MILTON, Ga. — A 20-acre exotic animal preserve was approved March 18, but with some restrictions from council and opposition from residents.
In a 5-1 vote, Milton City Council granted Dean Riopelle a use permit for the animal preserve located on 14325 Hopewell Road.
Councilmember Joe Longoria opposed the permit and Councilmember Lance Large was absent.
Riopelle has housed exotic animals – mostly primates – on his Hopewell Road property for 14 years. He applied for the permit late last year when the city determined a need for the definition of an exotic animal and use permits for areas zoned agricultural.
The use permit allows Riopelle to maintain no more than 20 cages for exotic animals consisting of primates considered small and medium, wallabies, marsupials and birds as defined by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources,.
The council also defined hours of operation for the facility from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by invitation only.
At the Milton Planning Commission held Feb. 26, Riopelle’s application was denied but Community Development Director Kathleen Field presented the commission’s findings to the council, recommending approval.
Considerations included additional fencing, a maximum of five cages, parking, driveway improvements, a restroom, species limitations and a method to notify the city of new animals.
About 20 citizens attended the meeting with three speaking in favor of the preserve.
Five spoke to the council to oppose the permit.
“The animals he has and is looking to have are clearly dangerous,” Milton resident Amy Stipancich said.
Riopelle said he didn’t plan to house hyenas, kangaroos, baboons and other animals considered “dangerous.”
Stipancich said she spoke for the 450 people who signed a petition against the preserve.
“This is a tough decision,” Mayor Joe Lockwood said. “On the one hand, we want to consider the concerns of our citizens but we also have a property owner, and I feel we need to consider his rights, also.”
City Attorney Ken Jarrard said Riopelle’s current status is considered legal, nonconforming, which allows for the operation of the facility as he was set up prior to the city’s creation in 2006.
Discussions focused on what considerations the city could legally impose on Riopelle and the expertise needed to enforce them.
“Both federal and state governments already have policy regarding types of animals and their care and maintenance, and I feel we should let them be the experts,” Lockwood said.
Questions regarding new animals, fees and the future of the preserve were considered.
Riopelle said he does not plan to charge a fee and can’t purchase new animals without first obtaining a license from the state.
He said he wants to continue to allow people to visit the animals as he’s always done.
City Manager Chris Lagerbloom suggested the council hold off on voting and let his team develop guidelines for formatting a proper use permit, but after three hours, the council took a vote.
Lockwood presented the motion and Councilmember Matt Kunz seconded.
“Four-hundred-and-fifty people got nothing tonight,” Milton resident Kay Norvell said after the meeting.
Norvell also said councilmembers were given binders full of material detailing Department of Natural Resources violations and disease information supporting their opposition.
“They didn’t care what we had to say and they continued to ask questions that we already answered in detail in that book, and that tells me they read nothing their constituents put together for them,” Norvell said.
ALSO AT THE MEETING:
• Councilmembers voted unanimously to accept the withdrawal of a use permit application for the rezoning of the northeast corner of Bethany Bend and Cogburn Road by Arrowhead Real Estate Partners to develop a 95-unit assisted living facility and 19 single-family detached residences.
The attorney for Arrowhead Real Estate Partners said they are working with the city and the community to explore other options.
• Unanimously approved Parks and Recreation Director Jim Cregge’s consideration of a professional services agreement between the city and Foresite Group, Inc. for Bell Memorial Park master plan design and construction services.