MILTON, Ga. — Milton’s proposed equestrian zoning district was the main topic at the City Council’s Dec. 9 work session.
The proposed district, now being drawn up by TSW Consulting, seeks to preserve the city’s farms and large land lots, but it won’t come without challenges.
At the heart of the issue is how to incentivize owners of large properties to reconsider subdividing their land in the face of ever-increasing tax bills. Community Development Director Parag Agrawal said the city has received more than 600 permits for single-family homes over the past two years.
Councilwoman Laura Bentley said farmers are selling because of their property’s sizeable tax bill.
A potential solution is to open the doors for what TSW’s Caleb Racicot called value-added uses, which includes adding commercial aspects to farms. Racicot gave examples of a cheese shop operating on a farm, or a furniture manufacturing operation being permitted on agricultural land.
“There could be an opportunity in [the equestrian zoning] district to add value-added agricultural uses,” he said. “These would be low impact and small in size and scale, but we could allow those uses to occur.”
Racicot said an equestrian zoning district could allow for permanent structures on agricultural property. That could include allowing operations, such as bed and breakfasts, to operate by right. The city could also consider waiving the requirement for special use permits for certain commercial uses on farms, or it could expedite the permitting process
“One of the things we have recognized, and we have heard from the equestrian community and citizens, is that a lot of our regulations are too restrictive for them to be able to appropriately operate whatever their agricultural operation is,” City Manager Steve Krokoff said. “Part of what we’re trying to do here…is to not develop it at all. Keep it in operating form.”
Incentives would not be limited to equestrian farms, but any agricultural use.
Bentley said the Conservation Use Valuation Assessment program presents a significant savings on property taxes for large lot owners. However, she said the city must work with Fulton County on its assessments because many residents who attended Milton’s recent CUVA workshop applied and are being denied.
Racicot said equestrian zoning could require larger lot sizes than AG-1, which has a minimum 1-acre lot requirement. It could also require buffers between residential properties and farms.
The city could also add a higher credit for landowners using Milton’s Transfer of Development Rights program, which allows property owners the ability to waive the right to develop land in exchange for the ability to build at higher densities in another area of the city. While the TDR program has mostly languished, giving owners of equestrian zoning properties added credits could draw more to use to the system, Racicot said.
If the city adopts an equestrian zoning district, Milton could allow property owners to rezone their AG-1 properties voluntarily.
The district and its incentives are still on the drawing board, but there is still some concern its creation could be all-for-naught.
Councilman Matt Kunz said it is vital the city show landowners how rezoning their property would be a better financial decision over selling.
Councilwoman Carol Cookerly said providing enough incentive for landowners could be a “tough nut to crack.”
“There are interesting ideas, but I still think we’re still nibbling around the edge of the real point, which is not to sell,” she said. “It could be the impossible.”