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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Exotic animal preserve denied by planning commission.

Courtesy Jonathan Copsey; The Milton Herald

March 04, 2013

MILTON, Ga. - In a 5-1 vote Feb. 26, the Milton Planning Commission denied the application from a Milton resident to open an animal preserve on Hopewell Road. They defended their vote, claiming it was not compatible with the area.

The first presentation of the preserve before council is March 4. The final decision will be March 18.

Dean Riopelle has operated a preserve for exotic animals – mostly small primates – on his 20-acre property for the past 14 years. He keeps up to date on his permits from the relevant agencies of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture. While the use was permitted under Fulton County law, when the city of Milton incorporated in 2006, it was not allowed. Because Riopelle had existed before the city's laws, he was allowed to continue his operations as a "legal non-conforming" use.

That changed when he decided he wanted to expand.

In order to grow the numbers of animals in his preserve, Riopelle had to come into compliance with Milton law. The city and council changed the uses allowed within the city to permit exotic animals, such as Riopelle has. That just made him legal within the city. To expand, he would require a use permit.

"We are not denying use of the property as it was when the city was formed," explained Planning Commission Chairman George Ragsdale. "All we're denying is the expansion of the use of the property."

Nearby residents voiced concerns over safety, noise, traffic, health and reduced property values.

"Wild animals near our homes are a recipe for disaster," said Sunnybrook Farms resident Kay Norvell to the commission. "Please do not allow this to happen in this community."

Riopelle's attorney Don Rolader contended there have never been any problems with the property in the past and that keeping animals is in keeping with Milton's rural, farm-based nature.

"This operation is not a zoo," said attorney Don Rolader. "It was never intended to be a zoo. It was intended as a place where a primary school class might come and observe exotic animals."

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