Aikman Drops Proposed Site For Wildlife Park Near Arthur, Will Seek New Location
James Aikman still hopes to open a wildlife park in Moultrie County ---- but he’s dropping plans to build it on farmland near Arthur.
Aikman’s plans for a zoo and drive-through wildlife park at the 140-acre farmland site would capitalize on an already thriving tourist trade that’s grown around Moultrie County’s Amish community. Aikman says he’s heard from several landowners in the area who would welcome his wildlife park as a neighbor.
“From an individual standpoint it was to be able to look out their back window and see different kinds of animals”, said Aikman, a banker from Arthur. “And from a business standpoint, they saw the traffic this would bring by their business or close to their business, so they saw that as a definite benefit.”
But the site that Aikman wanted to build on had other neighbors who did not want a wildlife park nearby. Those neighbors owned farmland, and the attorney for 16 of them, Kent Follmer, says a farmland site was simply not appropriate for hosting wild animals.
“Not having any trees, not having any hills, not having anything that would possibly be considered a natural habitat is just simply not the right location for a zoo”, said Follmer.
Follmer said his clients also feared that construction of a zoo and wildlife park on farmland that had drainage tiles installed could affect drainage for the area. And he said the wildlife park would be bothered in turn by crop-dusting planes flying low over nearby farms.
Those neighbors made their viewpoints clear at a June 17th meeting of the Moultrie County Zoning Board of Appeals. ZBA members voted against recommending approval of a Special Use Permit for Aikman’s wildlife park at the site.
The proposal was still on the Moultrie County Board’s agenda. But Aikman said the reception his proposal received at the ZBA meeting persuaded him to look for a different location.
A notice on the Aikman Wildlife Adventure Facebook page, signed by “The Aikman Wildlife Adventure Family” states, “It was never our intention for our application to create the attention that it did, or be opposed as aggressively as it was. The last meeting (of the Moultrie County ZBA) made it very apparent by the objectors that no matter what we do, nothing will ever be good enough”.
Follmer says his clients are relieved by Aikman’s decision, especially since they believe leaders on the Moultrie County Board favored the proposal. He notes that the Moultrie County Board voted in April to amend the county zoning ordinance to include a zoo/wildlife park as a possible land use, under a Special Use Permit.
“I had numerous people tell me that this would be an uphill battle, that my efforts fighting it would be futile”, said Follmer. “It makes the victory that much more special, knowing that I was able to help my clients do what nobody thought was going to be done. “