Proposed Zoofari 6/14/13

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 14, 2013

Proposed Zoofari would bring exotic animals to Panola

By John Howell

Ricky Garrett would build a 466-acre drive-through safari park east of Como, populated by gazelles, antelope, water buffalo, camels and perhaps cheetahs pending approval by the Panola County Land Use Commission.

Garrett presented his proposal for “Zoofari” during a public hearing Monday night at the commission’s monthly meeting, following a lengthy discussion on permitting a gravel mining operation, also east of Como. There were about 90 people in the Sardis courtroom during the discussion of the gravel operation. When that discussion ended, about 10 people remained to hear Garrett’s presentation.

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Garrett presented a large site plan that showed a 6.5 mile route winding through the proposed park acreage bordered by Rooks Road on the east and Tom Floyd Road on the north.
He described eight separate sections within the park. “Each section … will have different types of animals in there. Those animals will consist of African hoof stock, … about 90 percent African hoof stock,” Garrett said.

“What’s that mean? … African hoof stock?” asked commission consultant, urban planner Bob Barber.

“Gazelles, antelope, we’ll have some water buffalo in there; we’ll probably have some camels,” Garrett replied.

Responding to questions from various commissioners, Garrett described his credentials and experience. He said that the facility would be licensed and inspected by the USDA and that it would be surrounded by an eight-foot “wildlife fence.”

Commission chairman Danny Walker asked about the traffic volume Garrett expected.

“We met with our media group last week, and we feel like that with our advertising campaign we’re going to do that everybody’s going to try us at first, and that’s pulling a lot of traffic out of Memphis,” Garrett said, “so we feel like probably between 75,000 and 150,000 people the first year.”

Traffic access from Highway 310 would come via Rooks Road that presently has a bridge in need of replacement. Garrett said during bridge replacement construction, traffic would need to be rerouted from 310 via Hunter Chapel Road to Tom Floyd Road and finally to the park entrance on Rooks Road.

Traffic was the main focus for about ten people attending the hearing who identified themselves as owners of land near the proposed park.

“Obviously I’m concerned,” said Gary Teuton, who spoke during the public hearing after Garrett’s presentation. “I’ve got livestock next door; I’ve got three small children. We have a farm there; we’ve got cows, horses — things like that,” the neighboring landowner continued.

 “We moved down there to be away from the traffic and the crowds and the things that may come with this new project,” Teuton said.

“You’re talking about potentially approving 200 gravel trucks a day,” said Teuton’s wife, Laura, “… at the same interstate intersection where 75,000 cars a year will be coming off; that’s a lot of congestion in a small town … and the roads are in very bad shape around that area. The county would need to do major road improvements in that whole area to support that type of traffic.

(Garrett had earlier clarified that he was talking about 75,000 to 150,000 people with a three passengers per vehicle projected — 25,000 to 50,000 vehicles annually.)

Four more owners of nearby land and homes also spoke during the hearing, primarily expressing concern about traffic, congestion and the condition of the roads.

“I’m not opposed to it, but I’m very sympathetic to the people who built houses there,” said commissioner Sledge Taylor after the public remarks were concluded. Taylor said that he owns and leases land on three sides of the proposed park.

Earlier in the meeting, chairman Danny Walker and Barber had clarified the commission’s role in the permitting process.

“He can have all the above-mentioned animals there today … as far as we’re concerned,” Walker said, citing the land use commission’s role in permitting.

“It’s a commercial operation,” Barber said, citing the variation from the agricultural use that Garrett is proposing. He cited the admission charge, gift shop and other revenue generating aspects of the project.

“What about predatory animals like lions?” Taylor asked.

“We don’t have any plans to have that kind of stuff,” Garrett said. “We’re planning on having some of the smaller cats, maybe like some cheetahs,” he said. “Cheetahs do not have that predatory instinct like tigers and lions,” he said.

Discussion of the Zoofari proposal consumed most of the second hour of the land commission’s meeting.

In the end of their discussion, commissioners voted to ask county engineer David Britt to provide a report on the roads and bridge before making a decision to approve the Zoofari application.

In other business at Monday, commissioners approved the application of Thomas Leverette to open a convenience store at 2203 B Highway 310 near Crenshaw. Leverette told commissioners that he would sell typical convenience store merchandise including beer as well as produce that he raises.