defense of a sexual harassment suit in which he was found liable. It describes him as someone who ``has engaged in a historical pattern of intimidation and verbal brutality . . . directed at all who stand in the way of his unquenchable desire for fame, fortune, and even sexual favors, and playing the `race' card against anyone who challenges his authority or goals.''
The township lawsuit details three incidents in which Glanton allegedly reacted to setbacks or criticism by accusing his opponents of racism. Two involved attacks on judges whose opinions met with Glanton's displeasure, the lawsuit states.
Glanton was unavailable yesterday. The foundation's lawyer, Peter Kelsen, had not read the lawsuit and declined to comment.
Neighbors said they were heartened by the suit.
``How do you ever scrub yourself clean when you've been called that?'' said Latches Lane resident Robert Marmon. ``You should be able to [express your concerns] without being called a racist, a bigot, and called into federal court.''
Main Line NAACP president Geraldine Talley has supported Glanton. ``[Township officials] are throwing out hurdles every place he turns,'' she said yesterday. ``He's entitled to his own opinion.''
Alan Garfield, a professor at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, said that to win their lawsuit, the public officials must prove Glanton's accusations were knowingly false, reckless and malicious. Such proof is hard to come by, he said, because it is difficult to portray accusations of racism as factually false.
``If this is some kind of hyperbolic remark . . . that can't be called a statement of fact, that makes it difficult,'' he said.
The township's attorney, Paul Rosen, said he's in it to win. ``This is an issue about parking and management of the streets. It's about going from 500 visitors a week to 120,000 a year, about buses and exhaust. It's about an outcry of the public and commissioners responding. It has nothing to do with race,'' he said.
The three foundation trustees named in the suit are Niara Sudarkasa, Shirly A. Jackson and Charles Frank. The suit contends they ``agreed, adopted, permitted, approved and encouraged'' a ``smear campaign'' by Glanton.