The nearly 2,000 people who squealed, jumped or gasped at the Haunted Garden in Silver Spring this year might be the last group to ever tour the Halloween display if a judge’s decision puts the nail in the display’s coffin.
An estimated 700 people visited the garden on Worth Avenue on Friday and 1,000 to 1,500 on Saturday, according to county officials.
On Oct. 15, Montgomery County District Court Judge Patricia Mitchell ruled that Silver Spring real estate agent Donna Kerr, the organizer of the Halloween extravaganza, could open her 9215 Worth Ave. backyard for visitors only on Oct. 25 and 26, from 6 to 10 p.m., instead of five days, as Kerr had planned.
The ruling came after 19 of Kerr’s neighbors signed a petition asking the county to shut down the display because the narrow roads in their Seven Oaks Evanswood community couldn’t handle the thousands of visitors Kerr expected to visit her free display.
On Nov. 5, Mitchell is scheduled to hear a request to close the display permanently.
At issue is whether the home-based Halloween display on Worth Avenue was simply a fun way to celebrate the holiday or a real estate marketing effort in disguise.
“I’m feeling good. It is a great night,” Kerr said Friday.
Outside, two people controlled how many visitors could enter the garden at a time and two were in the back of the garden helping people leave the garden. More Haunted Garden staff were on the street directing traffic.
Volunteers also were spread around the backyard to help visitors during their tour.
A police officer, paid for by Kerr, was at the corner of Worth and Franklin avenues, helping pedestrians cross the street.
“We have our guys out there. People are doing their jobs. It is organized,” said Rania Peet, the artist behind the garden’s creations.
Julia Horton, 7, visited the display with friends and said her favorite part was “the guy in the electric chair” because “it was creepy and cool.”
The garden had a kids’ corner with a haunted playground. A 12-year-old actress portraying a dead child welcomed little ones, asking if they wanted to play with her.
Visitors also saw a werewolf coming from behind the trees, a witch looking for “extra special” children’s hair for her magic potion, and a man just out of an electric chair.
At the end of the experience, guests could stop to have their picture taken.
The Haunted Garden has been the subject of a battle between neighbors in recent weeks.
“Thanks to the county and judge’s ruling, and the county’s efforts including fire [marshal] and police, there was a large county effort to make this a safe event,” Jean Cavanaugh, the president of the Seven Oaks-Evanswood Citizens’ Association, which is not involved in the court case, wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Cavanaugh added that on Saturday, there was a line of 150 people, and she “witnessed a few children darting into the street from behind parked cars.”
“Again, we have no quarrel with Halloween decorations or neighborhood parties,” Cavanaugh wrote. “The haunted garden is fun, people like it, kids like it. Public events of this magnitude and duration, however, do not belong in a residential neighborhood.”
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.
Mitchell’s ruling allowed the event to continue, but with limited days and hours.
James Savage, an assistant county attorney, said in court that Kerr sent fliers to an estimated 12,000 households promoting the Haunted Garden.
But Mitchell did not consider the event to be commercial.
Diane Schwartz Jones, director of the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services, said she received complaints about traffic, cars parked on lawns, and children darting out on the street this year.
“It is a fun activity ... but it is not a good location for this activity,” said Schwartz Jones.
She said she sent an inspector for each night, and they reported more than 250 vehicles crossing the intersection between 6:30 and 9 p.m., plus a lot of pedestrian traffic. “The fact that no one was hurt is a good thing but the right thing is to correctly apply the law,” Schwartz Jones said.