The Gay Head selectmen voted yesterday to take the property of Andrew and Brenda Warshaw through eminent domain, seizing the couple's retirement property but shielding the rare geology and wildlife of the Moshup Trail.

The taking of the Warshaw land was authorized by voters at a special town meeting Dec. 7. But since then, a selectmen's vote has repeatedly been postponed, as the community has struggled with questions about fairness. The Warshaws were not notified of the town meeting.

Finally, at 6:30 p.m. yesterday, after three hours of closed-door discussions, selectmen David Vanderhoop and Walter Delaney cast their votes before a group of townspeople who had waited outside the negotiation meetings all afternoon. And while many in town lobbied and fought for the land taking, the mood was somber as the Warshaws quickly and quietly filed out of the little town hall building. Some townspeople also left immediately; others stayed to talk, saying they wished things had been resolved more happily.

"I definitely don't feel like this is a victory," said Mr. Vanderhoop, but it had "come to a point where a decision had to be made."

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Mrs. Warshaw said she didn't feel like a victor either. Asked whether the family will still consider building a home here, she said: "On the Island, yes. But never in Gay Head."

The Warshaw land consists of 2.9 acres just north of the Moshup Trail. This year, one appraiser judged the property to be worth $325,000; another said $360,000. The Warshaws wanted to retire there, in a home set in a hollow, amid beautiful wild shrubs and with a view of the sea.

But aside from its obvious beauty, the land is special for another reason, conservationists say. It is among the last 2,000 acres of morainal moors in existence. Virtually unchanged since they were created 15,000 to 25,000 years ago, the Moshup Trail moors are home to a unique system of life, including the northern harrier hawk, the spotted turtle, the dragon's mouth orchid and the Nantucket shadbush. Each of these species are vanishing.

Out of concern for this area, town leaders, with the support of local conservation groups, began a plan for acquiring property along the Moshup Trail. This summer, Trudy Coxe, the state's secretary of environmental affairs, traveled personally to Gay Head to give town leaders $500,000 for their efforts. With these and other funds, the group began buying land, saying that even one house in their 50-acre project area could endanger the rare ecosystem.

Then they got to Lot 100, the Warshaws' land, and their luck seemed to run out: After what conservationists say was an exhaustive but unsuccessful attempt to negotiate, townspeople voted unanimously to take the land. Still, the Warshaws have said the meeting was unfair, and some townspeople have agreed. Selectmen have repeatedly postponed taking their own vote, hoping that the Warshaws could reach an amicable agreement with the town, perhaps by trading their land for another parcel, a "swap lot."

Then yesterday, things fell apart. Conservation leaders issued a blistering letter, stating that the Warshaws have not been negotiating in good faith but only trying to stall the conservation effort. They had already presented a petition with 65 signatures, asking the town to take the land. In response, resident June Manning announced she has a petition with 46 signatures, asking the town to bring the issue back to town meeting. And the Warshaws said they didn't want the swap lot, in part because it would be too painful to gaze out over the property they had once owned.

So, after a short and tense open meeting, selectmen voted for the taking.

Later, Dr. Warshaw, a Boston surgeon, said he is "disappointed and distressed at the timing with which it was done, apparently more with an intent to get things over with than it was to pay attention to the process."

Dr. Warshaw, who insists his property is not key to the preservation effort and that the conservation coalition has been back-handed, said he is unsure what the future holds.

"I don't think we know what we're going to do," he said. "We both feel very bitter about the treatment that Gay Head has afforded us, about the crocodile tears that have been shed, the untruths that have been allowed to stand. I don't think this is a moment that Gay Head can be proud of. Under these circumstances, do we want to be citizens of Gay Head? No way.

"I think the bottom line is they got us. They planned it, they executed it and they got us. They got us and that's too bad."

But one town resident said he's tired of the townspeople being called villains.

Many people have made the project possible, said resident John Walsh: state officials, private donors and nonprofit conservation groups. All are involved because the land is important, he said.

"This is a very rare resource," Mr. Walsh said at the meeting. "This isn't just a town issue."

Bob Woodruff of Sheriff's Meadow Foundation agreed. Mr. Woodruff, whose organization has actively supported the conservation effort, said he walked away from yesterday's meeting "feeling very sad."

Still, he notes that morainal moors exist only on Long Island, Nantucket and the Vineyard -- on fewer acres than the California redwoods. And here on the Vineyard, the moors are unique even from those of other islands.

"In Gay Head, the geology is so absolutely unique -- you've got pockets of clay and gravel," Mr. Woodruff said. "It's that geology that enables this diversity. I don't think there's anywhere on Nantucket or Long Island where you would find this diversity."

Gay Head resident Megan Ottens-Sargent, a leader of the effort, said she wishes the Warshaws had chosen the swap lot. And although she feels saddened by yesterday's decision, she said the Moshup Trail project is the kind of effort to which the Vineyard community must commit itself.

"The community has to create vehicles for keeping the Vineyard from overdevelopment," she said. "Overdevelopment is going to impact not just the environment here but the economy. These are hard choices, and we need to address them actively, not just rhetorically. The sadness that we all feel today, as one of my colleagues said tonight, will end with a smile in five years when we realize it was for the land."