Montgomery County casts spell on haunted display -- Gazette.Net


There are goblins, an altar full of vampires and a zombie exhibit, but what supporters of the Haunted Garden in Silver Spring fear most is the witch hunt they believe is happening to their neighbor.

Donna Kerr goes all out decorating her yard for Halloween. But a temporary restraining order signed Friday by Montgomery County District Court Judge Patricia Mitchell has put her plans in purgatory.

Neighbors of her 9215 Worth Ave. home worry narrow roads in their Seven Oaks Evanswood community won’t be able to handle the thousands of visitors Kerr expects to come view her free display.

A hearing in Montgomery County District Court is scheduled for Tuesday to see if the order should be lifted or the event should go on as scheduled. The Haunted Garden was expected to open to the public Oct. 19.

“Halloween for me is one of my favorite childhood memories. Standing in line going to the haunted houses in the neighborhood, and it was a really good time,” Kerr said. “Kids just enjoyed so much. It is just so great to see kids coming with their families.”

Supporters of the event said the restraining order is a “bit of a witch hunt,” and at this point Kerr is being “bullied.”

“I wish that people against would spend time doing something constructive,” said Jennifer Locke, a neighbor who lives across the street from Kerr.

Amy Cress’ backyard is right behind where the Haunted Garden takes place, and she does not see anything wrong with the event.

“It hasn’t been a problem as far as I can see. We are really frustrated that it may not happen,” she said.

A neighbor, one of 19 people who signed the complaint, refused to comment and asked not to be identified, “It is an awkward time right now.”

Kerr opened her first Haunted Garden in 2010 after decorating her yard for a humane society fundraiser.

To get the word out about the garden the next year, Kerr used her company website Pure Energy Real Estate and email mass mailing list. In 2011, she was cited by Montgomery County Department of Permits for having her company sign and logo as part of the display in a residential zone.

That year an estimated 2,000 visitors came to the garden, said Diane Schwartz Jones, director of the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services. Under county regulations, only two visitors are allowed in a permitted home occupation in a residential zone.

“The multi-day promotional event creates issues of pedestrian and vehicular safety and impacts on parking availability for residents within the neighborhood,” Schwartz Jones wrote in an email to The Gazette.

Schwartz Jones also said there are differences between the Haunted Garden and people who decorate their houses for other seasons.

“If I decorate my house, I do not send it on a business flyer to every house in my zip code. ... Pure Energy and Ms. Kerr were told last year that she could decorate her home. She could not use it as a business promotional event.”

Last year, Kerr again hosted the garden and again was cited for hosting a business promotion at her home and violating the county’s zoning ordinance.

This year, Kerr said she set up a separate Facebook and website for the Haunted Garden, but fliers about the Haunted Garden include housing listings for her Pure Energy company.

On Friday she was given a notice of violation from the Department of Permitting Services for again advertising the haunted garden to the general public. Kerr refused to sign the notice.

The restraining order filed Friday stated the event could cause “immediate, substantial and irreparable harm to the county” and included concerns about pedestrians crossing a busy part of Sligo Creek Parkway to get to Kerr’s house.

Kerr had to stop preparations and tell event goers on Facebook and on the Haunted Garden website she set up for her event that the Halloween exhibition is canceled for now. She’s called for a public campaign to help her case via her blog and Haunted Garden Facebook page.

“Before the Haunted Garden I never had any trick-or-treaters. There is no other real community event,” Locke said.

Cress also said she moved to the neighborhood three years ago and was part of all three Haunted Garden events.

“Kids are so sad that it is not happening this year,” Cress said.

Related video: The Haunted Garden 2012 (YouTube)