by Jonathan Copsey / The Milton Herald / December 27, 2013
MILTON, Ga. - A proposed event facility on Hopewell Road has split this community.
Jeff Runner and his family own the 30-acre Yellow House Farm on Hopewell Road, one of the few pristine horse farms left in Milton. They own a handful of the horse that graze this pasture, while renting stables on their land.
To help supplement his income, Runner asked the City Council Dec. 16 to turn four acres surrounding the house into a special events facility.
However, this has angered neighbors, especially those in the adjoining Bethany Oaks subdivision, who say the events that already take place on the property are noisy, disturbing and too intense for their quiet neighborhood.
After nearly two hours of discussion, council deferred the issue until late January, struggling both with opposing desires of the residents and a wrinkle in the city code that hampers special event facilities.
To operate an events facility in AG-1 (residential) zoning, Fulton County had laws that required the applicant return after three years to renew their use permit. According to city staff, this was possibly created to deal with events such as a Renaissance Festival that are held during set times of the year. A business hosting events year-round was not considered.
The law is still on Milton's books.
Given the neighbor disapproval of the facility, Runner balked at the idea of having to seek renewal after three years.
"That allows the fight to go on," he said. "You tie my hands behind my back, give them a gun and say 'go make your business work.' I can't do that. I won't do that."
There are plenty of other businesses Runner said he could use on his property that would be more disturbing to neighbors, including landscaping and kennels, that do not require such restrictions.
"This is a good example of a landowner trying to save land and avoid development," said Laura Rencher, of Preserve Rural Milton. "This keeps a horse farm and the rural character of the city."
Runner said the events would be kept to less than 200 people and restricted to weddings, bridal showers and charitable functions. He also said he would be considerate with sound and light at night.
"We want to preserve equestrian [uses] and promote people with larger pieces of property to hold onto them. Everybody is up in arms that these properties are being sold to subdivisions," said Mayor Joe Lockwood. "This could be a win-win."
However, as in so many things, the devil is in the details.
Council grappled with how best to enforce lighting and noise and how to "put a square peg in a round hole," as Runner called the use of the property.
The council deferred the issue, giving Runner and his neighbors one last time to sit down and work out their differences.
It could also allow the city time to craft rules to allow event facilities in the city.