When it came to arguments about the good works that the Norbertine priests and brothers do and the financial hardships they face, Willistown Township Supervisor William Shoemaker said he "tried to maintain a certain detachment."
He would treat Daylesford Abbey officials like any other applicants trying to develop their land, he said.
Then Shoemaker and two other supervisors unanimously approved zoning changes and a conditional-use permit that will allow developers to build 55 homes for senior citizens on 42 of the abbey's 130 acres.
Abbey officials said that if they didn't sell part of their land soon, they could lose all of it.
About 80 people attended Monday night's meeting. Supervisors said the maximum number of homes permitted on the 130-acre site would be 74.
The abbey will also donate $1.25 million to the township for a six-foot-wide asphalt hiking and running trail that will be about a mile long. The public trail will run along the abbey's property on Waynesborough, South Valley and Devon Roads, said John C. Snyder, an attorney representing the abbey.
Many of the opponents at Monday's meeting were from the northern end of the township and said they fear increased traffic and a decrease in the overall value of the community. Resident Kelly Tickner thought supervisors could have avoided the decision.
"I'm disappointed with the outcome. I feel the supervisors didn't do anything to actively try to save it as open space," said Kelly Tickner. "We'll see how the rest of the residents feel about this in the next election cycle."
Resident Richard McDonnell called the decision "a good sort of compromise between the two groups," but not the best solution.
He wished Willistown had tried to purchase the land three years ago, when the abbey first approached township officials with its development plans. He acknowledged that other residents may not be as willing to pay extra taxes as he is, but he said an open-space referendum would have provided a clear answer.
"We'll never know now because the question was never put out there," McDonnell said.
In 1999, Willistown residents did approve a referendum to spend $5 million dollars to preserve open space, according to Supervisor David Rawson.
But the abbey's 42 acres would have cost the township around $15 million, he said. "It was a bridge too far," Rawson said. "We just don't have that kind of money."