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What’s with All the Bulldozers in Milton?

Milton's Mayor explains "rush" of development in the city.

Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood
Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood

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.

William Steve Maxwell December 05, 2013 at 10:18 AM
What efforts are being made to accommodate the increased traffic that new developments will bring? Was this much new growth anticipated? How is the growth of this whole area--Milton, Alpharetta, Roswell--being managed?
Milton December 07, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Mayor Lockwood is right; the City of Milton does have tools in place to influence development such as the Comprehensive Plan. However, the question is will the city council utilize these tools to keep heavy development contained to identified areas? The city council will answer this question on Dec 16th at city hall. On this date an application for rezoning an AG1 parcel on Bethany Bend Rd will be presented to the council for approval. Arrowhead Real Estate Partners: northeast corner of Bethany Bend and Cogburn Road: To rezone from agricultural to neighborhood unit plan) to develop 28 single-family residences on 9.09 acres. Will the Council utilize the Comprehensive Plan and follow the unanimous recommendation for denial submitted by the Planning Commission on Nov 20th or will they approve this application? Approval would reveal the council has a different agenda for development other than what has been identified as the citizens’ vision of Milton. Will this parcel be the one of many to be ravaged by the line of bulldozers backed up at our doorsteps or will the council utilize the tools they have been provided to keep heavy development contained to the identified areas?
Rob December 14, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Change is inevitable, but Mayor Lockwood does not address the large number of rezoning requests for residential development (listed at http://bit.ly/JklTpi) that are under consideration by the City Council. These rezoning applications, if approved, will allow developers to bypass the AG- 1 development standards mentioned by Mayor Lockwood. This will bring higher density development that threatens the rural character most residents want to maintain, while adding even more traffic congestion. Milton City Council should require developers to adhere to Milton’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
Jeffrey S. Dunn December 14, 2013 at 03:17 PM
Rob, agreed 100%. There is no good reason for our city council to rezone the land from what is was originally intended for. We need to stop the AG-1 to CUP rezoning madness. This should be banned by the city of Milton. This will not stop the development spree; however, it will help preserve the beauty of the land enforcing the buffers these properties are already zoned for.
D hay December 15, 2013 at 12:45 PM
· 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. Hear hear.
Jen December 16, 2013 at 06:58 PM
Yes individual property rights are essential to our way of life. So are Zoning regs and Comprehensive Land Use Plans. Without them, a property owner might lose value when an apartment building, industrial plant or landfill is built next door in their absence. When there is mass rezoning of low density residential property to medium or high density it impacts the quality of life for everyone. No one wants to stop the sale of land to developers, but it would be nice if our local governments (cities of Milton, Alpharetta and Roswell) would pay attention to the very documents they spent considerable time and money (with public input) creating to guide development. The same large acreage holding property owners who demanded low density zoning to protect their property value 10 years ago are now asking for higher density zoning to cash out and leave the rest of us with the mess. CUP zoning is being twisted from it's original intent and UDC codes all over North Fulton are being rewritten to pave the way for higher densities (Roswell in it's entirety, Alpharetta piecemeal so as not to rile the residents). Is anyone paying attention?
William Steve Maxwell December 16, 2013 at 08:52 PM
Jen makes the 2 best points I've read in response to the mayor's position. 1. Follow the Comprehensive Land Use Plans and, 2., Those who sold their land to developers have already benefited by profiting from high-value, low-density zoning in their sales.
Milton December 16, 2013 at 09:37 PM
Here is the most interesting update. Mayor Lockwood and the majority of Milton City Council decided tonight to burry the Comprehensive Land Plan by manning the bulldozers themselves. 5/2 ruling, the first of a series of AG1 parcel rezoned to a high density residential development.27 houses on 9 acres with the bonus attraction of sewer expansion in a designated "no sewer area". Say good bye to the city of Milton,formally known as a distinctive city.

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