Addressing horse farm owners concerns, Milton votes against mega sports park

Kyle Hester (left) and his wife Cindy discuss with neighbors Ben Leonard and Christy Hayes (right) as Nicole Stringer (foreground) rides on jumping race horse Leo at Hester’s horse farm home. The Hesters train young horses for competition.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Kyle Hester (left) and his wife Cindy discuss with neighbors Ben Leonard and Christy Hayes (right) as Nicole Stringer (foreground) rides on jumping race horse Leo at Hester’s horse farm home. The Hesters train young horses for competition. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Milton has decided not to build a multipurpose sports facility on a nearly 40-acre property set in a horse community along Hopewell Road — for now.

A split vote that took place during a Monday meeting was in favor of the controversial property only being redeveloped into a passive park, or sold. A new city council body that will be sworn-in in January could reverse that decision.

“I feel like we’re a little premature,” Mayor Pete Jamison said before voting in opposition to limiting the use of the site.

Jamison, and councilmembers Jan Jacobus and Andrea Verhoff who also cast opposing votes, want more time to have environmental and engineering studies performed for potential uses of a sports complex on the property.

Milton purchased the acreage on Hopewell Road earlier this year. The goal of the $4.9 million purchase was to build a large sports facility for football, baseball, lacrosse and other sports. But officials are struggling to balance that need with pushback from Hopewell Road neighbors who say an athletics field would quadruple the traffic on an already busy road.

The city property is also next door to Kyle and Cindy Hester’s 21-acre Seven Porches Farm where young horses are trained for competition. Their pasture runs along the property line of the proposed park site. The Hesters say their horses would be traumatized by noise and lights from a sports complex.

The couple collected 1,800 signatures on a petition that is against sports fields being built beside their farm. Cindy Hester said Hopewell Road neighbors understand the demand for more athletics fields and would support efforts to find other locations outside of the horse farm community.

“There is zero buffer zone between this property and our farm,” she added during public comment at Monday’s meeting.

Longtime Milton High School lacrosse coach Tim Godby is also director of Eagles Stix Lacrosse recreation program which has run out of options on places to practice, he said. Godby urged officials to be less hasty in deciding how to utilize the 40-acre space.

The expanding lacross recreation program has had a total of 15,000 female athletes participate since the early 2000s, Godby said.

“As I hear people from horse community suggesting that the city find different land, I just ask is there any land available for different parks to happen,” Godby said. “If there is, that would be great; but if not, we don’t want to miss out on an opportunity.”

Councilmembers Paul Moore Carol Cookerly, Juliette Johnson and Rick Mohrig voted in favor of the measure to either transform the 40 acres into a passive park or sell it off to a new buyer.

Mohrig said the city must consider the investment that homeowners such as the Hesters put into their properties, and whether an active park is a good concept for the space.

“I say no.” Mohrig added. “... I do not support that at all.”

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