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Council defers vote on revised Tree Canopy Conservation Ordinance

Milton’s City Council on Monday evening conducted a vigorous, extensive debate about a revised Tree Canopy Conservation Ordinance proposal, ultimately deciding in a split vote to defer its passage or failure until several questions could be addressed.

Members of the City’s Community Development Department, including Arborist Sandra DeWitt, presented a proposal that had been three years in the making – including consultations with a special stakeholder committee, the City Planning Commission and City Council.

City staff began by explaining the goals of a rewritten tree ordinance – namely to ensure no net loss of trees in the City; to respect the importance of pastures, open fields and farmland to Milton’s identity; and to achieve these goals with the least amount of necessary regulation.

Different properties would have had different requirements under the proposal. For those zoned AG1 and under 3 acres, for instance, they would have had to a minimum tree canopy of 57% (down from 60%) or whatever tree canopy coverage currently exists. Those 3 acres or more could have 25% coverage or whatever is existing – a difference meant to incentivize open fields, pastures and agriculture.

Among other issues, Council members raised possible loopholes (like if someone bought a large mostly wooded lot, cut down trees, then tried to subdivide it so the tree canopy was well under 57%). Another matter that came up was how often the City would assess the total tree canopy; the revision calls for no more than five years, with Council member Paul Moore requesting it be specified as within three years. Carol Cookerly, another Council member, raised the issue of equitable property rights. There was also talk about the proper protected tree size, which the ordinance specified as an 8-inch trunk diameter (meaning there would be restrictions on cutting down anything thicker than that).

After well over an hour of discussion, the Council voted to defer the matter until its July 20 meeting – with the hope the issues could be resolved in the meantime. The vote was not unanimous, however, with Mayor Joe Lockwood (who favored passing the ordinance) among two respectfully voting against the deferral.

Earlier during Monday’s meeting, the Mayor and Council members weighed three proposals presented by Economic Development Manager Sarah LaDart related to farm wineries.

At its June 1 meeting the Council unanimously approved an extensive rewrite of Chapter 4, the portion of the City Code pertaining to alcohol-related businesses. That included a provision specifying that a farm winery in Milton should sell only Georgia wines – a provision that the owner of Painted Horse Winery contended was too restrictive. Mayor Lockwood and the City Council then asked City staff to find alternatives.

The three alternatives presented Monday were:
1) Allow the sale of additional wines, beer and spirits without stipulations
2) Set certain stipulations, like a 20-acre minimum farm winery, limit of 30% of sales from beer and liquor, closing by 8 p.m., and meeting the State’s Sunday sale 50:50 food-to-alcohol ratio
3) The #2 option with additional community input and City oversight

Ultimately, the Mayor and Council suggested that the City staff come back with an option (to vote) allowing for a Milton farm winery to also sell “foreign wine” – which could be France or California or anywhere else outside Georgia – which would be in keeping with existing State law. Other options are possible as well.

In other business, the Council unanimously approved Scratch Fresh’s request for a license to sell wine and malt (i.e. beer) beverages at its Highway 9 location. The Mayor and Council members also assented to an ordinance adopting certain amendments to the City’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget, which was originally passed on September 23, 2019.

Monday’s meeting was held in City Hall while also available on Zoom and the City’s Facebook page – just like the Council’s previous two meetings this month. In the weeks prior to that, the Council members had convened exclusively on Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Milton City Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 6.