Developer sues Delco town: You owe me $7 million

Developer Bruce Goodman accuses Marple Township commissioners of robbing him of more than $7 million.

Having lost the right to build on a 213-acre tract owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a Jenkintown developer filed a lawsuit Monday against Marple Township, accusing its commissioners of robbing him of more than $7 million by suddenly opposing his plan after privately supporting it for months.

The complaint from Bruce Goodman, acting as Cardinal Crossing Realty Associates L.P., comes nearly two months after his $47 million deal to build on the church land - the size of 163 football fields - crumbled in the eleventh hour as he failed to win township approval.

Even as the archdiocese put the land back on the market - where it remains - Goodman indicated in legal filings last month that he had not put the matter behind him. In a writ of summons in July and his 269-page lawsuit Monday, Goodman for the first time publicly has laid out why he believes he was cheated by the Delaware County township - and the sum he seeks to recover.

"Cardinal Crossing suffered substantial harm and damages as a result of its reliances on the representations and promises of the township," the lawsuit says.

With hundreds of pages of supporting documents, the complaint provides the first in-depth look at a deal that unfolded largely out of public view for more than three years. From correspondence between Goodman and the archdiocese to lease agreements with high-end retailers, including Wegmans, the lawsuit indicates what was happening behind the scenes as the deal openly drew vehement disapproval from residents.

According to Goodman's complaint, members of Marple Township's development committee and other township leaders repeatedly offered support for his plans in private meetings in 2014 and 2015.

Originally, Goodman had proposed building 318 townhouses and carriage houses, as well as nearly one million square feet of retail and business space. But to make his deal work, he needed a zoning change that would allow that kind of development.

"At every opportunity Cardinal Crossing was given to discuss the project, township representatives indicated their full support," the lawsuit says - adding that Marple leaders even "indicated they were prepared to adopt the necessary zoning changes."

Goodman alleges that "after 19 months of meetings" and amid public opposition, township officials suddenly claimed, for the first time, that Goodman's plan might be too dense and could create traffic problems.

"As a result of the township's last-minute turnabout in position," the complaint states, "Cardinal Crossing did not have sufficient time to make an alternate submission to the township before the agreement with the archdiocese expired."

Goodman is seeking to recoup the $7 million he says he spent on the deal. According to the complaint, he paid the archdiocese a $5 million nonrefundable deposit. An additional $2 million was spent drafting the plan and commissioning studies.

In statements and interviews Tuesday, however, both a solicitor for the township and the president of Marple's commissioners rejected Goodman's complaint.

The suit is "filled with inaccurate characterizations of committee meetings, complete fabrications, and boldface lies," Commissioner President Joseph Rufo said.

"At no point did the Board of Commissioners convey to the developer that his development would be approved, and his characterization of the tone of discussions and meetings with Township Representatives are completely inaccurate and outrageous."

Rather than meeting for "19 months," as Goodman alleged, Rufo countered that private meetings with the developer occurred only "three or four times."

Media-based attorney Hugh Donaghue, working privately for the township, in a Tuesday statement called Goodman's complaint a "meritless suit which is grossly and factually inaccurate."

"Simply put, Mr. Goodman gambled and lost his $5 million to the archdiocese pursuant to the terms of his own offer," Donaghue said.

cmccabe@philly.com

610-313-8113 @mccabe_caitlin