A years-long debate over a proposed neighborhood community center came to a head Thursday night, though the fight likely will continue in court.
The Forsyth County commission voted 4-0 to approve the conditional use permit application for Bridgepoint Community Network to build the center in the Crystal Cove Shores subdivision.
Commissioner Pete Amos recused himself from the vote since he owns property in the community off Hwy. 53, near where Forsyth, Dawson and Hall counties meet at Lake Lanier.
The permit will allow Bridgepoint to operate a faith-based, nonprofit club or lodge for youth.
Plans call for a 2,000-square-foot facility on a half-acre lot at Crystal Cove and Thunder trails.
Joe Stauffer, an attorney representing opponents, said after the meeting that he plans to file suit based on the grounds that the center is a church, which the county’s code does not allow there.
"I’ve known from the start that we’re going to end up in Superior Court with this case because the commission was determined to put this church in the middle of a subdivision," Stauffer said.
He added that he was "speechless" that with 152 homeowners opposed to the application, the commission still approved it.
Bill Levin, director of Bridgepoint, told commissioners Thursday that the children and families in the neighborhood need "help to break the cycles of dysfunction they’ve been caught in for years."
Levin, who is an ordained Christian minister, began doing community work with his wife in Crystal Cove about seven years ago.
Levin has previously said he is by trade an evangelism director for his denomination, the Seventh-day Adventists.
Though Bible studies are a part of what would be held at the center, he said it is not associated with his work, nor is it a church. Rather, it would be a center to help children in need.
The group regularly holds Friday night gatherings on the lot, but has sought a permit for a center since late 2008.
The first request was later withdrawn amid neighbors’ concerns to give the group more time to review the proposal.
The proposal has been highly contentious in the community.
Opponents have said it will aggravate traffic issues, lower property values and cause an unsafe environment.
The district’s commissioner, Patrick Bell, said the application has been one of the toughest he’s faced.
"The zoning act doesn’t … permit me to use like or dislike as a basis to approve or deny a zoning request," Bell said. "I had to look at the facts of the matter and look at what the applicant has asked us for."
He said the proposal received the OK from staff and met the requirements of the county’s unified development code, which governs zoning law.
As neighbors got up to speak Thursday, they made it clear they feel the center is not right for the community.
"Commissioners, we have told you over and over about our concerns," resident Jill Martin said. "You must put the safety of everyone in our neighborhood first."
She said the streets have no sidewalks and are too narrow and curvy to safely allow youths to walk or bike to the center and for cars to safely pass them.
Others addressed property values, parking requirements and safety.
Craig Earon said the site is not the right place, pointing out that other churches send busses in to take neighbors to places that will provide the same services the center plans.
"The neighborhood is zoned lake residential, and I would like to see that it stays that way," Earon said.