An officer of the court and a man of the cloth are held to higher standards.
The AboutForsyth Forum
Updated August 1, 2011
By Nydia Tisdale
When Crystal Cove Shores Subdivision was created in 1969, the developer designed an idyllic, exclusive, residential, neighborhood on the shores of Lake Lanier. Restrictions on record prohibit any commercial activity and require a community center, swimming pool, tennis court or stable to be approved by a substantial number of neighbors with a list of notarized signatures of property owners. Transient tenants don't count.
Bridgepoint Community Networks, Inc. has submitted an application to Forsyth County for a conditional use permit (CUP) to build a non-profit club or lodge on property zoned lake residential. Bridgepoint Community Networks, Inc. is a non-profit corporation with Seventh-Day Adventist Pastor Bill Levin, wife Jan Levin and Crystal Cove homeowner Priscilla Pruitt as directors.Three name changes
Priscilla Pruitt canvassed her neighborhood in 2006 collecting signatures for a non-profit community center; however, at the time, Bridgepoint Community Networks, Inc. did not exist. Bridgepoint Community Networks, LLC — a for-profit, limited liability company — was dissolved on Oct. 19, 2007 to allow the creation of Bridgepoint Community Networks, Inc. — a non-profit corporation. This is yet another case of mistaken identity for a corporate entity that appears so often in the Forsyth County Planning Department.
Just as the company name has changed — so, too, has the building name changed. It has been called everything from an organic house church to a community center to a non-profit club or lodge — depending if the audience is Seventh-Day Adventist group Good News Atlanta, Crystal Cove residents, Forsyth County officials or the IRS.
The lot name has changed, as well. The quarter-acre well lot is now the half-acre church lot. The surveyor must have really sharpened his pencil to somehow double the lot size on paper.
The Unified Development Code of Forsyth County precludes a church building on this property because it is too small to meet setback requirements.
The proposed, non-profit, club or lodge — owned and operated by a private entity — does not equal a community center. A private club or lodge is not owned by the community. A private club or lodge is not controlled by the community. A private club or lodge is not operated by the community. Does everyone in the community get a key to the club? church? community center? Can a private club or lodge get a liquor license?
In fact, Bridgepoint owners Bill & Jan Levin live in Adairsville, Bartow County — outside the Crystal Cove community and outside of Forsyth County.Three applications
This is the third CUP application in as many years. The first application was submitted in Dec. 2008 by then District 4 Commissioner David Richard in his eleventh hour and eventually withdrawn by current Commissioner Patrick Bell in May 2009 after an uproar of community dissent to a commercial building that will forever change the character of their Crystal Cove enclave.
The second application was submitted in June 2009 by the property owner who bought the land for a song — the price of $6,363 for the tax deed on the tiny, abandoned, well lot that previously serviced sixty homes before county water was available. The law firm Lipscomb Johnson Sleister Dailey & Smith LLP contributed $5,000 towards this purchase in Aug. 2008. In Dec. 2009, this application was also withdrawn to address the issue of installing a septic system next to a deep water well. Where will the septic lines go? What about capping the well?
The third application, submitted in Sep. 2010, was heard by the Planning Commission in May 2011, but the public notice lacked the existing zoning district as required by state law and county code, so the Board of Commissioners remanded the matter back to the Planning Commission for another public hearing on July 26.Polls, parking and traffic
Law firm Lipscomb Johnson conducted a poll recently regarding Crystal Cove Shores Community Center asking: "Do you support the approval of a community center . . . to be operated by a non-profit organization?" — without identifying the non-profit entity or the activities to be held there. Only supporting poll ballots were submitted to the Planning Department; ballots returned in opposition were withheld. A true poll tallies all responses.
Parking is a problem. With only six spaces — less one reserved for handicapped use — that leaves five. A director must be present whenever the building is open. The Levin’s commute by car, which leaves just four spaces to service 30 to 40 kids presently coming to Friday night Bible study. Kids travel at their own peril by bike or foot on 20-foot-wide streets with no sidewalks, no shoulders and no street lights to a busy trapezoid at the T intersection of Thunder and Crystal Cove Trails. What happens in the rain? in the snow? in the dark?
Sheriff Ted Paxton writes in a letter to Crystal Cove homeowner Jill Martin, "There is the potential for this center to increase the amount of vehicular traffic on Crystal Cove Trail which could increase the risk of public safety in the area."
