Saturday, November 03, 2007

Welcome To Milton.

By DOUG NURSE The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 11/04/07

The city of Milton delights in its rural, rustic charm.

Two-lane roads are lined with trees. Well-tended black fences meander over rolling hills. Horses graze in breeze-rippled pastures. The equestrian backdrop is the signature of this north Fulton city and a magnet to high-end home buyers drawn by the prospects of living in a community that is pretty enough for a postcard. But some newcomers are coming face to face with an unavoidable dose — or whiff — of reality.

Jeff Runner's Yellow House Farm includes elegant stables and a 48,000 square foot indoor riding arena on 36 acres in Milton. He has been embroiled in a battle with neighbors who are upset he built a large arena for horses, and that he puts the manure in a dumpster near the property line.

Postcards don't stink.

As city officials are finding out, some Milton residents are more enamored with the visual aspects of a rural environment than with the inevitable byproducts.
"People have high expectations up here," said Milton Community Development Director Tom Wilson. "They like the way it looks. They don't like the way it smells or how it sounds.
"People will call and say, 'I smell horse poop' or 'I see a greenhouse,' 'Are they building a chicken house?' 'Do they use chemicals or fertilizer?' "

Wilson recalls a telephone conversation with a woman who was livid about a pile of horse poop on a gravel road near her home. Wilson explained the area is considered agricultural, and horses naturally fit that description."She was not happy," Wilson said.

Milton's culture clash was, perhaps, inevitable. The city started as a cotton-farming area, dotted with small crossroads communities. Because of a lack of railroads or major highways, Milton was largely bypassed from the tidal wave of growth on the Northside in the '80s and '90s.
It has become increasingly popular with people who can afford to live in an equestrian community within commuting distance of Atlanta. Dozens of horse farms are within the city limits.

The current average asking price for a home in Milton currently tops $800,000, according to Lauren Holmes, managing broker of Crye-Leike Realtors.

Milton, with 20,000 residents on 44 square miles, is twice the size of neighboring Alpharetta with half the population.

Residents love to talk about their horse farms and the need to protect the rural-tinged vistas. The city's logo depicts a galloping horse. The city Web site has a picture of grazing horses.
Kathleen Smith, of Hidden Haven Farm, says many of Milton's newcomers don't understand that agriculture is sometimes a messy, smelly enterprise.

"Farming isn't pretty," she said. "People want the Disneyfied version of agriculture. I hear people moved here for its ruralness, but it's not rural. When you live a rural lifestyle, you don't have covenants. We're being pushed out, but then people complain that we're leaving."
About 90 percent of Milton is zoned for agriculture, which allows one unit per acre. Agricultural zoning allows a wide variety of uses that doesn't fit the increasingly suburban nature of Milton, such as chicken farms, pig farms, kennels and horses.

City Councilman Neal O'Brien said he understands the potential for conflict."If you built a lovely estate house," O'Brien said, "you might find it unpleasant to live next to a chicken house."
Sometimes the clash is institutional.

For example, horse arenas typically are 35,000 to 40,000 square feet, but the rules adopted by the city only allow for 25,000 square feet. And the city has been reluctant to grant variances.
On Oct. 16, the Board of Zoning Appeals denied a request by Jonathan Levy of Arlington, Va., to build a 45,000-square-foot covered arena on 22 acres. A frustrated Levy said Milton's supposed love affair with horses is mere pretense.

"It's unmitigated hypocrisy," Levy said. "They're touting themselves as an elite equestrian community, but heaven help you if you want to build a real show barn. If they wanted to be a top-flight equestrian community, they would set up a special equestrian zoning ordinance that applied only to equestrian properties greater than 10 acres. It's all rhetoric."
Levy vows to sell his property to a developer and move to another county.

Jeff Runner, owner of Yellow House Farm, has been embroiled in a dust-up with some neighbors. One adjoining property owner, Ted Cox, says Runner violated the development regulations when he built a 36-stall, 48,000-square-foot barn and arena complex. He maintains that Runner's arena is improperly operating a commercial venture and that the structures violate several provisions of Fulton County's development laws.

