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Residents contend with White Columns Homeowners Association action

MILTON, Ga. — A packed house greeted the Milton City Council Aug. 1 to speak on whether the city should compensate the White Columns Homeowners Association for traffic calming devices it had installed along its residential streets.

The HOA installed four radar feedback signs in the Golf neighborhood of the 440-plus home community early this year. It wasn’t until after installation that the HOA learned of a program that allows subdivisions to apply for city funding to pay half the costs for traffic calming measures.

Traffic calming devices in White Columns draws pushback

Under terms of the program, cost is determined through competitive bid.

In this case, the city would be on the hook for $6,853 of the $13,706 total cost. Any expenses above the base amount, such as decorative enhancements, would not be eligible for city matching funds.

At issue is whether the White Columns installations were fully vetted by the city as part of the formal process. The matter also raises questions over how much authority the city is willing to concede to subdivisions who initiate street safety measures without going through the formal process to qualify for partial reimbursement.

City Councilman Paul Moore, who lives on White Columns Drive where three of the signs are located, recused himself from the Aug. 1 discussion. In June, White Columns HOA President Tony Palazzo filed an ethics complaint against Moore for participating in a vote last May to table the matter.

In a 4-1 vote at the Aug. 1 meeting, council members approved the cost-share agreement. The accord included a caveat suggested by Councilwoman Juliette Johnson that the Milton Public Works department examine and reevaluate one of the sign locations.

Questions of jurisdiction

Councilman Rick Mohrig cast the dissenting vote, saying he worried the cost-share agreement could signal that other subdivisions may bypass formal city processes and seek funding after the fact.

“Is there a reason for the process? I think it’s so that city staff can be involved,” Mohrig said.

During a lengthy public discussion, passions ran high among residents. Most – including 20 email comments – said they opposed the HOA’s sign installations.

Many urged the city to remove the signs, which were paid for through HOA dues.

Milton City Attorney Ken Jarrard said the city has authority over sign removal. He also confirmed that city ordinance allows the HOA to seek sign removal.

But, several White Columns residents argued for the need of traffic calming devices, attesting to having observed constant speeding in their section of the neighborhood.

Resident Stanley Coveleskie called himself a “tweener” – being a White Columns resident before and after having his 8-year-old daughter. He said that when he was teaching her how to ride a bike, he went outside the neighborhood because he was concerned for her safety.

“We owe it to everyone in the neighborhood to make it a safe and happy place to live,” Coveleskie said.

Speed studies conducted

Since the May 2 City Council meeting, the city conducted two new speed studies, which indicated that the radar feedback signs and new all-way stop signs were doing their job. For traffic calming measures to be considered, 50 percent of cars must exceed the posted speed limit.

The city also collected information on speed-related warnings and citations from Milton police. The data, which covered from April 2021 to July 2022, focused only on the White Columns Golf section. It showed that out of 61 citations, four were for speeding. Out of 28 warnings, one was for speeding.

Some residents cited the small number of speeding citations as reason to oppose the signage.

Prompted by a council suggestion, the White Columns HOA conducted a survey of residents to gauge sentiment on the radar feedback signs.

Many residents argued the survey was improperly conducted and said the wordage was leading.

Public Works Director Sara Leaders cited a history of the city allowing HOAs to represent their communities in traffic safety matters. According to city code, the HOA is not required to petition all homeowners prior to installation of traffic calming devices.

Milton City Council

Stanley Coveleskie, a 9-year White Columns resident, speaks out in favor of the sign installation.

Timeline for work

Leaders said the right of way encroachment permit was issued near the completion of sign installations in the subdivision. The permit covers work in city-owned right of way, sign installation and restoring damages. Leaders emphasized that the permit is not an official feature of the agreement but that the city has right of entry for any future sign maintenance.

Leaders said public works staff and the HOA had been coordinating for six months leading up to the installation. She also said that staff did mark and approve sign locations before installation began.

But, when Mohrig asked if White Columns followed the formal process in getting the signs installed, Leaders said they did not.

Mayor Peyton Jamison said the council will study the ordinance further at a work session so this issue can be avoided in the future.

In other business at the meeting, the council motioned to adopt the 2022 City of Milton Local Road Safety Plan – what Leaders called a “living document.” The plan provides a framework to identify and analyze safety problems as well as recommend safety improvements.

In another unanimous vote, the council adopted the 2022 Personal Transportation Vehicle Plan for the Crabapple District with Moore’s recommendation that driver registration and police enforcement aspects of the plan are not to exceed six months. One of the plan’s top objectives is to identify trail crossings for golf carts. The council’s approval allows city staff to begin expending resources to start planning out the network of trails, Milton City Manager Steven Krokoff said.