MILTON, Ga. — Discussions on buffers at the former Milton Country Club have been revived with the city exploring its options to create landscape screening between public property and homeowners along the former golf course.
As the city works to open the park to the public, at least two homeowners have expressed interest in purchasing property from the city adjacent to their homes to create their own buffer.
That is one of four options city staff presented to the City Council earlier this month.
Some council members were in favor of allowing homeowners access to some the city’s property to install and maintain buffers adjacent to their homes. The city would enter “right of entry” contracts with homeowners, and a landscape plan could be developed by the city’s arborist and landscape architect that property owners could install. Homeowners would bear the cost of the landscaping.
City Attorney Ken Jarrard said the contracts could be tailored to put specific conditions into the agreement.
The right of entry option was among the two plans recommended by city staff. The other is to implement the buffers proposed under the master plan for the property that the city adopted last August.
The approach calls for three levels of landscape buffers, from light planting of evergreen trees and bushes to thicker plantings with a raised berm. This option calls on the city to pay for the landscaping, but it would need to find a funding source in its budget.
Two other options were presented but not endorsed by city staff. One option including a plan similar to the right of entry contracts, but the agreement would be written into the property deed.
Another alternative would be to heed the requests for the city to sell land for homeowners so they could install their own screening. However, Jarrard called this option the most “legally precarious.”
According to Jarrard’s office, cities do have the right to sell oddly proportioned properties that cannot be zoned without conducting an auction under a state statute. But to do so, the city would have to take several steps. Milton would have to create an ordinance formalizing that power, conduct land surveys and subdivide those pieces of property.
Jarrard said the city would also be legally required to open the option to purchase lands to all adjacent homeowners.
While some neighbors want this ability, the city says there are downsides to the “fee simple” sale. For instance, the city would no longer have a say in what is done to or on that piece of land.
“Once somebody else owns it, of course our ability to then compel the nature of the buffer is somewhat diminished,” Jarrard said.
The sale of the land would also bring the homeowner’s property line closer to the park’s pathways.
No formal vote was taken on a plan at the work session.
Mayor Joe Lockwood asked about the possibility of opening all four options to neighbors. Jarrard said he thinks the city could legally do so, but councilman Peyton Jamison advocated for a one-prong approach.
“The cleaner the better, I think we should just make one decision,” he said.
Jamison added the city could begin offering the right of entry contracts while further investigating other options.
“Let’s just start at the right of entry, and let’s just go from there,” he said. “It’s cheap, it doesn’t cost the taxpayer as much money, and I think it still serves the purpose of creating a buffer.”