Tonight’s City Council meeting agenda includes issues having impact on two local businesses: The Painted Horse and Billy Allen’s Piano Bar. And these issues shine a bright light on a sad state of affairs in Milton. Unfortunately, the misbehavior of Milton’s two District 2 Council Members, Paul Moore and Laura Bentley, is bearing bitter fruit for the community. Citizens’ trust in Milton’s City government is waning (notwithstanding the City’s non-stop stream of look-good/feel good Facebook posts). And increasingly, it is difficult to distinguish local politics from Washington politics. This loss of confidence in Milton’s municipal government was both predicted and predictable. Both Paul and Laura led the variance parade at Birmingham Crossroads . . . with 28 variances and a bastardized special use permit granted in 4 separate hearings over the span of less than a year. In the case of Matilda’s, Paul and Laura cavalierly disregarded both the rule of law and citizens’ concerns in favor of their own and their friends’ personal interests . . . to the detriment of the community.
Now the results of Council’s poor decisions are metastasizing elsewhere in Milton. Other applicants before council are demanding equal treatment—aka fairness. And they make a good (and probably legally sound) case for such like treatment. You see, Council’s approval of Matilda’s at Birmingham Crossroads set the bar very low for what is accepted and acceptable in Milton . . . “open borders” for all sorts of businesses. The owners of the Painted Horse (a winery) and now Billy Allen’s (a piano bar) are asking for (much) less than was granted to Matilda’s. And when you contrast The Painted Horse with Matilda’s, you see the obvious illogic and incoherence in Milton City Council’s land use approach. After all, The Painted Horse owners are saving an equestrian property, operating a by-right business, regulating alcohol consumption, and abiding by Milton’s noise ordinance. This is in stark contrast to Matilda’s, which is located on a marginal property (bisected by high voltage transmission lines), operates under a bastardized (by 12 variances) festival use permit, is BYOB, and pumps out music that is 15 DB above Milton’s approved noise limits and sometimes can be heard 1.5 miles away. The “intensity of use” (a term of art at Council) is much lower at The Painted Horse. It strikes me that farm-wineries actually 1) offer a wonderful opportunity to save equestrian properties and 2) align well with Milton’s rural character. The same cannot be reasonably asserted about Matilda’s. Farm wineries might actually provide apposite means for Milton to distinguish itself in Atlanta’s north metro area.
Realizing they’ve lost the trust of Milton’s voters, Paul and Laura are now posturing as protectors of the people and as promoters of principles and process. Their worship at the altar of good governance is unconvincing and shameful. Long ago, both Paul and Laura ceded the moral high ground and opted instead for the political low road, a well-worn path in Milton that has often led to defeat at the ballot box (or to politicians wisely choosing not to seek re-election). Let’s get real. In light of their slavish support for Matilda’s, Paul and Laura’s opposition to The Painted Horse has little to do with the people, principles, or process. Their opposition appears transparently personal and their goal seems nothing short of running the Painted Horse owners out of business.
It is interesting to note that in re-purposing a use permit with 12 variances for Matilda’s and then taking a subsequent strict stance against any additional music or other entertainment venues, Paul and Laura have effectively created a well-protected monopoly for Matilda’s in Milton. It is also interesting to note that many of Paul’s allies have privately acknowledged that Paul erred in his blind advocacy for Matilda’s and in his blatant circumvention of due process, but excuse him by stating that his was a “crime of passion” . . . akin to a mama bear protecting its cubs. This is nonsense. Paul knew better but didn’t care. And unfortunately (but predictably), City leadership turned a blind eye to ethical and due process violations. Lastly, it is interesting to note that Paul and Laura reached out to residents near The Painted Horse to understand their concerns, but Paul and Laura never engaged citizens that were to be impacted by Matilda’s–perhaps because nearby residents were nearly unanimous in their opposition.
I encourage citizens to attend tonight’s hearing. It should be a good show. Political hypocrisy at its finest. If you can’t make it, following is a link for watching the meeting virtually.
In closing, it is worth noting that come January 2022, Milton will have three new City Council members. I am hopeful. These prospective Council Members would be well-advised to closely watch tonight’s hearings and learn some valuable lessons . . . a principled process is the only path to good outcomes and to restoring trust and confidence in local government.
Advocating For Good Governance,
Note: I want to emphasize that I was not opposed to Matilda’s being re-located to Milton. My objections were to a circumvention of due process and the rule of law; re-purposing a use permit with myriad variances; and total disregard for the concerns of nearby residents. I believe that a suitable home for Matilda’s in Milton could have been found by following principled process. This would have involved creating a use permit for music venues in Milton, assuming citizens wanted music venues in AG-1 zoned areas of Milton. It would have meant finding a location that did not require variances that remove basic protections to the community. It would have required clear support from the community, especially those most impacted by the music venue. And finally, it would have followed an ethical, transparent, fair, and rigorous approval process.