Silver Spring's 'Haunted Gardens' to open for two nights only

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - The fight over a local Halloween haunted garden has landed the Silver Spring homeowner and co-creator in court.

For the last three Halloweens, thousands of people flock to the home along the 9200 block of Worth Ave. But so far this year, ghosts are the only visitors since Montgomery County wants to shut the neighborhood icon down.

Since Oct. 2010, Donna Kerr has welcomed more than 4,000 people into her Haunted Garden -- but the holiday tradition was put in jeopardy when she received a temporary restraining order restricting her from opening the gates. That Oct. 4 court order followed years of complaints to various county departments from at least 11 neighbors.

In Maryland Circuit Court Tuesday afternoon, Judge Patricia Mitchell heard arguments from both sides. Acting as the plaintiff, Montgomery County called seven witnesses to testify, including three Silver Spring residents, a Montgomery County Police lieutenant and two members of the county's Department of Permitting Services.

Seven Oaks-Evanswood Citizens' Association president Jean Cavanaugh said despite her own two sons attending and enjoying the Haunted Garden in 2010, the event raises serious safety concerns.

"Our streets are not well lit and very narrow. The number of pedestrian and car traffic makes things dangerous. Parking and no sidewalks are also a big problem," Cavanaugh said in court.

Cavanaugh said she attended a neighborhood meeting last year to discuss the matter. Topics including sky-rocketing attendance, the length of the event and pedestrian safety were all discussed, but Cavanuagh felt no worthwhile resolution was met.

"I came away thinking, a traditional Halloween of trick-or-treating was not going to be reinstated in our quiet neighborhood," Cavanaugh added.

Although not a single person has been injured walking to or driving by the Haunted Garden, first responders testified an accident could happen at any moment. It further argued oversized emergency vehicles, specifically fire apparatus, would have trouble navigating the compact streets due to the high volume of parked cars.

Kerr's defense attorney, Anthony Shore fired-back, arguing the case was a prime example of classic heavy-handed action on behalf of county government.

"This is a neighborhood where the majority of my client's immediate residents are in support of the garden," Shore said while presenting a petition with 146 signatures of support from residents within a one-mile radius of the Haunted Garden. "There are safety concerns everywhere - all across the county at all times. There have been no accidents and I believe there are less restrictive alternatives than the current temporary restraining order," Shore added.

After nearly four hours of testimony from both sides, Judge Mitchell ruled the Haunted Garden could remain open for two of the five nights on the 2013 calendar: Friday, October 25 and Saturday, October 26 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Judge Mitchell also canceled the temporary restraining order.

"I think everyone lost because it created very bad feelings in our very small neighborhood. This didn't have to happen. We tried to mediate last year and it didn't work," Jean Cavanaugh remarked.

"I'm really sorry that this situation has split the community. Really it was all about bringing the community together, not dividing it. I'm sorry that it happened, but I'm excited the kids can come to the Haunted Garden this year," Kerr remarked following Tuesday's ruling.

While walking out of court, a Montgomery County attorney remarked that his office may appeal the judge's ruling. Kerr said she hoped county leaders would respect the judge's ruling, but would first discuss any further steps with her legal team and support staff.

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