The email from Msgr. Daniel Kutys to the Delaware County man last year minced few words.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was in "critical condition on the financial front," Kutys wrote.

It was still smarting from an $80 million shortfall in an investment fund for parishes - and needed to sell the 213 acres of church-owned land behind Cardinal O'Hara High School for $47 million. It would not change course, despite opposition from residents who feared losing one of the last, sprawling swaths of undeveloped land in their midst.

"We cannot afford to pull back this property from sale," Kutys, who oversees archdiocesan land sales, told Ken Hemphill, who had grown up across from the Marple Township tract. "To do so now would put us into even more debt."

On Friday, however, they did pull back - at least for now.

After an eleventh-hour scramble to seal a deal, the archdiocese canceled its plans to sell the land to Bruce Goodman, a Jenkintown developer who had put millions on the line since 2014 but failed to win township approval.

The decision came one day after a new deadline to close the sale had expired. The archdiocese had already granted Goodman one extension. Church officials decided they had had enough.

"Our intention is still to sell the property," archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin wrote in an email Friday. "We have moved it back into the market with the goal of completing a transaction quickly."

Reached by phone, Goodman declined comment.

Local opponents of the deal hope it means another chance to shape what happens to the largely undeveloped parcel - equivalent to the size of 163 football fields - that for decades generations have treasured for its wooded walking trails and verdant views.

Since the archdiocese disclosed the sale nearly two years ago, the residents had launched a heated battle against the church, its developer, and at times, their own township commissioners.

They stormed municipal meetings, distributed signs, and circulated petitions. In a county that is nearly built out, they argued, they could not lose 213 acres to yet another development.

"The church is the owner of the ground, and we understand that," said Maureen Stewart, the treasurer of Save Marple Greenspace, a group formed to fight Goodman's project. "But to sell it to build it out, when it's not good for our health, not good for the environment, and not good for our quality of life, that's just not the right thing to do."

In August 2014, the archdiocese announced the $47 million sale to Goodman after multiple bids on the land. According to marketing materials distributed at the time, Goodman may have also been required to put down a nonrefundable deposit as steep as $5 million to sweeten the deal.

For the church, the deal was a way to boost its trust-and-loan fund, designed to collect deposits from parishes and invest the money on their behalf. In June 2013, archdiocese records show, that account was underfunded by $79.8 million.

For the price he paid, Goodman had argued, he needed to build 303 residential homes, large retail stores, and recreation fields to make the investment work. As part of what he dubbed Cardinal Crossing, he also planned to demolish what had been the Don Guanella Village, which sat on a quarter of the land.

And he also needed the township to rezone the property.

The forested tract is currently zoned as "institutional" and "residential" - which collided with Goodman's plans. A shopping center and townhouses requires zoning for "planned community" residential and commercial districts.

After hearing opposition from residents, Marple commissioners denied Goodman's zoning request. Both township and county officials said the project was just too dense.

With the deal unraveled, neighbors said Friday they will once again ask the archdiocese for a meeting to discuss a deal. They are also mounting a petition for a bond to buy the land.

"We're not asking them to give it to us," Stewart said. "But we didn't create their problem, and we don't want to burdened with the solution."

610-313-8113 @mccabe_caitlin