By Joe Lockwood, Milton Mayor
I want to talk about all the sudden
construction and development we’re seeing around Milton. I know it seems like
neighborhoods are popping up overnight, and I’ve been asked by many citizens
why the city isn’t stopping the growth. I’ve even had comments asking “if we
need to vote in new folks on city council?”
I wish it was that simple. If we had a magic button we could push and everything would stay the same, I, as well as city council, would!
When I first moved to what is now Milton, it felt like we were way out in the country. We rode our horses up and down the street and through hundreds of acres that are now developed. I remember sitting outside and hearing nothing but the breeze and birds. Things have changed over the last 20 years, and I cannot do any of that now.
The good and bad news is that Milton is a great place to live. We have quality schools, beautiful neighborhoods, proximity to good companies with great jobs, golf courses, horse farms, athletic facilities for our kids, etc. Believe me, I can go on and on.
Milton was even named "best quality of life” in Georgia and ninth highest in the southeast by the Business Journals’ On Numbers Survey. This kind of honor just fuels the desire of people wanting to move here, as we all have chosen to do so at some point.
That said, here is the reality of the situation:
· The change seems so sudden because of pent-up demand. What you are seeing is the result of about five years of demand that could not be fulfilled because of the collapse of credit markets. Normally, this development would happen more gradually. However, regional economic recovery means a groundswell of activity.
· Individual property rights are essential to our way of life. The City of Milton cannot, and would not, ever force a property owner into a decision that negatively affects the value of their land. If a property owner wants to sell acreage to a developer, they are free to do so. Developers buy the land because people want to live on that land. This is the free market system.
· This is not just happening in Milton. All across the region new residential development is popping up. Milton is very attractive to homebuyers for the exact same reasons you love the city: good schools, ample land, and good opportunity.
· Milton cannot absolutely stop all development. This is impossible. If we try, we will be sued and we will lose. And on top of losing, we will waste millions in tax money fighting lawsuits.
· Milton has tools in place to influence development – but some are voluntary. Our form-based code and comprehensive plan will keep heavy development contained to identified areas. But transfer of development rights, placing large swaths of greenspace in protective zones in exchange for heavier development in commercially viable areas, is voluntary. We cannot force this tool onto land owners.
· If a development follows the letter and intent of our laws – if it conforms to the stringent standards the community approved through our various zoning tools – its owner will be allowed to build without City Council oversight. For example, if a new neighborhood goes into land zoned AG-1 (agricultural use) and is broken up into one-acre lots (a standard) with one home that meets our building codes, that case will not come before City Council. Please understand: We are certainly aware of the development because of city staff reporting to us daily, but we have no legal decision to make.
· Finally, change is inevitable. Milton’s population doubled from 2000 to 2010. Every plan we’ve created since incorporation in 2006 contemplated population growth. This is nothing new, and it is nothing unexpected. The option we are left with is managing that growth so that what makes Milton unique is not lost.
I understand that many of us would like to "close the door and lock it once we are here," but because of the facts above we cannot do that.
Here’s the ironic thing: I often hear citizens from one development or neighborhood chastise property owners next door who consider selling. But I’m sure in the past the same property owner contemplating selling thought the exact same thing about the land next to them. That’s just life.
I am not saying living in an apartment, townhouse, cluster home, neighborhood, horse farm, agricultural land, on a golf course or in a country club is any better or worse. I believe diversity is what makes Milton a great place to live!
What can we do to preserve our city and keep the balance? The only way I know of is by all working together.
Step one is to embrace quality development, but more importantly, spread the word and encourage people to accept the rural lifestyle for which our city is known. Now this lifestyle is certainly a reality for only a small percentage of our population. But the “feel” of Milton, that rural quality, is something that attracted most of us.
Next, instead of sitting back and watching all the property that can be legally developed disappear, encourage people you know to consider buying property and living on it rather than purchasing a new home. Next time you see a 10-acre property for sale, consider getting two or three of your neighbors to go in and buy it. You’ll save the land by building and living on a larger piece of property, thereby preserving the look and feel we love. Right now the housing market is good so it is not hard to sell an existing home. Talk up living on larger acreage with people considering Milton.
I understand this may sound unrealistic at first, but for the same price as an upscale home you can still find a 3- to 5-acre lot with an older, modest home on it.
Now keep in mind you will have to make some sacrifices in living space, as my family did for 17 years. But there are many upsides as well. I can tell you all kinds of stories of sharing one bathroom with a family of five, or having your youngest use the living room for a bedroom. We’ve had the well go out. We’ve even had to keep 50-plus three year olds from going near the eggs in the "mud"(code for septic troubles) at our Easter egg hunt. But I will tell you my family wouldn't trade it for anything!
I challenge us all to join the cause and keep Milton what it was rather than sit on the sidelines frustrated with "all the bulldozers!” If only a minority of citizens pitch in, the majority of citizens will benefit.
And please know I’m always available to listen. Our staff is always available to listen.
And to me, that’s the best thing Milton can offer right now.