Milton rejects plans to expand exotic preserve

More than 50 Milton residents sat for three hours Monday night while city leaders tackled two property rights issues that have rankled the rural community for six months.

At issue: would the city, founded on preserving its equine farms, extend that same attitude to exotic animals and whether Milton is ready for a high-density development in a residential area.

Both issues drew public comment reflecting residents’ resolve to maintain Milton’s rural flavor. And both were ultimately settled in their favor.

Curtis Hicks with Arrowhead Real Estate Partners recognized the sentiment early on, formally asking the City Council to withdraw his proposal to build a senior assisted-living facility on Bethany Bend. He said he would await results of a new land-use plan for the area before reintroducing a development project.

Residents, though, said they weren’t interested in adding a high-density development to the area anytime soon.

Dot Blair, who helped lead the opposition, criticized the city for characterizing her group as a band of activist residents.

“I prefer to think of these citizens as visionaries, citizens who have bought into the vision of the city of Milton … and believe that the preservation of the city’s original vision is worth defending,” she said.

Residents were equally vocal about a proposed exotic animal preserve on Hopewell Road.

Dean Riopelle has been raising and displaying exotic animals, primarily varieties of small primates, at his 21-acre farm for more than 15 years. He had petitioned to expand his operation by adding camels, kangaroos, wolves and other exotic animals.

Neighbors and a host of residents said they had no objection to Riopelle keeping his current setup, but they begged the council to consider safety, health issues and the negative effect an exotic preserve would have on surrounding land values.

After extended discussion, the City Council agreed to a special variance allowing Riopelle to continue raising small primates, wallabies and birds on the property, but it restricted any expansion.

Amy Stipancich, part of the drive to stop the preserve, said she was OK with the status quo, but that the council vote allowed for more expansion. She said she was disappointed at the outcome.

“His property sets up against a whole neighborhood,” she said. “This would be a business and we don’t want to set a precedent along the way.”

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