By Tia Lynn Ivey
The Georgia Safari Conservation Park is back on track. The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) approved three requests from The Georgia Safari Conservation Park, hoping the long-awaited project will pick up the pace and finally come to fruition. Commissioner Philip Von Hanstein abstained from the votes, citing a conflict of interest since he is an adjacent property owner.
The Georgia Safari Conservation Park filed applications for a conditional use renewal, a zoning map amendment, and a variance request to waive the 18-month time limit for approval with The Morgan County Planning Commission to avoid repeating the approval process over and over again during the multi-phased project.
The Georgia Safari Conservation Park will ultimately feature a walk-through zoo, safari ride, up to seven amusement rides (barring rollercoasters) and lodging facilities. The park will be located on about 500 acres of land on Highway 83, with 436 acres residing in the county’s jurisdiction.
After much debate at a Morgan County Planning Commission meeting last week, the commission recommended to approve all three of the requests, with the stipulation of 10 conditions, which were all agreed upon by Georgia Safari Conservation Park leaders. The BOC voted to renew the park’s conditional use and map amendment, changing 40 acres of land designated as AR (Agriculture Residential) to AG (Agricultural), and extended the 18-month time limit to three years, with the condition that the park’s leaders will return twice a year to give the county updates on the project.
However, local residents attended both the Planning Commission and BOC meetings to oppose the project, particularly a proposed public entrance to the park from Clack Road. That proposal will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at a future meeting and had nothing to do with the requests approved by the BOC.
Clack Road residents spoke in opposition to the entrance, citing concerns over increased traffic and noise. The fear of animals escaping, lack of progress on the project, and insufficient oversight were also concerns among opponents.
Ed Price was one of the residents who spoke against the requests and potential entrance, complaining that the project has “morphed” into a much bigger project than when it was first approved several years ago.
Terry Collins, a resident on Thankful Road, also lamented the park’s project, citing cut-through traffic and noise.
“I know the people with money here will win this thing, but this just isn’t good for us,” said Collins.
Georgia Safari Conservation Park leaders Bill Killmer and Mike Conrads appeared before the BOC to defend the project.
“We ask for your continued patience with this project,” said Conrads to the BOC Tuesday morning. “We believe this is the perfect location for a park of this nature and that it will be an economic engine for this community and the legacy of our family…We are asking for patience. This is a massive project and it is taking time. We are as frustrated, or even more frustrated, as you are about wanting to get out there and move some dirt around, but it is taking time to provide a quality product for the community,” said Conrads.
“A project as large as our takes a great deal of time to develop to ensure that we do things well, right from the start,” wrote Killmer in a letter outlining their requests. “We know our project will be a legacy for this community and look forward to our groundbreaking,” said Killmer.
There is no estimated opening date for Phase I of the project, a walk-through zoo, at this time, according to Killmer and Conrads.
The park’s leaders will return to the Morgan County Planning Commission in the future to make their case to allow a public entrance to the park from Clack Road. The date for that meeting as not yet been announced.