The site looks abandoned and dismal at first glance.
The logs in the fire pit have blackened with ash and the crumbling walls are covered in graffiti.
Upon closer inspection, though, the fire pit is filled with fresh paper plates and cups from a gathering and the graffiti on the wall has the encouraging words “God rocks.”
A youth community center has been proposed for the seemingly vacant, half-acre spot in the Crystal Cove Shores subdivision in northeastern Forsyth County.
It’s the second time the proposal has surfaced in about two years — much to the dismay of some residents.
The plan, which would require a conditional use permit from the county, has rekindled debate over the location and the center’s purpose.
Both sides appear to be digging in, with an attorney for opponents calling a recent public participation meeting on the issue “contentious.”
Aim is to have a ‘presence’
For the past seven years, community volunteers have held youth group and Bible study meetings for the many at-risk children in the neighborhood, which is off Hwy. 53 near where Forsyth, Dawson and Hall counties meet at Lake Lanier.
Bridgepoint Community Networks is looking to use the land it owns at the corner of Crystal Cove and Thunder trails to build a 2,000-square-foot building that would house gatherings and other community services for youth.
Bill Levin, who leads the group, said youth in the subdivision face their share of challenges.
Many come from lower income homes and struggle in a neighborhood where Levin says Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies are called out more often than in most other local subdivisions.
“What we’re trying to do is to have a presence there in the community,” he said. “We feel like there’s a need to reach kids at a young age to say that they can do things in their lives.”
He said it’s wonderful to watch children who don’t think they will graduate high school go on to higher education after a little encouragement.
Levin, who is an ordained Christian minister, began doing community work with his wife in Crystal Cove about seven years ago. The decision came after an eye-opening ride-along with the sheriff’s office.
Along with concerned community residents, Levin and others began holding Bible studies on Friday nights, something they’ve recently moved to the empty lot where they hope the community center will someday stand.
Levin said that foundation would allow them to make “a more consistent impact” by adding regular tutoring, drug prevention and mentoring programs.
The proposal, first brought to the county in late 2008, was withdrawn to give the group more time to study the matter, attorney Ethan Underwood said.
The plan met resistance from neighbors, who cited traffic, property and safety concerns.
Since Bridgepoint already owns the land, it needs only to secure a conditional use permit for a nonprofit club or lodge to build and run a center on the site.
The permit would need to go through planning board and county commission hearings before a final decision. No dates have been set.
Foes: Facility not good fit for area
Neighbors opposed to the plan say the location is wrong and unsafe for what’s proposed. Furthermore, they say, the proposal itself is misleading and deceptive.
“We recognize that this is a noble effort on the part of these folks,” resident Rich Marcom said. “Our objection is that they’re trying to put a facility in the middle of a neighborhood.”
Vehicle and foot traffic have been a major safety concern, he said, since the subdivision has narrow roads and no sidewalks.
Center advocates have said the youth center won’t increase vehicle traffic because it’s for neighborhood youth who will walk there.
But Marcom counters that it’s not safe for them to be walking along the streets or on the small grassy shoulders.
He worries the center could begin drawing youth from outside the neighborhood, and noted the proposal calls for just six parking spots.
Noise, septic and a potential decline in property values have also been issues, as well as the prospect of having possibly dangerous drug addicts meeting at the center.
The physical aspects of the facility aside, opponents have said its advocates have not been entirely honest about what they’re planning.
Joseph Stauffer, attorney for the group of residents, said the center is not a nonprofit lodge as requested but rather a church, which could not be built on that plot due to zoning requirements.
Levin said he is by trade the evangelism director for his denomination, the Seventh-day Adventists, and sometimes leads seminars about launching church plants.
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 the children in need.
Stauffer said the line may not be so clear.
The Web site associated with Levin’s church, www.GoodNewsAtlanta.net, showed Crystal Cove on its list of “emerging church plants” up until about a week ago. It can still be seen as a cached page in a Google search and is referred to as a “ministry.”
But Levin said he has nothing to hide.
“If I was wanting to build a church here, I would be working to build a church,” he said.