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Jail plan rankles residents
Neighbors resolve to fight fall bond vote
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Forsyth County News

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Opponents of the proposed jail on Veterans Memorial Boulevard met Monday at the Wyngate subdivision.

Outcry from residents of a subdivision near property reserved for Forsyth County's proposed new jail has captured the sympathy of at least one county commissioner.

Prior to Monday night's neighborhood meeting at the Wyngate subdivision, Commissioner Linda Ledbetter said she felt those affected should have been directly notified before the county bought the property last summer.

"They should have received a notice of some kind from the county," Ledbetter said of the purchase of 33 acres off Veterans Memorial Boulevard. "We could have sent them a personal letter or let them know in a better way. I deeply regret that."

But Commissioner David Richard, who attended the meeting that drew more than 50 residents to the neighborhood's swimming pool, countered that plenty of notice was given.

"Believe me," Richard said, "this has been the least secretive purchase of land the county has ever made. I'm sorry, but if [residents] haven't heard about it till now, they weren't paying attention."

Wyngate resident Clark Montoya said he's known about the property purchase since the beginning.

 "It was across the front page of the paper in July of 2007," Montoya said. "I've known about it for a while, but everybody's finally woke up and realized the situation."

His chief concern, like that of many other Wyngate residents, is the proximity of the jail to his home.

According to designs by architects Pieper O'Brien Herr, the jail wall may be as close as 72 feet from some areas of the subdivision and 142 feet away at other locations.

Wyngate resident Holly Schneider, who moderated Monday night's gathering, stretched a yellow rope across the ground next to the pool.

"If you had a chance to look at the yellow rope," Schneider said. "That rope is 72 feet long. That's what 72 feet looks like. It's ridiculous how close that jail wall will be."

The proposed $75 million, 480-bed facility would replace the existing jail, which is farther west on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, near downtown Cumming. Funding for the jail hinges on a bond referendum that voters will decide Nov. 4.

Past referendums have failed for one reason or another, and according to Ledbetter this could present another roadblock for the vote.

"The reason some of the other bonds failed was because we didn't own the property for a jail yet," she said. "We tried to do it different this time, and we hit another snag. It's caught us all a little by surprise."

Sheriff Ted Paxton didn't attend Monday's gathering, but said Tuesday morning he was concerned some commissioners were not fully backing the vote they made last summer to buy the land.

"It amazes me," Paxton said. "They voted for this so why don't they support it now?"

Paxton also addressed residents' concerns over the proximity of the jail to their property.

"I can assure them the facility will have every available security feature in place," he said. "This was not something that was put together haphazardly. A tremendous amount of planning has gone into this."

The first of two town hall-style "informational sessions" was held Aug. 12.  The second public forum for residents and the county is scheduled for Aug. 26.

Ledbetter said commissioners may also discuss the issue at Thursday's 5 p.m. board of commissioners meeting in the county administration building.

"Wyngate residents are just as important to us as anybody else," Ledbetter said. "This has got to be discussed."

Gina Simonds, who lives in the subdivision, said she'll try to attend the next town hall meeting because she is concerned about the safety of her 1-year old daughter, Madison.

"There are a lot of kids around here," Simonds said. "If someone were to break out of that jail, they could get into any of our homes."

Residents are organizing their efforts to fight the vote in November. A Web site called www.movethejail.org is up and running.

"We need to do whatever we can. We need to spread the word," said Wyngate investor Jeff Gordon, who attended Monday night's gathering. "This is a Forsyth County issue, but it starts with us."