Zoo zoning issue not in county’s court

Tia Lynn Ivey News

Morgan County government is currently mulling over a compromise proposed by the City of Madison regarding a request concerning the coming Georgia Safari Conservation Park.

Mike Conrads requested that the City of Madison sign off on a “deannexation,” in order to release 92 acres of Conrads’ property that falls within the city’s jurisdiction. 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 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.

Morgan County government expressed willingness in recent months to accept the city’s relinquishment of the land, but city officials have been adamantly opposed to the request and tabled the matter while looking for alternative solution.  City Planner Monica Callahan reached out to County Planner Chuck Jarrell this week to present a “mirror zoning” option for the 92 acres of land to see if the county would be willing to accept it.

According to Director of City Planning Monica Callahan, mirror zoning is creating a special zoning subset shared by both government entities in order to achieve identical zoning standards and procedures.

“You basically both have a zone, and you create a new subset zoning with each community adopting that zone. Everybody is using the same regulations, and any developer that comes in can work under one, unified standard,” explained Callahan. “They will simply copy everything they have for county zoning for a new planned development districts, so we will be able to mirror everything to meet the county’s approval.”

According to Callahan, County Planner Jarrell has asked for a formal proposal for the county leaders to review regarding the matter. Callahan plans to submit the formal request this week.

“The request pretty much establishes a mirror zone, with the county would do the inspection of all facilities. There is only one ordinance reference,” explained Callahan at Monday night’s regular meeting.

If the city were to adopt a mirror zone to accommodate the zoo, the city’s signage and state water protection requirements would have to be altered for those 92 acres.

City Manager David Nunn believes entering into an Intergovernmental Agreement with the County regarding the mirror-zoning for the zoo land will help ease any concerns over the city and county working together peacefully and efficiently.

“There have been some questions about the ability and the willingness of the city to work through any complications,” said Nunn of concerns that the city and county cannot work well together. “The overarching agreement would be an IGA that would lay all this out,” said Nunn.

Nunn emphasized the city’s support for the project in general and commitment to working with the county to ensure the zoo does not face any unnecessary obstacles.

“The City has been a big fan of the whole prospect,” said Nunn. “We are removing any impediments, we are removing any barriers to the development—perceived, real or otherwise—that this line in the pasture that you can’t see poses. The request is to diminish the city’s size by 92 acres.  My opinion is that it’s a dangerous precedent to do that for no good reason. I respectfully disagree that because the perception is that the city and the county cannot sit in the same room and get along—and I disagree with that—we most certainly can and we do. It’s been my commitment to remove any barriers. We will not let anything get in the way of this. We do not want the fact that part of this lies within the city to have any impact whatsoever. We want that to disappear without such a drastic stand of decreasing the city’s size but 90 acres or more. “

County leaders will review the city’s proposal before further action is taken by city officials.

Leave a Reply