A proposed youth community center in a northeast Forsyth neighborhood sparked tense discussion Tuesday night before clearing the Forsyth County planning board.
The panel voted 3-1, with Joe Moses against and Jim Kelleher absent, to recommend a conditional use permit for Bridgepoint Community Networks' half-acre lot at Crystal Cove and Thunder trails.
The recommendation moves on to the county commission, which will decide the matter.
Speaking on behalf of Bridgepoint, attorney Ethan Underwood said plans call for a 2,000-square-foot facility that would house a faith-based nonprofit club or lodge.
The site is in the Crystal Cove Shores community, off Hwy. 53 near where Forsyth, Dawson and Hall counties meet at Lake Lanier.
“It started off as just area residents who recognized a problem,” Underwood said. “Several of the youth in Crystal Cove Shores had gotten involved in things that were harmful to them, either from too much time on their hands or lack of parental supervision.
"[The residents] felt that some of these kids needed assistance, they needed mentoring and guidance to try to keep them on the right path and to let them know that people cared about them.”
Underwood said volunteers, along with other sponsors, incorporated in 2007 to create a charitable organization to provide community support to neighborhood children.
He said the center plans to offer Bible study, tutoring, skills improvement classes and other services. Underwood said people from other areas would not be using the center.
The proposal, first brought to the county in late 2008, was withdrawn to give the group more time to study the matter.
Residents opposed to the facility, however, argued Tuesday that the center would really be a church and could aggravate traffic problems in the area.
Joe Stauffer, who represents residents who are against the facility, said the proposal doesn’t meet unified development code standards.
He also took issue with matters concerning the director of the facility, Bill Levin, an ordained Christian minister.
“The applicant in this case either is or has been the director of church planning global evangelism and Good News Atlanta and is or has been the associate director for evangelism for Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists,” he said. “This is really a church they’re trying to put in the middle of a neighborhood.”
Opponents also contend the site is inappropriate for the facility’s intentions. One resident said the roads are too narrow to be safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The site is in planning board member Matt Murphy’s district and within 3 miles from his house. Murphy said the roads in Crystal Cove need to be widened, regardless of whether the center is built.
“Those kids are already in the neighborhood, they’re not going to be bused in,” he said. “They’re kids walking up and down the street. In my opinion, it gets them off the street, it helps the traffic.”
Murphy added that he thinks the facility would be more of an activity center than a church.
Levin and his wife began doing community work in the neighborhood about seven years ago. They, along with some other residents, began by holding Friday night Bible study sessions.
Moses questioned Levin on whether conditions in the neighborhood, which at one time had a reputation for drugs, had improved because of his efforts.
Moses raised issue with “trying to counsel young people without credentials” and said he has concerns about offering a gathering place for young people.