The City of Madison is poised to release over 92 acres of land on Monticello Highway to Morgan County at the request of property owner Mike Conrads in order to accommodate plans for The Georgia Safari Conservation Park.
According to Tara Cooner, Morgan County Planner, because of flood plains and other topographical issues within the current 500-acres designated for the zoo, part of the park will need to be on part of Conrads’ land that falls within the city limits. Conrads is partnering with Bill Killmer, chief executive officer for the Georgia Sarfari Conservation Park.
The move to “de-annex” the land is so unusual, both county and city attorneys had to conduct ample research to ensure the process is being done correctly.
“This is really rare,” said Cooner. “Annexation is usually moving land from a county into a city, but this will be de-annexed from the city into the county.”
According to Cooner, the process has been complicated and will not be finalized until the City of Madison votes on the de-annexation and passes a resolution to release the land to Morgan County. Then, the Morgan County Board of Commissioners will have to vote to accept the land. De-annexation is the only option available to make the land usable for the zoo unless the City of Madison were to pass their own zoo ordinance.
“They don’t have a zoo ordinance, so this needs to be done to get all of the land under one ordinance—one standard,” said Cooner.
In the mean time, the Morgan County Planning Commission was asked to vote on three measures regarding the 92.410 acres as part of the de-annexation process and approving the land to be used as part of the coming zoo.
The Morgan County Planning Commission, in accordance to state law, voted to recommend approval for the 92.410 acres be rezoned from the city’s I-2 (Light Industrial/Manufacturing) zoning designation to the county’s I-2 (Heavy Commercial) zoning designation. However, once the land is released to the county, that zoning designation will have to be rezoned as AG (Agricultural) in order for the zoo to make use of it.
According to Cooner, House Bill 489 requires that when land is switching from one municipality to another the land must first be rezoned to the most compatible zoning classification by the receiving municipality.
“But if the city approves everything and the county votes to accept it, the land will be need be rezoned AG,” said Cooner.
The Morgan County Planning Commission also unanimously voted to recommend approval for a conditional use on the 92.410 acres to become part of the land designated for the zoo.
According to Cooner, the next step is up to the city. The Morgan County Board of Commissioners has the de-annexation on their Feb. 6 agenda, but if the City does not pass a resolution before then, the county vote will have to be moved back.
According to the Georgia Safari Conservation Park website, “The Park will be unlike anything in the Southeast. When fully developed, the Georgia Safari Conservation Park will bring three attractions together on one site: a safari drive-through experience, a traditional walk-through zoo and Treetop Lodging.”