A Delaware County judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a local developer that claimed he lost $7 million because Marple Township officials unfairly rejected his plan to build a sprawling complex of homes and businesses on 213 acres owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
In a ruling filed Tuesday, Delaware County President Judge Chad F. Kenney said that even if Jenkintown developer Bruce Goodman had, as he claimed, gotten private assurances of support for the deal from township officials, they were not enough of an official promise to allow Goodman to file suit.
If "statements of support" prior to official votes are legally binding, Kenney said, "every disappointed zoning or land use applicant would be able to sue the municipality in a separate Common Pleas Action . . . based on alleged 'promises' made to them during the process."
The dismissal of Goodman's lawsuit marks the end - for now - of a more than two-year battle to build on one of the last remaining tracts of untouched land in densely packed Delaware County.
On Wednesday, Goodman's attorney, Marc B. Kaplin, based in Blue Bell, said Goodman was planning an appeal.
"The real question in this case was, for Mr. Goodman, did he have justification to rely on what was said?" Kaplin said. "That's a fact to be determined by a jury."
Goodman could not be reached for comment.
Joe Rufo, president of the Marple Board of Commissioners, said in a statement that the lawsuit's dismissal was an "important victory for taxpayers." Hugh A. Donaghue, an attorney for the township, said officials were "delighted with Judge Kenney's scholarly opinion."
With the case out of the legal system for now, the question remains of what could happen to the land.
Since 2013, when the archdiocese began having conversations about selling the tract, the fate of the swath has roiled the Marple community.
At the time, the archdiocese faced an $80 million shortfall in an investment fund for parishes. It believed that selling the tract could close the gap.
So the institution entered into an agreement of sale with Goodman, who bid $47 million and a $5 million nonrefundable deposit for the land. But to turn a profit on his proposal - hundreds of townhouses and nearly one million square feet of retail space - Goodman needed the commissioners to approve a zoning change.
From the onset, Goodman faced push-back from residents. Eventually, Marple officials publicly opposed the plan, too.
Still, Goodman spent an additional $2 million, on top of the $5 million for the land, preparing plans and studies after receiving private assurances from officials, he alleged in his lawsuit.
When the plan was not supported and the deal collapsed, Goodman filed suit. The archdiocese put the land back on the market. It said Wednesday it still hopes to conclude "a successful transaction."
The open-space advocacy group Save Marple Greenspace expressed interest Wednesday in buying.
Earlier this year, the group petitioned the county to float a $100 million bond to buy the land. The council did not support the idea.
Maureen Stewart, the group's treasurer, said on Wednesday that residents were seeking to raise money from local and county officials and conservation groups to buy the land.
"I'm very happy with the ruling," Stewart said. "It's our hope that we can sit down and have a constructive conversation . . . for saving the forest."