0

Church officials consider sale of Simpsonwood land in Peachtree Corners

The Brooks Complex at Simpsonwood is a 71-room lodge, which includes three floors with an elevator. According to the website, all rooms have a desk and chair, however, no televisions are offered in these rooms. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

The Brooks Complex at Simpsonwood is a 71-room lodge, which includes three floors with an elevator. According to the website, all rooms have a desk and chair, however, no televisions are offered in these rooms. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

photo

Simpsonwood Conference and Retreat Center identifies itself as a Christian adult and family retreat center nestled in Peachtree Corners. According to the website, the property is surrounded by 227-acres of woodlands along the Chattahoochee River. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

photo

The Elizabeth Jane Sanders Simpson Chapel, an “English-Style” field chapel, is built on the site of “Miss Ludie’s” family home. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

photo

Simpsonwood offers four lodges to accommodate overnight guests. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

PEACHTREE CORNERS — Ludie Simpson held onto her family farm as long as she could.

Even though she lived and worked as a teacher in Atlanta, “Miss Ludie” spent her summers and holidays on the land where she grew up.

But when the taxes got too high, she had no choice but to let go, deciding to give the land away instead of selling it and seeing the beautiful nature destroyed.

“Being a good Presbyterian,” Miss Ludie offered the land to her own Presbyterian Church first, but when officials said they would have to sell a portion of the land to afford to make improvements on the rest of it, the family matriarch turned to the Methodists.

According to great nephew Bill Carroll, Miss Ludie gave her family’s land away, asking only that the acreage remain whole and preserved, and that a chapel be built and dedicated to her mother and grandparents.

Forty years later, the family is bracing for the possibility of seeing the development of the land, now known as the Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Peachtree Corners.

“It’s too bad,” said Carroll, a co-executor of Simpson’s will. “If she had ever known that they would build on it and divide it, they’d have never got it,” Carroll said.

According to Sybil Davidson, a spokeswoman with the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, a decision on the property is not eminent.

Leaders have debated the property since 2007 but earlier this year, a Gwinnett County judge ruled that the legal obligations to Miss Ludie — to preserve the more than 200 acres of land and not divide it — expired 20 years after the gift was made.

Last month, the organization hired a commercial real estate broker, who is tasked with determining options for the land, including its value, to present to the conference of 2,000 ministers and lay people next June.

“This is just another step in that process of fact-gathering and prayerful consideration,” Davidson said of the site, which is currently the headquarters of the conference and a popular site for weddings, retreats and other events.

“It’s a really lovely place,” Davidson said, adding that the process has not moved quickly. “The conference has been good stewards of the property for 40 years.”

A year ago, the conference asked Carroll and other family members to support the move, but instead they told the judge they believe the church should honor the agreement. If it is sold, some family members would like compensation, since they believe Simpson would have left the property to family if she knew it would not be protected by the agreement with the church.

Neighbors of the land, bounded by Jones Bridge Circle and the Chattahoochee River, have expressed concern about the possibility of development, with some asking if the county or newly formed city government could purchase the land as a park.

“According to the County Land Acquisition Policy, I am not at liberty to discuss potential land acquisitions. I believe that the spirit of the policy precludes me from even speculating about specific parcels,” Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said.

Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason said the council has not yet discussed the matter.

“It hurts Gwinnett County,” Carroll said of the possible development. “Here is this big piece of property that could be enjoyed.”