Silver Spring Haunted House injunction decision delayed

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - In the heart of the holiday season, a Silver Spring neighborhood continues to focus its attention on Halloween.

In October, ABC7 introduced you to Donna Kerr's Haunted Garden, a free attraction situated on the real estate agent's quarter-acre lot along Worth Ave. The spooky event, which Kerr launched in 2010, has dramatically grown in size over the years, leading to numerous traffic, noise, and zoning complaints.

"There are just way, way too many people, and what's really happening is people from outside the neighborhood are now coming in," said John Rossi, who is opposed to the Haunted Garden.

Montgomery County had cited Kerr in the past for minor code violations, but this year it went full court press, taking her to Montgomery County District Court in October. In what ran like a proper murder trial, witness after witness testified at length -- some were for the garden, and others were downright against the neighborhood haunt.

With just days before Halloween, Montgomery County District Court Judge Patricia Mitchell issued a ruling that stated the garden could open its gates for two of the five scheduled nights: Friday Oct. 25 and Saturday Oct. 26. The judge "split the Halloween pumpkin," the Washington Post cleverly wrote at the time.

However, Montgomery County wasn't too thrilled with Judge Mitchell's ruling. In response, it took Kerr back to court, this time asking for a permanent injunction to close her festive gathering for good.

"I think it's crazy that the county has spent all this time and money trying to shut down a neighborhood family event," Kerr remarked. "People are upset that the county's trying to infringe on our right to have a good time."

Since the court case first evolved in the fall, the county has alleged Kerr primarily runs the Haunted Garden to promote her real estate company, Pure Energy. In court, county employees displayed a handful of Kerr's monthly real estate mailers, in which certain editions advertised the Haunted Garden.

"Right now we have a promotional commercial event smack-dab in the center of a residential neighborhood. We're not trying to pick on her, it's just the fact many neighbors don't want this," Associate County Attorney Jim Savage said in court Tuesday.

Kerr, who has already spent thousands in legal fees, has long argued the neighborhood importance of events like hers, saying 80-percent of guests are Silver Spring residents. Court documents show 780 people came to the Haunted Garden on Oct. 25 of this year, with 980 attending on Oct. 26. -- 1,760 people in total.

"There were people from Gaithersburg, Wheaton, Laurel, D.C., Beltsville, Alexandria, Arlington, Greenbelt..." Savage said as he read from a Haunted Garden sign-in sheet, which was entered as evidence in court.

"When you get nationwide coverage and you're on every major news outlet in the D.C. market, it's no wonder the people came out to see what the fuss is about," Kerr added.

After a lengthy list of court appearances, cross examinations and closing arguments, a final decision was expected Tuesday afternoon. Judge Mitchell, however, surprised most everyone when she delayed her ruling, taking the matter "under advisement."

"It's not time-sensitive as it was during the initial hearing. I'll issue a written ruling within two to three weeks," Judge Mitchell remarked.

"Well, I sure wanted to hear her say something, I really did, but I think the reality is we all understand she's got to make the right decision as a judge. I think she knows full well her decision is going to be scrutinized, so why not take the time to get it right," Rossi remarked after court let out.

"I would really like it to be over with, but I'm glad the judge is giving this a lot of thought, and hopefully she'll make the right decision and allow us to open," Kerr concluded.