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Zoo ‘de–anex’ tabled indefinitely by BOC

Tia Lynn Ivey News

The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously voted to “table indefinitely” a controversial request from Mike Conrads to “de-annex” 92 acres of land inside the city’s jurisdiction back to Morgan County in order to accommodate the development of the coming Georgia Safari Conservation Park.

On Tuesday, June 5, the BOC voted to table the matter indefinitely due to the City of Madison’s reluctance to approve the request on their end.

The request aims to streamline planning and zoning by having the entirety of the zoo’s land under one governing authority.

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.

Conrads is seeking the de-annexation to put the land designated for the zoo under one government entity’s zoning classification and development procedures and standards. Conrads noted in previous public meetings that the City of Madison does not even currently have a zoning classification for a zoo. Conrads appeared before the Madison Mayor and City Council earlier this year to try and persuade the council to approve relinquishing the land to the county.

However, Madison City Officials were adamantly against the “de-annexation.”

“Staff is not recommending de-annexation. This would set a horrible precedent,” said City Manager David Nunn earlier this year. “There should be a very compelling reason to shrink the City of Madison even by one acre, let alone 92… To ask for de-annexation, but then ask for the city to support it through utilities is—it just doesn’t make sense.”

“This is a really large tract,” said City Planner Monica Callahan. “Everybody would rather pay one tax structure. Everybody would rather deal with one government entity. It’s never about the applicant at the table, but how to defend against the next one.”

Conrads argued that the de-annexation of 92 acres would not be costly to the City of Madison at all.

“We have 200 acres remaining in the city. The 92 acres we are trying to get out is not part of that, we will still have 200 acres remaining.”

“It is not our intent to move that to the county, and frankly, that is where the commercial development is going to occur,” explained Conrads. “Any restaurants, hotel chains, homes—that would all remain in the city. The city will still be getting a lot of revenue from that location. That has not changed and is not intended to change at all.”

Conrads also expressed concerns over the city and county having to work together if the land is not de-annexed.

“Everything we have to do out there, as you can imagine, there will be a great deal of supervision, permitting and ongoing inspections,” said Conrads. “I have spoken to the county and they are concerned about working something between both government agencies…It could where the two government entities can work closely together and sometimes they do not. It changes over time. It’s a little bit of a concern that it could get sticky down the road.”

Nunn countered that the city has worked well with the county on numerous projects, including the new hospital and the new schools.

The City is currently working on a new strategy to accommodate the zoo.  Instead of de-annexing the 92 acres of land for Conrads, the city offered to look into adopting “mirror zoning” and a long-term intergovernmental agreement with the county to streamline the process for the development of the Georgia Safari and Conservation Park.

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