0

Judge rules against Peachtree Corners neighbors in Simpsonwood dispute

A judge ruled Thursday that neighbors to the Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Peachtree Corners have no standing to intervene in the sale of the property.

A judge ruled Thursday that neighbors to the Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Peachtree Corners have no standing to intervene in the sale of the property.

Neighbors to the Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Peachtree Corners were barred Thursday from intervening in the sale of the property.

Last year, a judge had ruled last year that the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church could market and sell the property 40 years after it was deeded as a gift by Ludie Simpson. Neighbors tried to step in, but Magistrate Judge Mark Lewis ruled from the bench Thursday that they have no standing in the private property case.

Lewis, who lives in nearby Norcross, said he felt for the neighbors who believed the land would continue as a church retreat center, adding that he would allow “lis pendens” to remain on the land through appeal, which would halt its sale.

“I understand this fight is about development, but that’s not the fight today,” Lewis said, adding that knowing the ruling could alter the more than 200-acre landmark made him sick. “It’s a huge piece of property and we consider it a park, but it’s private property. … This is private property and private people can decide what they want to do with their property.”

During the court proceedings, the conference’s attorney Matt Reeves said the conference is in discussions to sell the property to Gwinnett County as a park and accused the neighbor leading the charge — Jim Erdy — of trying to interfere the deal because he would rather see million-dollar homes built.

Erdy said afterward that was “not exactly what I said,” but added that he was told by realtors 27 years ago that the retreat center would always remain. He said his daughters played in the acreage as children and that it was considered public park now, which was why he was hoping to intervene in the case.

Lewis, though, was not interested in hearing the accusations and steered attorneys toward the matter of whether the neighbors had a right to intervene in the case.

He told a courtroom full of Peachtree Corners residents that he had to decide the case on the “cold facts.” But that they should remain involved in any land use decisions by the city or county, as that would give neighbors more say in the proceedings.

“There will be other opportunities,” Lewis said of any government dealings. “That will be the time when people in this courtroom will have a say in how it’s used.”