A judge has ruled against 19 Cary citizens who fought a 42-acre mixed-use development planned for a corner of Davis Drive and High House Road.

Charlotte-based developer Crosland may proceed with the project, which includes apartments, stores and offices. Meanwhile, the neighbors who opposed it must pull together thousands of dollars to cover legal fees.

“While it’s always difficult for a government when a group of your citizens disagrees with your position, we very much appreciate the thoughtful deliberation the court has given in this matter and hope that the ruling will go a long way in maintaining the high level of confidence our citizens have” in the town, spokeswoman Susan Moran said after the judge’s decision.

Richard Byrne, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit filed last summer, said he’s uncertain whether the neighbors will appeal. Regardless, he said, “I still think the town has a problem they need to address, because I don’t think this is right. Whether it’s legal or not, that’s one thing. Whether it’s right, that’s another.”

The Cary Town Council approved the proposal by a 4-3 vote in July, after staff advised the council that changing the project’s boundaries would render a set of protest petitions invalid and thus not require a super-majority vote.

The plaintiffs claimed the town violated its own ordinance when it “gerrymandered” the boundaries and ruled their protest petitions invalid. They asked the court to overturn the vote.

As the case awaited hearing, the town annexed the property and Crosland spent $3 million buying ancillary property.

Crosland intervened in the case in November, enlisting the Kennedy Covington law firm to file motions to dismiss the case on procedural grounds.

In fact, there were minor procedural problems, as the plaintiffs originally filed suit without an attorney. For instance, they initially stated the town’s action was a rezoning, but in court, their counsel conceded that language was in error.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan ruled that the town had “correctly interpreted and applied” the zoning ordinance and that the dismissal of the protest petitions was legal.

DavisandHighHouse.org, a nonpartisan political group, channeled outrage over the council’s approval of the development into a campaign that ousted the incumbent mayor and some council members last fall.

Van Kloempken of DavisandHighHouse.org is working on a legal defense fund. He said the plaintiffs still need to raise $10,000 of the approximately $17,000 legal bill; an appeal would cost an additional $7,500.

“These aren’t rich people and they tried to do the right thing for all of us. We need to help them,” Kloempken said.