In Forsyth County, fight goes out of YMCA Bethel Park development battle
Behind the scenes, the three-way tug of war engaging Forsyth County, the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the development of Bethel Park on Lake Lanier has gone on for five years.
At times it’s been noisy, with public hearings over the past year and impassioned opposition from community and county leaders. And it’s been expensive.
“I think it’s cost the county between $150,000 and $200,000 in legal fees,” District 4 County Commissioner Patrick Bell said this week, “and I think it cost the YMCA about $400,000.”
A decision by a federal judge Feb. 14 likely brought an end to the drama and red ink shed. The YMCA said this week it’s moving ahead with building an $8 million summer camp on the 62-acre park it leases from the corps, and will break ground this summer.
A key leader of the opposition to the park, former Forsyth County Commissioner David Richard, said Thursday he sees the odds stacked against opponents, given the court’s ruling, and dragging the fight through another legal appeal likely won’t change the result.
“The court essentially said that the law gives preference to leasing the land to the county over the YMCA — but then it ignored that law in its ruling,” said Richard. “The ruling makes no sense, and I don’t see that changing. And I don’t think the current County Commission wants to fight it anymore, either.”
Forsyth and the YMCA in 2007 presented rival development plans for Bethel Park, which had much in common: Both proposed the park as an overnight and day-use facility, and included boat and public access, and a beach.
The YMCA’s plan added cabins, a fishing pier, outdoor amphitheaters and classrooms for youth campers who visit on weekends most of the year, and a week at a stretch for summer camp.
The corps agreed that the law requires that Forsyth had preference over the YMCA — but said it had the discretion to deny Forsyth and award the lease to the YMCA because the YMCA’s plan better served the public interest.
Forsyth County asked a federal court to stop the development. The court denied that appeal in December 2009. The county appealed again. The Feb. 14 ruling upheld the court’s earlier ruling.
Forsyth County attorney Ken Jarrard said the county accepts the latest ruling, and the County Commission is ready to move on to other matters.
“The [commission] has authorized contact to be made with the corps’ representatives to discuss possible options for possible conclusion of the case,” said Jarrard. Commissioners declined to comment on the case because it is still technically a legal battle.
Dan Pile, senior vice president of operations for the Metro Atlanta YMCA, said the association plans to break ground this summer. “As far as we’re concerned, this is resolved,” he said.
Former commissioner Richard said this week he and others in the community still fear the park will generate too much traffic and noise, and water and sewage problems that eventually will cost the county money. Pile disagreed.
“We’ve heard all those concerns and addressed them,” said Pile. “There’s not going to be a traffic problem. The scope of this issue, whatever the issue is, is with the state, not with the county. There will be no county investment required.”