Montgomery County moves to shut down ‘Haunted Garden’ at Silver Spring residence

(Katherine Frey/ The Washington Post ) - Rania Peet, center, and Donna Kerr, right, created the Haunted Garden, that their neighbor, Bud Dickerson, left, and his friends, Mary Reeber, visiting from San Diego, and Jeanne Bumpus, from Takoma Park, admire on Tuesday.

(Katherine Frey/ The Washington Post ) - Rania Peet, center, and Donna Kerr, right, created the Haunted Garden, that their neighbor, Bud Dickerson, left, and his friends, Mary Reeber, visiting from San Diego, and Jeanne Bumpus, from Takoma Park, admire on Tuesday.

Donna Kerr’s Halloween-themed “Haunted Garden,” at her Worth Avenue home in Silver Spring’s Seven Oaks neighborhood is, like the Facebook notice says, “not your average yard haunt.”

In 2011, there were elaborate multimedia exhibits, including “The Altar of the Vampires” and “The Zombie Horde.” Last year featured an 18-foot-tall, fog-breathing pumpkin head; eight-foot scarecrows; a bubbling pond; and a “creepy” cemetery path. Part of this year’s plan was an 18-foot-tall witch and a giant spider crawling down the house.

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“We are a fun bunch who truly love Halloween and putting this together for the community,” the Facebook posting said.

But not all of Kerr’s neighbors look forward to the annual five-night event, which they say is neither trick nor treat but a big, fat hassle, with traffic and parking headaches on their narrow streets and general disruption caused by the estimated 500 visitors a night.

Residents and Montgomery officials say they aren’t challenging Kerr’s right to decorate her home for Halloween. But they contend that she is operating a blatantly commercial venture in the middle of their residential neighborhood by using fliers and social media to promote her real estate business, Pure Energy.

“This is not a community event or a neighborhood event,” Jack Detzner, Kerr’s neighbor and a lawyer, said in an e-mail to county officials included in the filing for the injunction. “With 2,000 business development fliers mailed throughout the area, and the business Web site advertisements, and 500 strangers per night for each of the five nights, it is a business development event.”

On Friday afternoon, the county went to court and argued that the Haunted Garden would endanger residents and cause “immediate, substantial and irreparable harm to the County.” It raised particular concern about pedestrians crossing busy Sligo Creek Parkway at night to get to Kerr’s home, which is one block off the parkway.

Within an hour on Friday, Montgomery District Court Judge Patricia Mitchell granted the county a temporary restraining order. It requires Kerr to send out fliers — using the same mailing lists she used to promote the Haunted Garden — announcing that the event is canceled.

She must also revise Pure Energy’s Web site and Facebook pages to post the cancellation.

Kerr said Monday that the whole matter was absurd and that neighborhood complaints were an “exaggeration.” She called the parking issue a “minor inconvenience” and said the neighbors who have complained the loudest all have driveways where they can park their cars. She said she doesn’t charge admission to those who come to see the garden and she doesn’t discuss her real estate business with anyone coming to be haunted.

Kerr also expressed resentment at the use of the temporary restraining order. “There’s no reason for this to be an emergency. There was no imminent danger to anyone.”

Temporary restraining orders are usually followed quickly by a hearing to consider a permanent injunction. But Mitchell set the next hearing for Oct. 15, four days before the first scheduled Haunted Garden.

Diane Jones, the county’s director of permitting services, who brought the court action, said the agency made numerous attempts to work with Kerr, including offering to find another venue for the event.

“I understand that some people love it, but I also understand that it’s extremely impactful on the neighbors,” Jones said.

 
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