Milton: Deciding land use a crucial issue

I drive past Jim Bell’s pasture almost every day – it’s marked by a sign that simply says “Milton Fields”.

This grassy vista with a white fence surrounded by old farms near the North Milton and Cherokee County lines is actually a “low impact, sustainable natural burial ground” that promises to maintain landscape beauty. “One hundred years from now, the land will look much the same as it does today,” Bell says on his website.

In much the way that Bell chooses to take his lovely, fallow field and grant it a unique use, civically engaged citizens of Milton are looking for ways to preserve area beauty as they envision methods for revenue-generating functionality. Land use has become for the five-year-old city of Milton an often contentious issue.

In fact, in the current Milton council race, which pits District 2 incumbent Julie Zahner Bailey against opponent Matt Kunz, and District 6 incumbent Alan Tart against candidate Lance Large, the central question is how to balance Milton’s equestrian character with the need to boost area business. Thus far the contest has remained intelligently debated and relatively civil, though this could change.

At the recent “Milton Peoples Forum”, a political debate moderated by Jonathan Copsey of the Milton Herald, who joined with Tim Enloe of Access Milton to host the event, all four candidates presented positions as to why each deserves the Milton vote. Arguments revolved around relevant topics like service records and experiences, as well as sometimes personal challenges regarding special interests.

As I listened to each candidate earnestly present his or her case, I looked about the room and was saddened by the scant turnout of only a hundred or so people. Surely with Milton’s population at 30,000-plus, we could fill the seats of this small auditorium!

I hoped that Milton residents would at least read the papers, visit candidate websites, or listen to captured debate video in order to determine which candidates best address public safety, traffic congestion, infrastructure improvement, park development, and the other issues vital to civic vibrancy. Residents need only visit to learn more.

After all, in addition to Bell’s natural burial ground, my autumn joy ride also takes me past ghost-like Milton subdivisions, where well-masoned stone walls are overrun with vines and scorched pavement snakes through scrubby, empty lots. These are almost as depressing as Milton’s vacant storefronts, where I suppose business was meant to thrive but never even came alive.

City planning is an onerous job: infrastructures must be determined, zoning must be defined, legal terms must be decided and, basically, city vision must meet citizen need. Given that Milton has only existed as a city for five years, the comprehensive plans and documents generated by various committees and commissions -- some of whom are volunteers -- is really a point of pride. Our councilmen have worked hard.

Still, voters must decide if getting caught in details might lead to inaction, or if rushing in to fill a perceived need might lead to regrettable decisions. Can Milton sustain itself on taxes generated primarily by residents, or must more effort be made toward commercial growth?

The election is Nov. 8 and early voting has begun.

Veronica Buckman has lived in Milton for eight years. Reach her at