Source: NorthFulton.com

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Milton residents say monkey preserve not welcome
Noise, safety at issue

by JONATHAN COPSEY

December 18, 2012

Milton resident Dean Riopelle hopes to turn his Hopewell Road property into an animal preserve, mostly for monkeys. Neighbors say Milton is no place for such a business. JONATHAN COPSEY.
MILTON, Ga. — Opposition has grown against Milton's first proposed animal preserve.

Neighbors of Dean Riopelle's Hopewell Road property have become very vocal about his plans to turn his 21-acre site into a sanctuary for exotic animals, primarily small primates.

"An exotic preserve in the middle of Milton? Do we need such an attraction in Milton? On a residential road that already has speeding on it?" asked Kay Norvell who lives in the Sunnybrook Farms neighborhood, which shares a border with Riopelle's property. "If he wants a breeding preserve, he needs to take it somewhere out of town."

The residents surrounding Riopelle's property have been trying to be good neighbors for years, Norvell said. The screeches of the monkeys have become just another part of the background noise of the city to them.

However, that changed when they found out Riopelle hopes to increase the numbers of animals on the property and make it a zoo, open to the public.

"I don't like the idea of anybody owning exotic animals. I think they need to be in their natural habitat," Norvell said, adding that an expansion of the site would harm property values in the surrounding neighborhoods.

"It would take a very certain person who wants to move in next to a zoo," she said.

She is no stranger to rallying her neighbors; in 2010, she led the charge against a proposed cell tower on the property of nearby Seven Gables Farm.

Riopelle could not be reached for comment by press time.

Current federal laws dictate one cannot get a license to import exotic animals unless they either use the animals for medical research or for public display. Riopelle said in previous interviews that he would never use his animals for research.

That leaves the zoo.

In October, the city changed its zoning laws to allow property owners to have exotic animals, with restrictions. This change was, in part, to legalize and regulate what Riopelle has been doing on his property for more than a dozen years.

Now that he wants to expand his practice, it requires public hearings and council approval.

Riopelle estimated he has about 100 animals on his property, and not just monkeys. Donkeys, wallabies and other furry animals inhabit the site, most in large cages, some roaming mostly free.

"There are people passionate on both sides," said Milton City Manager Chris Lagerbloom.

Most residents are unaware of the presence of Riopelle's animals, Lagerbloom said, and this application to create a preserve has brought it to light for the entire community.

"This is the process that goes along with determining these things," he said. "It's a good opportunity to weigh in. I'm pleased the public has a chance to weigh in on both sides so there is plenty of information out there for the City Council to make their decision."

As of Dec. 12, there were 206 signatures on an online petition to stop to preserve.

The city was to hold a Planning Commission meeting in December to hear Riopelle's issue. That meeting has been deferred until Jan. 22.