in perpetuity for a while

Word that the North Georgia Methodist Conference might dispose of its 227-acre Simpsonwood Conference and Retreat Center in Peachtree Corners, fronting the Chattahoochee River, raises several questions.

Foremost in the mind of many is what will be the effect of future donors putting restrictions on property they give to non-profits. After all, the intent of Miss Ludie Simpson, who gave the property to the Methodists, was to keep the land intact.

labyrinth
The labyrinth at Simpsonwood

Miss Simpson, a retired Norcross school teacher, first gave the land to her Presbyterian Church. When they didn’t comply with her wishes after five years, she got the property back. All she had asked of the Presbyterians was to (1) keep the property intact; and (2) build a chapel in honor of her mother.

So, Miss Ludie gave the acreage to the Methodists, with the same restrictions. First thing the Methodists did was to build a beautiful small chapel to honor Miss Ludie’s mother. It sits on the site today, the venue of many small weddings.

But now the Methodists got a ruling out of Gwinnett Superior Court from Judge Ronnie Batchelor that the Conference had honored the intention of Miss Ludie “during the legally enforceable term of 20 years” and furthermore, “and for two decades thereafter.” The judge ruled that the covenants had expired in 1993. Makes you wonder what Miss Ludie would be thinking (if she were alive) about this ruling.

However, we must point out that though the Methodists now are allowed to offer the property for sale, so far they have not sub-divided it. Miss Ludie, we would think, would prefer that the tract be kept in one piece, as would many others in the area, especially residents of Peachtree Corners.

The current site has two operations on it: the Simpsonwood Retreat Center, but also the offices of the North Georgia Conference of the Methodist Church. The Conference has hired a real estate broker to determine the best offer for purchasing the property. The broker, David Haddow of Atlanta, on his web site says that the conference “needed a master plan and development strategy” for the property, and he is “evaluating various development scenarios.”

Hmmm. Makes you see visions of Mega Mansions on the property, doesn’t it?

One of the big problems of the Conference Center is that in recent years it was under-used. When it first started, it was near impossible for churches or individual groups to schedule a conference there on the weekend, requiring often an 18 month-in-advance booking. Mid-week was easier to book. At one time, the ElderHostel program was booking Simpsonwood during mid-week for its lodging.

But somehow, bookings fell off, the recession hit, and eventually, the Center was losing money. At one time it hired Aramark of Philadelphia to run the Center, then six years ago brought in Hotel Equities for its management. We understand the Center needs an input of major capital to upgrades its facilities if it is to be used as a conference center.

Some have suggested it would be great as greenspace, or a park. But this would take big bucks. It would be a major coup if the Georgia Land Trust or some such group would take the property off the market, and offer it to the government or a non-profit and keep it intact. Miss Ludie would approve.

All this may not be solved soon. After David Haddow brings his ideas to the Center’s Board of Trustees, any proposal would then have to go to the church’s annual conference next June for a final decision. As the conference has said, it will take a “lengthy, prayerful and research-dependent process” before all is resolved.

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This article originally appeared at Gwinnett Forum. Image: from Simpsonwood.org (fair use/promotional)
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.