MILTON, Ga. — The Painted Horse Winery saga continues.
The Milton City Council spent hours Monday, much of it in heated talks, discussing proposed use permits for the operation on Bethany Way. For the second time in six weeks, council members chose to defer a final decision on what the city will allow to take place at the rural winery.
Monday’s meeting, which ended just before midnight, included on-the-fly negotiations, a bevy of residents speaking for and against the permits, arguments among council members about what their votes actually entailed and various points of confusion for many of those in attendance, including the council and the business’ owner.
With the apparent stalemate, the council voted to defer the Painted Horse’s use-permit requests — for “agricultural related uses” such as children’s birthday parties with variances and to operate as a “rural event facility” — until its Aug. 2 meeting.
The public hearing Monday continued discussion from the council’s June 7 meeting, which ended with no resolution.
Despite lengthy and lively discussions that included Painted Horse owner, Pamela Jackson, and her attorney, Ellen Smith, the board was still unable to find a middle ground. A vote to deny the permits would effectively force Jackson to remove existing structures on the property and shut down the agricultural portion of her business that is not farm winery related. But a vote to accept the conditions as presented by Jackson, or those suggested by city staff, did not sit well with the council.
“This is really complicated,” Councilwoman Laura Bentley said.
The main obstacle to overcome is the mix of uses on the property. Several councilmembers, including Bentley, Paul Moore and Carol Cookerly, suggested the permit requests were an opportunity to limit the intensity of the business to neighbors and traffic along Bethany Way, Bethany Bend and Hopewell Road, where the farm is located.
“When I look at the whole property, and I want to support the agricultural use and winery, but we now have consumption on premises, and that changes everything as far as the activities are concerned,” Bentley said.
Council members also argued that the mix of uses could create safety issues on the site, and that alcohol consumption is taking place in areas of the 18-acre property where it is not permitted.
Councilwoman Cookerly said she was trying to have land use control through the permits, “in a respectable way,” to get the business to honor restrictions Cookerly claimed were presented by Jackson when the board voted to approve the on-site consumption license that have not come to pass. She said land use was a “perfect way” to curtail those issues.
However, councilman Joe Longoria was adamant in his stance the board was voting on use-permits only, and that alcohol consumption should be regulated by the alcohol license, not through a vote on allowing children’s birthday parties or summer camps.
“I really feel this permit needs to be considered for what it’s asking, not for something outside of its domain,” Longoria said.
His motion to approve the agricultural use permit was seconded by Councilman Peyton Jamison, but it failed to pass. He made another motion to approve to the permit with a condition that a proposed building be removed from the site plan, but later withdrew the motion.
Lengthy debates also arose by the introduction of proposed conditions by Bentley that had not been presented to the public before the meeting. Her suggestions, which were supported by Moore, included limitations on the number of patrons allowed on the farm at one time, decibel limits for music, parking regulations and restrictions on where alcohol could be consumed.
Business at Milton's Painted Horse Winery has been steady, but some legal headaches come with being the first farm winery in the area.
These 11th-hour suggestions did not sit well with Jackson, who said she was “set up to get into trouble” because she did not have time to review the proposed conditions. She was also wary of making a quick decision that could render her farm financially unviable.
Jamison suggested that rulings made at the last minute by the council can lead to incorrect decisions. Mayor Joe Lockwood said he also was uncomfortable with making negotiations on the fly.
While the extent of allowable operations at the Painted Horse remains unresolved, representatives on both sides gained a better footing following the discussions, which could lead to a more amicable middle ground when the council reconsiders the permits next month.