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Legal battle persists over Bethel Park

POSTED: February 2, 2009 11:08 p.m.

CUMMING — The battle over Bethel Park has some residents in limbo.

"I don’t know what the deal is," said Jennifer Kaplan, who lives less than a mile from the 62-acre park on Lake Lanier. "We’ve been fighting this for I don’t know how many years."

A hearing was postponed Friday in U.S. District Court on Forsyth County’s request to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from leasing the northeastern Forsyth park to the YMCA. It was the second postponement in two months.

Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said the county plans to have discussions with the corps before moving forward with the hearing, which could happen March or April.

Kaplan thinks talking with the corps outside of court won’t help.

"We’ve gone this route before of trying to be nice to (the corps)," she said. "I think it needs to be dealt with in court already."

She said residents of Swiss Air Road, which is near the park, share her feelings that the site should become a county park.

The corps has held off on signing a lease with the YMCA, which would convert the park into a private camp with cabins, sports fields, a marina, dining hall, chapel and outdoor pool.

The park is in Commissioner Patrick Bell’s district. He thinks the county should work with YMCA to "create a world-class facility we can all benefit from."

Bell said the proposed camp would operate about 10 weeks a year, so maybe residents could use it the rest of the time. The county’s plan to manage the park as a 75-site campground is "not in the cards."

"We don’t even have the budget to build it, and we can’t staff it with our current economic situation," Bell said.

"Why don’t we go to the Y and work with them? How we could not support something that’s going to help youth is beyond me."

Kaplan countered that commissioners should instead consider helping residents near the park.

"We all use our park; and we walk in our park; and we love our park," Kaplan said. "We don’t want it taken away from us. It’s not right."

Traffic should also be taken into account, she said, noting the area is "just not built to support something of this magnitude."

"We don’t want this camp at all," she said. "The corps seems intent on giving it to the YMCA though."

Both the corps and YMCA declined to comment.

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.

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 YMCA.

To compensate for giving Bethel to YMCA, the corps proposed enhancing the amenities at Two-Mile Park, another corps property nearby.

Bell said it’s in the county’s best interest to drop the lawsuit.

"We shouldn’t be funding a lawsuit when we’re laying people off," Bell said. "All the way around, it’s bad timing. We need to put aside our hard feelings and hardheadedness and pony up."



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