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Center divides street
No clear path for Crystal Cove plan
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Forsyth County News

With a desire to help, one community missionary ventured into northeastern Forsyth County five years ago. He established a grass-roots neighborhood ministry on a street with a reputation and a nickname.

It began as a bicycle clinic, an opportunity for Bill Levin to reach the youth of Crystal Cove Trail, many of whom were known for traveling the street on rickety bikes.

It grew from there. Several dozen teenagers and young adults began to meet every Friday night, studying the Bible and talking about their lives. Sometimes they met outdoors and sometimes they gathered in a volunteer's living room.

Levin decided the next step was to give the program, fueled by faith-based, nonprofit BridgePoint Community Networks, "a full-time presence," or permanent meeting place.

Neighborhood youth and other residents joined him at a recent county commission work session where they pitched plans to build a community center.

The proposal, which would require an exception to zoning rules, drew flack from other residents worried about nonresidential structures they fear could damage property values, increase traffic and escalate crime.

Tuesday night, residents on both sides of the issue aired their thoughts during a public hearing. Commissioners wound up putting off a decision on a conditional-use permit for a 5,000-square-foot building at Thunder and Crystal Cove trails.

Jill Martin said she was sympathetic to the group, but the cons outnumbered the pros.

"We don't want to open the door for nonresidential development in our neighborhood," Martin said. "We're not against an organization helping kids, but put it somewhere adequate."

Theresa Randle said she did not understand the opposition's concern about property values.

"Where was their first clue as to why they got their home so cheap?" Randle asked. "If you're buying a home and you're getting it half price, why would you not do a little research about the community?

"I've been here 11 years, and I'm so tired of the whining from people buying into this community, then wanting to change the community."

Rich Marcom said he was "not one to accept the situation I found on Crystal Cove when I moved there."

Marcom said a majority of those seeking the community center are renters.

"Maybe they're going to be in the neighborhood for a year or two and then they're gone," he said. "They don't have property values to worry about."

Teenager Daryl Dwiggins "just can't understand why people are against building this," noting that he "used to be one of those hoodlums on the street."

"The group helped me realize I needed to change my ways ... and I've changed my ways a lot," he said. "Friday nights when I get home, I go to Bible study."

The group often has met at Priscilla Pruitt's house.

"Some of the kids we've worked with, they were on drugs and drinking," Pruitt said. "And thank God some of them have turned around and they've got jobs, and they're changing the past they have been taught by living here."

About three years ago, Pruitt gathered 120 signatures by walking the neighborhood seeking support for the community center.

Some of those who signed, however, showed up on the opposing side Tuesday night.

Local attorney Ethan Underwood, who is representing center supporters, said letters also have gone out since 2006 informing the community about the proposed structure.

Marcom said residents need more time to organize opposition.

"[The community center] is a wonderful idea, and there have been a lot of tugged heartstrings, and I feel mine have been plucked," Marcom said. "But I think the possibilities for these young folks are still there without the community center."

Resident Embry Trimble said the center would hurt the community more than help it.

"All these problems people are talking about. It's sad," Trimble said. "But that community center, they're going to have to put bars on the windows to keep them from tearing it up."

The center falls in the district of former Commissioner David Richard, who left office last week. Patrick Bell now holds the District 4 post.

Although some refer to the street as "Crystal Meth Cove," Richard said, there is hope for the area. Building the community center would be a step in the right direction.

"Nothing bad can come of this center," said Richard, who sat in on one of the community meetings two years ago. "Bill's just trying to help out a community that really needs it."

Richard said he planned to attend the next public hearing on the center and speak for the first time in four years as a concerned resident rather than a commissioner.

The meeting is slated for Jan. 22, at which time the board may then vote on the matter.