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New twist in battle over fate of Bethel
Corps goes ahead with YMCA lease
FILE bethel 1-jd
Bethel Park continues to be at the center of a legal battle between the county the corps. - photo by File photo


* Sign alerted residents to change.

* Opinion: Is fighting on worth the cost?

Blindsided by an unexpected lease and a permit approved by one of its own departments, Forsyth County government has recast its legal pursuit to stop development at Bethel Park.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court show the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers executed a lease Sept. 22 with the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta for the 62-acre property in northeastern Forsyth.

The county received notice of the lease Sept. 23.

The YMCA has worked to develop the park since 2003, and the corps was expected to lease the property to the organization in 2006.

After residents complained, the county also sought to lease the site, submitting plans for the park in 2007.

Earlier this month, construction of a sign for the YMCA apparently began at the site.

As a result, the county filed a renewed motion Nov. 9 to stop the organization from building at Bethel Park.

The original injunction against the corps, filed in June 2008, was ultimately dismissed because of negotiations between the county and the corps.

The renewed motion shows discussions between the two entities lasted until Oct. 9.

The park is the center of a legal battle brought on by the county in 2008, after the corps announced its plans to lease the site to the YMCA.

County attorney Ken Jarrard said the county didn’t expect the YMCA to move forward with any development until the case had been litigated.

He said a hearing has not been scheduled on the matter.

“But I anticipate it will happen very quickly,” he said.

The corps' decision to enter an agreement with the organization, spokesman Patrick Robbins said, was based on proposals submitted by the YMCA and the county.

"Based on those proposals we selected the Y as being in the best interest of the public," he said.

The county has argued that the corps, by its own regulations, should give the right to first refusal to the local government before leasing it to another entity.

According to court documents, the county thought there was an understanding that the corps would send notification before an agreement for the park was made.

“The county was afforded no meaningful notice and opportunity to seek to restrain or enjoin the lease execution,” documents state.

A letter dated Sept. 17 from Corps attorney Joseph Givhan Jr. about the lease was mailed Sept. 21 from the corps’ regional office in Mobile, Ala.
Jarrard received it a day after the contract was made official.

Robbins said he did not know if Givhan tried to contact the county by phone before the letter arrived.

Dan Pile, YMCA senior vice president, said the organization plans to proceed with development of the park.

“We intend to do business as usual and do everything we’ve promised the community and families that we intend to serve,” he said.

Pile said the county’s efforts to fight the corps in court don’t make sense.

“It is absolutely fiscally and socially irresponsible to spend money on a lawsuit after laying off another 26 individuals, and I wonder how many lawsuits equal to somebody’s family being unable to make payment for their mortgage and feed their family over a park that the YMCA has legally won,” he said.

“Whatever money they think they’re going to put out for this is only a drop in the bucket of what they’re going to have to spend to suspend the YMCA’s efforts. We have a lease and we have a social and mission commitment to serve families in the area and we intend to.”

Pile said plans for the park include a youth camp and family retreat center.

He said children would stay for a week at a time at the summer camp, facilities would be available for families and for community meetings throughout the year.

“We’ll be serving churches, nonprofit groups, business groups and Scouts of course, any of the related YMCA collaborations that fit,” he said. “So it’s going to be a YMCA program center but also a resource for the whole community.”

The organization’s plans don’t wash with residents like Lucy Nutt.

Nutt, who lives off Bethel Road, said she has kept up with the issue over the past few years.

“What’s so concerning to me is it really will highly affect the quality of life of all of at least north Forsyth county residents,” she said. “If there are 250 campers that come here every week during the summer the traffic will be unbelievable.”

Nutt said she doesn’t think Swiss Air Road will be able to handle the traffic and is concerned about the YMCA’s plans to have functions year round.

“The traffic won’t stop because summer has ended,” she said.

The YMCA has filed a motion to intervene in an effort to join the corps’ defense.

The request asserts that the YMCA plans to build a summer camp and parking lot on two peninsulas of the park.

“The camp will serve inner city youth and other camping youths,” the document shows.

The park’s third peninsula is still available for public access, and the document says the county and corps could come to an agreement for that parcel.

In addition, the organization argued, the county commission had repeated chances to lease Bethel Park from 2000 to 2004.

The YMCA contends that board members, in consultation with the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, “turned down the chance each time."

"Only when the YMCA took up the corps on this opportunity did Forsyth County belatedly decide to try to block the corps from allowing the YMCA to develop ... on a portion of Bethel Park.”

According to Givhan’s letter, the corps expected but never received a response from the county by Aug. 31 regarding a proposal the corps had made.

Robbins said the proposal was for the third peninsula at Bethel.

The letter goes on to say that the corps has decided to lease the park to the YMCA based in part on the agreement that the organization would make improvements to Two Mile Park “and our ability to dovetail that with additional work funded by stimulus funding under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.”

The funding is available for a limited time and the improvements will benefit those who use the park, the letter contends.