Three school buses stop at the corner of Crystal Cove and Thunder Trails twice every school day — just a few feet away from a single driveway to enter and to exit the church site. With cars, bicycles and pedestrians coming to the center every hour for a variety of classes to mentor children, this intersection is an accident waiting to happen.
"The Sheriff's Office in cooperation with residents of the Crystal Cove community has worked very hard over the past several years to address issues within the area. The support and cooperation from the community has been a success and we have seen a significant decline in crime related issues in the Crystal Cove area. The effort of the Crystal Cove community in conjunction with our Neighborhood Watch Program and our Community Relations Unit has definitely shown results.
"I have concerns relative to this community center attracting the type of person back into the area which we have worked hard to remove from the Crystal Cove community," Sheriff Paxton states.Six registered sex offenders
Two registered sex offenders live in either direction from the church lot on Crystal Cove Trail; two more reside on Medlock Road; a fifth lives on Knight Road and a sixth stays on Sawnee Terrace — a stone's throw away from the proposed community center to facilitate classes for Crystal Cove youth. Georgia law requires that registered sex offenders shall not live or work within 1,000 feet of any child care facility, school, or area where minors congregate.
Such distance shall be determined by measuring from the outer boundary of the property on which the individual resides to the outer boundary of the property of the child care facility, school, or area where minors congregate at their closest points.
"Area where minors congregate" shall include all public and private parks and recreation facilities, public and community swimming pools, playgrounds, skating rinks, gymnasiums, school bus stops, neighborhood centers and similar facilities providing programs or services directed towards persons under 18 years of age.
School buses cannot stop near the homes of registered sex offenders.Three parties and their counsel
The Planning Commission makes a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners to approve, to deny, or to approve with conditions.
Three parties are involved in this process: 1) applicant Bridgepoint Community Networks, represented by Ethan Underwood, 2) numerous Crystal Cove homeowners in opposition, represented by Joe Stauffer, and 3) Forsyth County as governing body, represented by Ken Jarrard.
If a public official, who is paid by public funds, has a question on a legal matter on business before the board, that official should consult the Forsyth County Attorney, also, paid by public funds.Ex parte communication
In an e-mail obtained by an Open Records Request, attorney for applicant, Mr. Underwood, writes: "I have been asked by several of Planning Commissioners to respond to concerns whether covenants regarding Crystal Cove Shores Subdivision are still in effect. In particular, the questions has arisen regarding whether O.C.G.A. § 44-5-60 reinstated the covenants."
Mr. Underwood renders his professional, legal opinion regarding restrictions on record on the subject property reviewing Georgia code and citing case law and concludes that the restrictive covenants for Crystal Cove Shores Subdivision were not renewed.
However, in the case he cites, Turtle Cove Property Owners Association, Inc. v. Jasper County, 255 Ga. App. 560 (2002), Mr. Underwood errs in stating that the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling. In fact, the judgment was reversed and the Court of Appeals found that the covenants were renewed and are still in effect.
Therefore, the Crystal Cove Shores Subdivision deed restrictions most likely still control. Warranty deeds of numerous Crystal Cove property owners read: "Subject to all
easements and restrictions of record."
The ex parte communication between the applicant's attorney and the recommending body is highly improper and unethical and could create an unfair bias by the board. The planning board should strike any "legal" counsel proffered by "Esquire" Ethan.
Zoning attorneys have no place in providing legal counsel to decision makers who sit in judgment on zoning applications.
Not only that — "Esquire" Ethan Underwood has got his "legal" advice all wrong. Perhaps, this is due to working with an ex-convict bank fraud felon for so long, that he can no longer recognize fact from fiction.
"I did talk to [Forsyth County Attorney] Ken Jarrard . . . because you're right, he is our attorney," Commissioner Patrick Bell amazingly agreed.Higher standards
An officer of the court and a man of the cloth are held to higher standards. As an officer of the court, an attorney has a duty of candor to the tribunal, which means one must tell the truth. A pastor has to answer to God.
An officer of the court has conceivably convinced a man of the cloth to deny his church. Mr. Underwood has presumably misled Pastor Levin and is playing tricks on the planning board. The end does not justify the means.Ethan Underwood with law firm Lipscomb Johnson Sleister Dailey & Smith LLP