Forsyth County will gain rights to six lakeside parks following approval of a settlement agreement bringing the years-long Bethel Park litigation to a close.
County commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to accept the agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta.
Aside from ending the suit, the county will be granted six Lake Lanier parks owned by the corps, which will turn them over within 60 days of the settlement’s final approval. That vote is set for July 7.
From that point, the county will have five years to submit master plans for developing the parks, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said.
"We don’t have an obligation to take it over, but if we want it, we can," Jarrard said. "We’ve got five years to make up our minds. ... We have five years to decide whether we can afford to do it or not."
The corps will then work with the county through the permitting process and lease the parks for no less than 25 years.
The six sites on Lake Lanier cover 371 acres and include Athens and Six Mile Creek parks.
Four undeveloped areas — Chestatee Bay, Rocky Point, Wildcat Creek and the fourth peninsula of Bethel Park — are also part of the deal.
The fourth peninsula, according to the agreement, cannot be developed at a level more intense than what exists, which Jarrard said wouldn’t include much more than walking trails.
That peninsula is the one that would not be developed by the YMCA, which will move forward with its plans for a youth summer camp facility at Bethel.
Through this agreement, the county acknowledges its plans to work with the YMCA.
"This is something we’ve been fighting with the YMCA and the Corps of Engineers on Bethel Park for several years now," Jarrard said. "We are effectively burying the hatchet with the YMCA and in fact instead of being adversaries, we are now saying … we welcome you and we’re going to work with you."
The YMCA has sought since 2003 to develop a facility at Bethel that court documents say will serve inner city youth and "other camping youths."
The corps expected to lease the site to the nonprofit in 2006. But in response to residents’ concerns, the county also sought to lease the property and submitted a competing plan in 2007.
In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals denied the county’s request to stop the development of the 62-acre Bethel site.
The decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s December 2009 ruling that denied the county’s motion for preliminary injunction to halt plans.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the terms of the settlement had been reached in March, but the language in the agreement took a bit longer to determine.
The corps and the YMCA have approved the proposal, Jarrard said, and it will be sent on to the court following final county commissioners’ approval July 7.
County officials have not said whether park development plans will be submitted.
Commissioner Todd Levent said residents have expressed concerns about the cost to maintain those parks if taken on in the future, but he noted that there’s a revenue source in the present.
Once the county acquires rights to the parks, it will begin collecting boat ramp fees at Six Mile Creek Park.
"We get to collect that money and it’s ready to go," Levent said.