He frets that the steel-ribbed arena, built two years ago, is within easy eyeshot of his back windows. Moreover, a large Dumpster for the horse dung sits near the property line of another neighbor."Of course it smells," Cox said. "It holds manure for 36 horses. There's noise, there's lighting. There's no buffers, no variances."

Runner said the stacked-stone and wooden barn and the arena were approved by Fulton County before Milton became a city last December. He said the county has assured him the buildings and their operation are fully compliant with the county's rules. He said some people want to dictate what he can do with his land."Why did they move here?" Runner asked. "People think a horse barn is a little shed with a couple of horses in the pasture. The reality is that's not a horse barn. That's a person with a couple of horses."

Karen McGoldrick, owner of Prospect Hill Farm with its six horses, said horse farms and subdivisions don't mix. She remembers a community forum last year where the tension was evident."I heard people complain 'Your horses scare my dogs.' 'Your riding instructors speak too loudly.' 'The hoofbeats make too much noise.' 'They make too much dust,' McGoldrick said. "There was such anger. These people aren't animal people."

The conflicts are not limited to horse farms. Wilson, the community development director, said he's fielded complaints about people timbering their property, operating landscaping businesses, and one case involving greenhouses on agriculturally zoned land.

Smith, of Hidden Haven Farm, says she deliberately keeps her animals — a horse, sheep and chickens — out of sight from neighbors. That means there are large portions of her land that she doesn't use.

"People move here from somewhere else to get a little piece of paradise," Wilson said. "They've lived in residential developments all their lives, and they expect the same kinds of protections they've always had."

The city is about to embark on its first comprehensive plan, and that might present an opportunity to change much of the zoning from agriculture to a more traditional residential zoning.

However, Mayor Joe Lockwood said he's a little uneasy making en masse rezonings from agricultural to residential, saying property owners might feel the city has taken away all their options, save development.

"It might accelerate development," he said. Lockwood recommends prospective home buyers check out what would be around their property."People need to be aware of what they're getting into and not be surprised," Lockwood said.


Anonymous said...

The lady complaining about the horse poop.... probably thinks her poop doesn't stink.

Anonymous said...

I would be happy to see Mr. Levys show barn here in Milton. I know the rules state it does not fit within the square footage but how about a variance on it? Can they not come to some sort of compromise?
And for whomever answers this do not try to take me down your anti - Bailey argument road.
Just a simple answer will suffice.

Anonymous said...

Milton needs it's own large equestrian center! Those involved in our Land Use Plan hopefully are looking into parks and equestrian centers for Milton. We need it.

We don't need Milton to turn into neighborhood Haven out here. The more neighborhoods the greater need for all the creature comforts of shopping centers,nail salons, gas stations, etc. taking over what is left of our countryside. Take a look at the beautiful fall colors in the trees right now as you drive through Milton, do you want to see this gone, and have to drive up to the Mountains to see this, or would you all rather view it from your yards and your daily drives. Planning Commission, Planning Committee, Citizen's Advisory Committee for Milton, please do not ruin Milton by changing the zoning of our land use plan RESIDENTIAL all over the place!

Milton Resident!

Anonymous said...

"Just a simple answer will suffice."

Suits me, however, if horses are poopers don't allow them to get near the gravel road.

Anonymous said...

"Milton Resident!"

Exactly what we natives were saying before all of you arrived.

Anonymous said...


Now there is the laugh of the day.

Anonymous said...

To lady near gravel road:

Check out for pooper scoopers and training pads.

Anonymous said...

How is this for a "COMPROMISE"...Effective immediately, for every new home built in Milton there must be adequate space for one horse, which must be kept on property at all times.

Thats right, no going to gravel road.


Anonymous said...

The question is: Whose horse pooped on gravel road?

If cottonwood trees are nearby, it could be that Kemo Sabe and Tonto set up camp in a clump of them...which would lead one to believe it was either Silver or Scout that left the calling card.

Anonymous said...

Just waiting for Santi and his group to state Tom-Tom Wilson would not have made these statements to Doug Nurse if Julie had not coerced him to do so.

