Regis College plans to take Weston to court for rebuffing its bid to build a 356-unit retirement village on a 60-acre section of its east campus.
In a unanimous decision Monday night, the three-member Zoning Board of Appeals denied the college's request to be exempted from regulations on building height, lot area, setbacks, and parking for the proposed 767,000-square-foot project, to be called Regis East.
The board acknowledged the need for senior housing but criticized the proposed density and scale of the project -- which calls for four buildings of eight stories or more and more than 600 new parking spaces -- and scolded the college for not soliciting more community opinion in the planning process.
''This was not done in the right way," said board member Marc Margulies, before casting his vote to deny the variances.
Regis will appeal the ZBA decision to the state's Land Court next month, after the local board files its official ruling on Nov. 9, according to Chris Tsouros, an attorney for the college.
Regis has the option to file a separate claim under the Dover Amendment -- a state law that allows educational and religious institutions to bypass local zoning limits -- but has not yet decided if it would do so, Tsouros said.
The school was disappointed, but not surprised by the defeat, Regis spokeswoman Marjorie Arons-Barron said in an interview. Regis was never required to go to the Weston zoning board for permission to build but did so voluntarily ''in the interest of dialogue."
''It was encouraging that members of the board spoke in favor of the concept, notwithstanding their disagreement over the details," the college said in a prepared statement. ''This is just the first step in an unfolding process."
More than 200 townspeople, most opposed to the project, packed Weston Town Hall for Monday's hearing, a continuation of a meeting held last month.
At the earlier session, officials told Regis the town feared the new village would overwhelm Wellesley Street with traffic, and requested more details about other aspects of the project.
Tsouros defended the plan for a dense cluster of tall buildings, saying the project was hemmed in by wetlands and soil conditions.
''Regis has the right to use its assets to further its mission," he said. ''A thriving Regis College and thriving retirement village is in the public good."
The college has said it needs to build Regis East to ensure its long-term survival. The project would be an innovative approach to inter-generational living and provide much-needed local senior housing and a training ground for Regis undergraduates studying social work and nursing, college officials have said.
Supporters of the project were scarce at Monday's hearing, where more than a dozen opponents spoke before the board. Residents questioned Regis's ability to fund the massive development, criticized what they called its lack of sensitivity to neighborhood concerns, and suggested the Catholic women's school accept men to offset its money woes.
Weston Police Chief Steven Shaw told the board that Regis had still not adequately addressed public safety concerns, such as what standards of conduct residents would be held to and how campus security would handle criminal matters.
Tsouros offered no specifics but said the school would assume responsibility for the community. Regis is a ''responsible patron and sponsor" he said. ''It's an evolving process, and [the town's] needs will be addressed."
In a letter distributed at the meeting, Weston Public Works director Robert Hoffman questioned the college's preliminary estimates that the project would use 50,000 to 80,000 gallons of water per day.
The town already uses 1.5 million of its allotted 1.8 millions of gallons per day from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, leaving just 325,000 gallons for future growth, said the letter to the board, dated Oct. 14. The DPW also requested that Regis East commit to low-flow plumbing devices and that any irrigation systems not be connected to town water supplies.
The battle over Regis East has created a deep divide between a town and college that once enjoyed an exemplary town-gown relationship.
But after Regis announced its plans this summer, neighbors of the college banded together to form Stop Regis Overdevelopment and hired attorneys and consultants.
''The irony of this is we very much want [Regis] to survive, but this isn't the way we want it to happen," said Charles Abrams, one of the group's leaders. ''They've been a wonderful neighbor and asset to the town."
The group is ready for a lengthy court fight and has been fund-raising for legal representation.
As the controversy escalated over the past several weeks, anti-Regis lawn placards sprang up in front of many private homes near campus. A number of them have been stolen, residents said.
On Sunday night, a leader of the Stop Regis group, Robin Brown, confronted two young women he saw pulling a sign from the yard of a home on Route 30, near campus.
Weston Police Officer Mark Alonzi, who happened to be driving by on patrol at the time, said the women admitted to him that they had taken the sign as a prank.
One of the women was a Regis student and the other was a student at the University of Massachusetts, said Alonzi.
''They were very apologetic," said Alonzi. ''One girl was almost in tears because I explained to her the repercussions."
No charges were filed against the two students, whose names were not released by police. The sign was returned to the home's front yard.
Stephanie V. Siek of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Erica Noonan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.