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Safari Park moving forward, food trucks next?

Sarah Wibell News

The Planning Commission heard updates from the Georgia Safari and Conservation Park during their regular meeting July 26. The commission also approved a text amendment to the Morgan County Zoning Ordinance regarding mobile food trucks and conditional use for a wide mobile home on Glades Road.

The Georgia Safari and Conservation Park will be built on a little over 500-acres just off of Interstate 20 on Georgia Highway 83. Chief Executive Officer Bill Killmer and partner Mike Conrads informed the commission about the process that the safari park has gone through up to this point. With plans to break ground this fall and open the first phase of the park to the public in spring 2020, the park is awaiting the completion of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA). With 92-acres of the property inside Madison’s city limits while the majority of the land is outside the limits in the county, both the city and county’s attorneys are working through the terminology for the agreement.

“Everyone is conceptually in agreement of how it is going to be handled,” Conrads stated. “It is not going to be de-annexed. It is merely going to stay in the city with mirror zoning. So, they are going to pick up and allow everything the county is doing in terms of zoning for the project and will mirror it for the city for this 92-acres and then turn everything over to the county to manage for the project.”

Conrads later elucidated, “We think by year three, (income dollars) should level out, and the taxable income from the park alone is over eight million dollars annually. Regionally, the impact of this – hotels, restaurants coming in – and support of our facility, that impact is over $50 million a year. That’s the big one. It’s not about property taxes; it’s all about sales tax. From the IGA, there’s no argument. It is what it is. The breakup of that sales dollar doesn’t happen unless we standardize it. So, there’s no real negotiation there – that’s not the issue. It’s more about figuring out the wording.”

The Safari Park has also been working on public/private partnerships with the City of Madison and the county.

Killmer noted, “The City Council approved, last Friday I believe, to underwrite the cost of a grant writer. We’re looking at a OneGeorgia (Authority) grant (…for) half a million dollars for infrastructure. With the city behind us and the grant writer, a lot of things are looking very positive for that. So, we’ve been given the endorsement of the city.”

Killmer further stated that they met with Bert Brantley, the chief operating officer for Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), and Kevin Langston, deputy commissioner of economic development for tourism at the same organization. He added that they were excited about the project and willing to provide advice and “pitch in”.

Conrads noted, “There is a significant program called the TDA – Tourism Development Act – and they stated very clearly that of all the products that they’ve seen so far with this act … they said that we checked every box.”

With Dr. Larry Killmar and Rick Barongi mentoring the Safari Park, Killmer said they are going for the highest level of accreditation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

The Planning Commission also discussed and approved a text amendment to Section 7.21.2 of the Morgan County Zoning Ordinance. Upon applying for a business license for a mobile food truck, Lisa and Daryl Riser were informed that there was no text in the Zoning Ordinance in which their business would fall. Planning staff researched zoning text from Atlanta and other Georgia cities with mobile food trucks to create an amendment suitable for Morgan County.

In addition, the commission approved James David Clark’s request for conditional use of a single wide mobile home at 1301 Glades Road.

The property with 66.27-acres has no other housing on it aside from another conditional use mobile home utilized by Clark.

The request was submitted to enable an affordable living option for Godfrey Dairy employees near the dairy.

With the commission estimating that there are only seven or eight dairies remaining in the county, they were in support of allowing the conditional use with Maryann Dartnell stating, “We need to support our dairy farmers.”

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