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January 29, 2013MILTON, Ga. – The zoning issue allowing resident Dean Riopelle to keep exotic animals on his property was deferred at the Jan. 22 planning commission meeting at the request of Riopelle and his attorney.
City officials were ready for a crowd of opponents at the often-empty planning meeting – the fire marshal was on hand the keep an eye on the number of people in the courtroom and two police officers were ready to keep the peace. However they needn't have bothered – the roughly 30 residents who showed up on the cold evening were orderly, if impassioned.
Despite the issue being deferred, Planning Commission Chairman George Ragsdale allowed a public hearing to continue.
Riopelle has bred primates on his 20-acre Hopewell Road property for more than a dozen years. While he has met state and federal requirements for the animals, the city had no legislation dealing with him – either allowing or forbidding exotic animals.
He came to the city last year in an effort to square this oversight in hopes of eventually expanding his breeding of exotic animals and opening his property up to visitors as a preserve. He hopes to add a further 20 enclosures and roughly 50 more animals.
This news riled residents of the nearby Sunnybrook Farms and Greystone Farms neighborhoods, and 350 people signed a petition to stop Riopelle's expansion of his collection of animals.
"It is incomprehensible that a homeowner would be allowed to own wild animals in a neighborhood," said resident Kay Norvell. "They cannot be safely and securely cared for."
Robert Hargraves lives on Hopewell Road across the street from Riopelle's property.
"To go from five cages to 20 cages is ridiculous," he said. "I feel the quality of life in Milton will be threatened if a zoo is allowed."
He said he would not have moved to Milton if he had known about the animals.
"This is a slippery path to having exotic animals in residential areas," he said.
While most of the people in attendance were opposed, there were some in favor.
"Milton allows us to live a rural lifestyle and still be close to work," said resident Ed Parsons in his remarks in support of Riopelle.
That rural lifestyle, he said, includes living near animals, such as horses, chickens, pigs and cows. It does not stretch the imagination to include in that list monkeys the size of house cats.
The issue was deferred until the next Planning Commission meeting Feb. 26.