CLINTON — Less than four weeks before the planned opening of Barn Hill Preserve's Magnolia Ridge Adventure Park, featuring zip lines though the trees, the East Feliciana Police Jury is questioning the park's use of a private access road along the Comite River.

The Police Jury voted Sept. 8 to have the Planning and Zoning Commission look at the adventure park, which is affiliated with the animal preserve that uses a private road for access.

Owner Gabe Ligon said the park, which includes zip line attractions, is on 32 acres with Comite River frontage, about a mile from the Barn Hill Preserve, which provides educational programs on wild animals.

Ligon said Sept. 9 that he was making a scheduled presentation on the park's projected Oct. 4 opening when questions arose about the road access and zoning issues.

"I was blindsided," Ligon said in a telephone interview.

He said visitors will park at Barn Hill, on La. 955E in Ethel, and be bused to the adventure park in a 15-passenger vehicle.

A resident whose access to his home is through the private road complained that 10 families on the road were “not happy about it at all” because they were not consulted about the site.

Ligon added that the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry certified the park as an agritourism site, but some jurors and residents of the access road noted that Ligon only received the certification after objections arose about the development.

Juror Chrissie O’Quin said the adventure park did not go before the Planning and Zoning Commission, although the commission approved a commercial zoning change for Barn Hill.

“This sends a bad message to every developer that we don’t have to deal with Planning and Zoning,” O’Quin said.

Planning and Zoning chairman John Rouchon said the panel considered the commercial zoning request for a Barn Hill gift shop but the adventure park was not part of the request.

He said he only learned about the separate site later.

Ligon countered that he had kept jury permit employees Joanie Stone and Larry Thompson abreast of his plans “from the get-go.”

“We’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,” he said.

Ligon said the park has "no concrete poured and no construction needed." Employees have been hired and the park has been built by American Adventure Systems.

After District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said the commission should look at the plans and determine if some type of subdivision or zoning variance is needed, the police jury voted to send the matter to the commission.

However, Ligon said Wednesday that he has asked his legal counsel to look into whether or not the Police Jury can intervene. Ligon said the park has worked with the State Fire Marshal's Office for the necessary inspections. 

D’Aquilla said that the park appears to be a commercial venture because it charges admission but a private servitude is used for access. The jury’s ordinances also are silent on agritourism ventures, he said.

East Feliciana Parish Manager Joseph "Jody" Moreau said in an email Wednesday he's not sure if the park will be discussed at the next planning and zoning meeting set for Sept. 28. 

"I am not sure if this item will be on that agenda or not at this moment," he said. "I am also not sure what the item would be as the land has already been accepted as agritourism by the Department of Agriculture."

Later in the meeting, a parish resident who lives near a proposed subdivision near the East Baton Rouge Parish line, took the jury to task for what she called communication problems with the public regarding the subdivision of land considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Teresa Cop, a construction lawyer, said she was initially denied the opportunity to view a proposed subdivision plat, although she contends it was a public record, and criticized the police jury for allowing incremental development of land.

She said the plat before the police jury involved creating three lots from six, but the aim of the developers is to eventually create 56 lots for building homes.

Cop said the jury should be looking at future development when it considers subdivisions, asking if jurors had considered drainage, sewage treatment, the availability of schools and other factors in approving the initial subdivision request.

Juror Richard Oliveaux and O’Quin abstained from voting on the approval, with O’Quin saying the area is in the Slaughter school district and its schools are at capacity.

In other action, the police jury:

  • Approved a contract with TriCoeur Services of Baton Rouge for a bridge to replace a Carruth Road structure that washed out in the 2016 floods. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying for the bridge.
  • Set salaries of parish justices of the peace at $300 per month, an increase of $100.
  • Agreed to buy a video conferencing system with federal money related to the coronavirus pandemic.