The town hall of La Barben crosses swords with the “Rocher Mistral” theme park

A new page in the history of the Château de La Barben, the oldest in Provence, is being written. A story that Vianney D’Alençon, its owner, who turned it into a theme park inspired by the history of the region, would have done well. It is indeed difficult to script the legal battle in which the town hall is engaged, supported by a group of opponents, and the management of the “Rocher Mistral” park, located about twenty kilometers from Aix-en-Provence. A battle of dresses (of lawyers) and decrees (municipal) more than of cape and sword which has been going on since the launch of the project, a little over two years ago now.

From municipal decrees appealing to the administrative court, from complaints by France Nature Environnement to legal responses from the “Rocher Mistral” for abuse of power, the history of this theme park, launched with a budget of 30 million euros and financed up to 6 million euros by the region and the department, is first written in administrative language.

Last iron crossing to date, the referral by the prefect to the administrative court of the three stays of proceedings pronounced by the mayor of La Barben on the three development permits filed by the company Rocher Mistral. “These developments concern the ”Provençal market”, the car park and prefabricated buildings in which we have our temporary offices”, explains Frédérique de Lanouvelle, the park’s deputy director. A stay of proceedings that Franck Santos, the mayor of La Barben had wished to take given that the market, located on a meadow on the edge of Touloubre, the river which borders the castle, is in a flood zone. “It could have postponed the authorizations for two years”, breathes the deputy director, who denounces “the fight of a mayor against the Rocher Mistral”.

Development without permit, nocturnal nuisances

On the town hall side, we line up behind town planning regulations. “I do my job. There are shortcomings in town planning, there are shortcomings in security, ”says Franck Santos, elected mayor in 2020 of this village of 800 inhabitants. He takes as an example a report from the security sub-committee of April 28 which gives an unfavorable opinion on the operation of the establishment due to “non-functioning of the autonomous security lighting units, locked emergency exit, an absence of electrical support and a lack of an authorization deposit for one of their performance halls”, specifies the document. “Points that we have all corrected since,” reacts the management of the park, which is now awaiting a new unexpected check.

These recent passes of arms are only the last episodes of confrontations by interposed lawyers started from the beginning of the project. In October 2021, the municipality had already issued an order partially closing the site. The “Rocher Mistral” had also been assigned by France Nature Environnement for two developments carried out without a permit and neighbors denouncing the noise pollution of the night shows. Both of these requests were dismissed by the court.

The “time of the entrepreneur is not that of the administration”

In this battle of stink balls, the attacks are also more personal. The “Rocher Mistral” for example assigned Franck Santos to the administrative court for a story of fence and gate of the mayor’s property which bit on the land of a neighbor that the park rents. “A fence built in 2006… We agreed at the time orally with the neighbors to avoid cutting down trees”, annoys the mayor. For the park, this is the illustration of a mayor who wants to be “astride rules that he does not apply to himself”. This fence has been moved.

One more example of a dialogue that no longer seems possible between the two parties, which, paradoxically, everyone seems to regret. “I warned them at the beginning of the project that they should take their time, and that the time they didn’t take, they would lose it afterwards. They advance at a forced march, and stumble regularly. I thought we were going to think together, but the discussion is no longer possible”, considers Franck Santos, who evokes a “difficult situation to live with”. “At the launch, we had planned one meeting a week with the municipal council, but they stopped coming,” regrets Frédéric de Lanouvelle, aware that they may have moved a little quickly, arguing that the “entrepreneur’s time n is not that of the administration”. This lightness is worth to them to appear on November 16 next before the court of Aix-en-Provence.

In the end, it is difficult to appreciate this sad spectacle of dresses and decrees, where, if everyone in turn obtains small victories, no one comes out a winner. In the meantime, the park is running, willy-nilly, and has welcomed 250,000 visitors in just over two seasons.

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