A Montgomery County judge ruled Tuesday that the Haunted Garden in Silver Spring will only be open to the public for two days, putting an end to a battle between the county and the homeowner behind the Halloween display.
Donna Kerr may only invite the public to come to the outdoor display located at 9215 Worth Ave. from 6 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26, according to the court ruling.
“I certainly understand people’s frustrations. ... I understand the county’s concern with safety issues,” said Judge Patricia Mitchell.
County officials had shut down the display with a temporary restraining order issued Oct. 4, saying the display violated the county’s residential zoning code and caused a public safety hazard. Nineteen of Kerr’s neighbors who signed a petition asking the county to shut down the display argued their narrow roads in their Seven Oaks Evanswood community can’t handle the thousands of visitors Kerr expects to come view her free display.
With Tuesday’s ruling, Kerr can begin prepping her haunt for the two-day show.
“It’s been a long ten days. I am glad we are able to open on the 25th and 26th. We have to see how much we can get done,” Kerr said after the ruling was announced.
The judge suggested the county and Kerr come up with a plan to handle the anticipated pedestrian and vehicular traffic for the two-day event.
The Haunted Garden will host a private viewing of the display on the 18th, which is open to invited guests only and allowed to continue.
“I feel like she made the right call. I feel like it is not a commercial event. I was pleased to hear she ruled in our favor on that,” Kerr said.
Diane Schwartz Jones, director of the county’s Department of Permitting Services, said Wednesday she was confused by the judge’s decision.
“The real issue is a public safety issue. If it is a public safety issue for five nights it is a public safety issue for two nights,” she said.
Kerr still will need to apply for certain permits to host the event, Schwartz Jones said.
“We will have to evaluate what extraordinary steps we need to take,” she said.
Kerr expected the Haunted Garden to be open to the public Oct. 19 through Halloween.
She 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 the 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, Schwartz Jones said. Under county regulations, only two visitors are allowed in a permitted home occupation in a residential zone. 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 the business won’t be part of the display.