Horse farm owners say business won’t survive if Milton builds ‘mega’ sports park



A Milton couple says their dream home and thriving horse farm business is in jeopardy due to city plans to build multipurpose sports fields on 39 acres of land next door.

Kyle and Cindy Hester said they learned about the proposed project when the city was in the late stages of a deal to purchase the neighboring property — a 34.4-acre horse farm of Peggy and Lee Bates in February and a connecting 4.87 acres, known as The Chandler Academy, from Jack Hudson in April. The total purchase price was $4.9 million.

Young horses are trained for competition on the Hester’s Seven Porches Farm and would be traumatized by noise and lights from a sports complex, they said. The couple purchased the 21 acres on Hopewell Road in 2019.

Milton’s conceptual drawings show football, lacrosse, soccer and baseball fields and other construction for the facility. The Hesters three-acre horse pasture runs along the border of the two properties.



“The worst thing for horses, they’re fight or flight, like a deer,” Kyle Hester said. “Artificial lighting, artificial noise, aluminum bats, referee whistles; it’s not like I can say, ‘Let’s see if it works.’ It won’t work. You’ve just condemned our farm.”

Cindy Hester started an online petition in June titled, “Stop the Hopewell Road MegaPark,” and has collected nearly 1,500 names.

Milton’s search for park space

City Manager Steven Krokoff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that definitive plans for the park have not been decided and residents will have an opportunity for public input before a final decision is made.

Hester and residents in the Hopewell Road community say they have been told the same and don’t trust the response.

City emails and documents obtained by residents through open records requests show Milton officials, including Parks and Recreation Director Tom McKlveen, have been drafting plans for an active park at the site for at least three years.

A 2021 email presentation from the Parks and Recreation director to Krokoff show construction costs for the sports facility would total $7.5 million and include the football and baseball fields, a concession stand, batting cages, field lighting, a parking lot and more.

“I understand why the neighbors were getting upset,” Krokoff said. “This was presented in our parks and recs committee, and maximizing the land was presented.

“And that could be construed like this is a done deal, but we’re not even close.”

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Residents want answers

The city manager said Milton has a need for more athletic fields but the city is not “trying to hurt residents” who could be impacted.

“I was shocked,” said Hopewell Road resident Christy Hayes, of the sale of the horse farms. “How does that happen and I live right across the street and don’t know it?”

Hester informed Hayes and other neighbors about Milton’s plans after he attended a Milton City Council meeting in January. The city’s purchase agreement for the Bates’ farm property was on the agenda. Hester attended figuring the property would be turned into greenspace, he said.

Before the start of the meeting, Mayor Peyton Jamison introduced himself and told Kyle what the purchase was actually for, Hester said.

“... And this is where the shock happened,” Hester recalled. “(The mayor) said: ‘Well, you’re not going to like it. It’s going to be an active sports park.’”

Milton is a north Fulton city of 41,000 residents that borders Cherokee and Forsyth counties. With an image of a horse as the city logo, the municipality’s vision statement says its committed to preserving the rural heritage of horse country.

Ben Leonard, president of Hopewell Plantation homeowners association, believes an athletics field would quadruple the traffic on an already busy road.

“The location is awful. It’s horrible and completely contrary to everything the city espouses itself to be,” Leonard said.

Hopewell Road is a heavily traveled corridor for cut-through traffic coming from Cogburn Road and Windward Parkway. A recently completed roundabout at Hopewell Road and Bethany Bend was constructed to address the problem, residents said.

Don McGuffy has lived in Brookshade subdivision for 25 years. His one-acre property also abuts the prospective park space.

“This wasn’t a whimsical (idea),” McGuffy said of city drawings for the space and the $12 million Milton estimates in costs. “Light pollution right behind my house, a PA system behind my house — are you kidding me?”

Residents said Councilwoman Carol Cookerly is one of the few officials who has been responsive and supportive of the community’s concerns.

“Council is very openminded and we are looking at all of our needs and inventory to determine where is the best possible place for active parks,” she told the AJC. “I don’t think (the Hopewell Road site) is one of them ... but I won’t be the sole decision-maker.”

Kyle Hester says, in the meantime: “How can I not worry.”