In who's name will the ethics complaint be filed?

Anonymous said...

Milton- The city too busy hating to be rational

Anonymous said...

Rational is when you let people know about voting records and absences from public service commitments. Santi's voting record on the ARC's ELUC committee cannot be disputed ---- 12,000 homes will completely eradicate the designated Wildlife Management Area in Cherokee and it will bring sewer. Read the minutes on November 9, 2006. While you're educating yourself look at the number of absences he's racked up. Do you ever see him at Milton City Council meetings unless he's running for office? Think about it, then vote wisely.

Anonymous said...

How Cherokee develops will affect Milton. County officials are proposing a grid pattern for traffic that will route a good deal of Cherokee traffic through Milton. This is not a scare tactic. I attended the meeting where this was discussed. Santi's action to approve a massive development in Cherokee only exacerbates traffic woes. Ms. Bailey is aware of this and developing significant relationships across borders to help protect Milton.

Anonymous said...

The Media coverage in this area makes me laugh.

With the future of this town at stake on Tuesday, the major Sunday article before the election is about horse poop?

Call me paranoid -- you really can't help it with develpers camped out all around your boundries waiting for someone to let them in -- but this seems an oddly timed article.

It's a good way to paint a whole town as a bunch of over-priveleged whiners who define win-win as "we win twice."

I did not see any place in this article that cited the NUMBER of complaints.

While the whining quotent in Milton is undeniably high, a couple anecdotes does not speak for a whole town.

Jonathan M. Levy said...

Current zoning - and the denial of my requests for zoning variances for my proposed show stable on Hickory Flat Road - leaves me no alternative, but to sell my property at some future date to a developer.
As far as I know, none of my adjacent neighbors objected to my variance requests. Yet I was denied every single variance requested. My only goal was to build a first class equestrian facility for my niece, Susie Fried.
I am not interested in building a second rate faciltiy. If I have to go somewhere else I will.
Let me also point out to the tax payer's of Milton: horses don't burden the city with the need for additional teachers, schools, police, firemen, and other city services. Yes, development brings additional revenue to Milton, but it also brings far greater tax burdens then the revenue it generates. See if your property tax rates don't go up in the future.
Ten or twenty years from now Milton will be just another "run of the mill" upper-
income suburb; just like a thousand similar suburbs around the country. Nothing special.
Just some people who keep a few field horses as pets.
What a shame!

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Anonymous said...

Amen brother,

What the nay sayers don't want to hear is no growth=higher taxes. Julie is going to probably win and win and win until the taxes sky rocket. [Just like Karen Handel predicted a year ago]

Why should she care, she put her land in a conservation plan to save taxes.

It's all about Power and control.


Anonymous said...

Taxes sky-rocket to pay for needed infrastructure due to uncontrolled growth.

Anonymous said...

Hey, namedropper: Is the reference to Ms. Handel a coincidence or a clue into who you are? She did appoint Santi to ELUC and contributed to his campaign. I wouldn't expect Ms. Handel to speak out against explosive growth; she wouldn't enjoy the development monies for her expensive campaign.

Anonymous said...

What infastructure? Roads? Bridges? Water lines?

Anonymous said...

...and to maintain speed breakers, excuse me I should have said "traffic calming devices", on "THE GORDON" dirt or gravel road.

Anonymous said...

Amen to the person saying that taxes skyrocket due to uncontrolled growth...adding to that... AND due to developers who don't pay their fair share in infrastructure costs like schools, roads and public safety. It's time to hold their feet to the fire. Otherwise taxes will continue to soar!

Anonymous said...

The reason we choose to stay in Milton is because of the "small town feel" and the beautiful horses. I would much rather smell manure than look at another neighborhood requiring more of this and more of that. If you can't deal with the smell, leave, sell, go somewhere there are no horses or the equestrian feel we are trying to keep. There are plenty of choices out there - that is why we choose Milton - to be a calm beautiful community, not one of "them". Look what has happened around Creekstone Estates in Cumming.... I agree with the Milton resident that commented at 6:31 am - well said!