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Park talk stirs up ire
Bell gets earful over Bethel
Bethel meeting 3
Commissioner Patrick Bell takes notes as Caitlyn Waddington talks at a town hall meeting Tuesday. - photo by Frank Reddy
Tempers flared during Tuesday night’s town hall meeting on the fate of a northeastern Forsyth County park.

Commissioner Patrick Bell organized the event to gather input from residents, many of whom are concerned about a lawsuit to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from leasing 62-acre Bethel Park to the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta.

The YMCA wants to convert the park into a private camp with cabins, sports fields, a marina, dining hall, chapel and outdoor pool.

Bell, whose district includes the park on Lake Lanier, urged attendees to be civil Tuesday. He has previously said the county should not rule out working with the YMCA.

“This is not a bashing session,” Bell said. “I’m only one of five commissioners, and the five have decided to sit down together with the corps.”
Commissioners plan to meet with corps officials in a closed-door session March 17. The commissioners can enter executive, or closed, session when discussing matters of litigation.

The meeting comes after a U.S. District Court hearing in the suit has been postponed twice this year.

The YMCA has been trying since 2003 to develop a residential camp at the site. The corps was set to award the lease to the YMCA in 2006, before residents complained to the county commission, which then submitted its own plan for the site.

The county plans included running the park as a 75-site campground with a day-use area open to the general public.

County officials argued that, based on the corps’ own regulations, the county should have received right of first refusal before the contract was offered to the YMCA.

Tuesday night, more than 150 people crowded the lunch room at Chestatee Elementary, taking turns at the microphone.

County resident and attorney Harry Foster told Bell and the group that the county’s request to stop the corps is “a no-brain lawsuit ... the facts are clear.”

Charles Morgan and some other Bethel Road residents attacked the issue from the financial standpoint of litigation.

“If you’re talking about how much this lawsuit’s going to cost, wait till you start building a four-lane highway down Bethel Road,” Morgan said.
Resident Cameron Hoxie said the county’s financial status does not lend itself to funding a lawsuit.

“Had this meeting happened six months ago, I’d say there were some valid concerns here tonight,” said Hoxie, whose wife Lisa is the chairman for the local branch of the YMCA.

“Right now, I don’t think this is something the county can afford to do,” Hoxie said.

Resident Scott Kaplan said building infrastructure to support the YMCA would be unaffordable.

“We will foot the bill for all infrastructure, and it will cost many times more than what it will cost to litigate this case,” said Kaplan, who is a resident of Swiss Air Road, which branches off Bethel near the park.

Kaplan added that he supports summer camps, but “Bethel is not a good place to build a summer camp.”

Bob Pines, the last official speaker at the meeting, disagreed.

“This is a terrific place to put a camp,” Pines said, adding that he lives near a YMCA facility in the south Forsyth. “I can’t think of what I’d want as a better neighbor than the YMCA.”

Other residents laughed at Pines’ comments.

The meeting degenerated into bursts of shouting and jeers, and former District 4 Commissioner David Richard and Bell got into a public argument.

Richard accused Bell of being dishonest. Bell countered by attributing Richard’s bitterness to losing the July Republican primary.

Michael Durkin urged his fellow residents to calm down and credited Bell with taking the time to organize the meeting and hear their concerns.

E-mail Frank Reddy at