"Haunted Garden" a go despite traffic and safety complaints

5:45 PM, Oct 15, 2013   |    comments
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ROCKVILLE, Md. (WUSA) -- Montgomery County has lost its bid for a court injunction to stop the "Haunted Garden" staged by a Silver Spring real estate agent in her yard at 9215 Worth Ave.

"We're really happy we get to open on the 25th and 26th," said Donna Kerr of the Pure Energy real estate company after a District Court hearing Tuesday.

Kerr had hoped to host as many as 2,000 visitors to her home-grown Halloween attraction over five nights, but District Court Judge Patricia M. Mitchell ruled the event would only be allowed two nights and not on Halloween or Sunday.

Montgomery County officials argued the event is a commercial promotional activity that is amounts to a prohibited accessory to Kerr's business.  Kerr has admitted to sending out 12,000 mailers announcing the event with her company logo, using paid employees to help stage the event, and promoting the Haunted Garden on her business website.

Past events have drawn as many as 300 to 500 visitors per night. 

"This is clearly a business activity," testified Diane Schwartz-Jones, Director of Permitting Services for Montgomery County.

Kerr has staged the event since 2010 by elaborately decorating her garden and inviting children and parents to walk through her spooky displays.

At least 11 neighbors have made formal complaints about traffic, crowds and pedestrian safety issues in the Seven Oaks neighborhood where narrow, poorly-lit streets have no sidewalks.

Police backed up the concerns in court testimony Tuesday.

Previously, Kerr had been cited by county officials for displaying signs promoting her real estate firm.  Kerr complied with orders to remove the signs.

Kerr charges no admission and says her event is intended to be a neighborly gathering of parents and kids that she describes as "giving back to the community for supporting my business."  Kerr says she does not actively market real estate while hosting the Haunted Garden.

Hundreds signed a petition supporting the Haunted Garden and about a dozen supporters held a demonstration outside the Rockville District Court building before the hearing.

County officials have not ruled out an appeal of Tuesday's decision.

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