by: Mike Petchenik Updated:
MILTON, Ga. - Milton city leaders will decide Monday night whether to allow a landowner to turn part of his property into a primate preserve.
Dean Riopelle is asking for a zoning variance to allow for the change, but dozens of neighbors have signed a petition to prevent the permission.
"I think most of the neighbors are concerned about the land use," said Amy Stipancich, who started the online petition. "He's got so much community opposition that you would think, rather than trying to make all of his neighbors upset about it, maybe he'd try to be a little more flexible."
Stipanich told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik she and others have concerns about safety and compliance on Riopelle's property on Hopewell Road, citing some primate escapes from the expansive property.
Neighbor Kay Norvell told Petchenik she's listened to primates screeching for several years.
"It sounded like someone was being murdered," she told Petchenik. "We're trying to all be good neighbors and put up with it."
Norvell said she's surprised Riopelle would thrust himself into the limelight after collecting exotic monkeys for nearly 15 years without neighbor complaints.
"Why should one man have his needs and wishes fulfilled when there's so much opposition in the community?" she wondered aloud.
Petchenik has tried for several months to reach Riopelle for comment. Riopelle's attorney, Don Rolader, told Petchenik there would be no public comment until the appropriate time.
Not all of the neighbors oppose the plan. Mark Luman lives across the street from Riopelle and told Petchenik he has no problem with it.
"I think it's a good thing," said Luman. "He's an animal lover. He has a passion for primates."
Luman said he's been on the property and that Riopelle takes "very good" care of his animals.
"All he was really trying to do originally was trying to share education, primate education," he said. "I think people should just leave him alone."
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