Though the term “unique” is often used to describe Milton, the city was no different from its neighbors in that it had to adust its operations and standard procedures in response to COVID-19.
The city declared a local emergency in mid-March that shut down all public hearings, including meetings of the city’s boards and councils. The City Council continued to meet virtually in the initial stages of shutdowns in Georgia, but under the declaration, the board could only take action on items related to the pandemic.
The doors were locked to the public at City Hall with virtual meetings held for weeks. Other Milton facilities were also closed, but parks began to come back online in May and have been open since.
Like many of its neighbors, Milton also relaxed some of its regulations to boost local business hard hit by the pandemic, mainly those in the service industry. Some of those liberties are still ongoing, such as businesses being permitted to sell alcohol to-go and to display temporary signage.
While many cities in Fulton County took issue with the county’s allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act dollars, Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood said he believed the city received a proper amount of funds, $1.65 million, to back COVID-19 related impacts.
Public Safety Complex opens
In 2020, Milton Police received a home of their own and the city’s Fire Department and Municipal Court got some new digs with the opening of the Public Safety Complex on Ga. 9 adjacent to Cambridge High School.
Work was completed and the city opened the 40,000-square-foot facility in September.
The complex is Milton Police’s first dedicated headquarters. The department was based out of a rented space on Deerfield Parkway for the first 14 years of its existence. The new headquarters is roomier with space for the department to grow, and it features dedicated work and storage spaces and upgraded amenities for officers.
The Public Safety Complex also serves as the new home for the Municipal Court. Updated technology, added features and an increase in space highlight the new court.
Also on site is the Milton Fire’s Station 44. The new station has top-tier amenities with a focus on firefighter wellbeing through safety systems and storage areas that keep carcinogens on equipment away from staff.
Despite COVID-19, construction of the Public Safety Complex was finished on time and on budget.
Community events curtailed
The city was set to significantly expand its community events schedule in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the brakes on those plans.
The pandemic caused the cancellation of the city’s annual events, including Crabapple Fest, but it also shut out a new initiative. Meet Me in Milton officially kicked off last year, but the movement to bring the community together and boost the local business climate was expected to offer several more events in spring and summer, but all were cancelled.
For its part, the city did shift to still allow for some events. Christmas in Crabapple was replaced by a Santa drive-by, Meet Me in Milton held an outdoor movie screening, and the city put on a virtual mental health webinar.
While not related to COVID-19, organizers of Rock for Rescues, a festival benefitting animal non-profits, decided not to return to Milton this year.
The impacts to Milton’s schedule of community events has already stretched in 2021. The city has postponed this fall’s Crabapple fest to next spring, but with lingering questions on the pandemic’s continued impact along with a need for far-range planning, Milton opted to nix the event.
New fire chief named
A staple in the Milton community, Milton Fire Chief Robert Edgar, retired in November, opening the door for the department’s second chief.
Edgar had served as the Milton’s Fire only chief since the department was founded.
With Edgar’s retirement, the city announced Gabe Benmoussa as the department’s new chief earlier this month. Benmoussa, who most recently served as a deputy fire chief in Oregon, is set to officially begin his new post in January.
Benmoussa is among several department head changes for the city in 2020.
Former Parks and Recreation director Jim Cregge retired from his post, and Greg Botelho took over as communications director. Parag Agrawal, who headed the city’s Planning and Community Development department, left his post and a replacement has yet to be named.
Business Council founded
This year was abysmal for most small businesses, but those in Milton got a bit of a boost with creation of the Milton Business Council.
The new group, which seeks to bolster and promote the city’s businesses, is the bridging of the Milton Business Alliance with the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. The new entity falls under the umbrella of the GNFCC and is managed by business leaders within the city.
The group is the first under the GNFCC to focus on a specific city within the area and began hosting events this year with the first face-to-face meeting taking place over the summer.
Downtown Crabapple transforming
The once quaint and quiet downtown Crabapple area is set to become a bustling business hub, and that transformation took a significant leap this year.
Several developments came out of the ground in 2020 that have vastly changed the landscape of the area. Crabapple Market’s westward expansion got well underway with construction of several mixed-use buildings along Crabapple Road and Heritage Walk. Plans call for six new buildings and a parking area at the intersection of the roads with another five slated along Heritage Walk.
On the other side of Birmingham Highway, Market District Crabapple also broke ground. The development will include eight buildings along the Charlotte Drive extension featuring office/retail spaces and condominiums.
Along with the new developments, the city also completed traffic improvements in the area, including the extension of Charlotte Drive from Mayfield Road to Birmingham Highway.
City looks to the future
City officials spent significant time in 2020 looking to the years ahead by mulling future proposals or enacting regulations that will have a lasting impact.
Recently, the city launched the initial stages of its long-term comprehensive plan, which will guide future development in Milton, along with a five-year strategic plan outlining specific goals or the city.
Parks were a significant topic this year in future planning. The city began work to open to the former Milton Country Club property and its clubhouse, and this month trail plans were presented to the City Council. Officials also approved the city’s overall trails plan and updated plans for walkways at Providence Park.
In January, the city finalized its purchase of the Cox Road athletics complex, adding to its cache of multi-purpose fields. A plan has also been proposed to turf the fields and provide baseball/softball marking to expand the city’s ballfields.
In August, the city finalized its tree ordinance, which has been in the works for several years and will impact tree coverage in Milton for the foreseeable future.
While Greenspace Bond purchases slowed this year compared to 2018 and 2019, Milton did expand its acreage of preserved land. Milton purchased about 16 acres of land that expanded its “Preserve at Cooper Sandy” property, purchased in 2019, to over 100 acres.