A developer who this month lost the right to build on a 213-acre tract in Marple Township owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia began legal action this week in an attempt to recoup the more than $7 million he spent on planning to develop the land.

Jenkintown developer Bruce Goodman, acting as Cardinal Crossing Realty Associates L.P., filed a writ of summons Wednesday against Marple Township, whose seven commissioners throughout the last year have repeatedly rejected his plans.

Goodman proposed hundreds of town homes and big-box stores on the forested plot in Delaware County after he won the rights to develop it in 2014 by bidding $47 million in a fierce competition.

To sweeten the deal, Goodman's attorney Marc Kaplin said, the developer paid the Archdiocese a non-refundable $5 million deposit. He spent an additional $2 million, Kaplin said, creating plans and commissioning studies for developing the land.

"This is to recoup an excess of $7 million that Bruce expended in reliance on actions by the board," Kaplin said. "I’m not going to say anything more than that."

But residents and the commissioners had other ideas for the plot. Decrying a lack of open space in Delaware County - one of the state's most densely developed - residents stormed meetings, distributed signs, and attempted to rally politicians. About 15 percent of the county's land is protected from development, according to the county.

The commissioners, all Republicans, and county planners said Goodman's plans were too dense - even after he resubmitted them, significantly decreasing the number of homes and eliminating some retail and business space.

The commissioners would not budge on his requests to rezone the land. To make his deal work, Goodman needed a change from current zoning - institutional and residential - to "planned community" residential and commercial.

When the zoning did not change, the archdiocese on July 1 pulled out of its deal with Goodman. The land is back on the market, and archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin said the church is hoping to complete a sale quickly.

Reached by phone Thursday, Goodman declined to comment. No timeline was given as to when he might file his complaint. With the summons, Kaplin said, he is seeking pre-trial discovery to gather information.

Neither the township's solicitor nor its manager could be reached for comment Thursday.

Residents who cheered the collapse of the deal said Thursday that they supported the commissioners and hoped Goodman's lawsuit would not impede their goal of saving the land.

"I was glad to see that our commissioners backed up our residents by saying the plan is too dense," said Chuck Protesto, president of Save Marple Greenspace, formed to oppose development of the land. "I stand behind my commissioners, I stand behind the township, and I don't think they did anything wrong."

Residents meanwhile are petitioning county officials to float a $100 million bond to buy the land. County officials have responded cautiously.

The money from the sale would be used to bolster the archdiocese's trust-and-loan fund, designed to collect deposits from parishes and invest on their behalf. In 2013, records show, the account was underfunded by nearly $80 million.

cmccabe@philly.com610-313-8113@mccabe_caitlin