BARTONVILLE — Twas two weeks before Christmas when the Village Board of Trustees approved a new ordinance that regulates Halloween haunted attractions in the village. One longtime operator believes the new regulations will shut his business down.
"If the ordinance is enforced exactly as it is written, everybody is out business," said John Callear, who runs Asylum Acres, an outdoor haunted attraction on the former grounds of the state hospital in Bartonville. "Everybody."
"Everybody," to Callear, includes a neighboring haunted attraction, called the Haunted Infirmary, that is run out of the old state hospital infirmary and is the fundraising arm for the Bartonville Junior Football League. Steve Andrews, who is on the JFL board, said members don't believe the regulations will affect operations of the Haunted Infirmary, at all.
"We'll just have to abide by the ordinance, that's all," Andrews said this week. "We don't see anything in there that we don't already do."
The history of haunted attractions at the former state hospital is short, convoluted and more than a little chaotic. Callear, when he was on the JFL board, started an attraction in the infirmary in 2010 to raise money for the program. He left JFL and for the last few years has run Asylum Acres, a for-profit business. The owner of the Bowen Building, across Pfiefer Road from the other two attractions, briefly ran tours until the building was declared unsafe. It is now in the process of being dismantled.
The Haunted Infirmary and Asylum Acres have operated side-by-side for a few years.
"There have been issues down there, and the ordinance was written to try and get a handle on those issues," Police Chief Brian Fengel said this week.
The village shut Asylum Acres down one year over structural questions about a pedestrian bridge at the attraction. There have been noise, crowd and trespassing complaints. Callear said he always thought his business was being unfairly singled out by the village.
"The village of Bartonville is good at saying one thing and doing another," he said. "I had no problem with anything. I always tried to do what I was told to do, but it always seemed to get thrown back on me."
Said Trustee Scott Helms, the only no vote on the board on the haunted house ordinance, "Every year it's chaos down there. I just wish everybody could get along."
The minutes of the December meeting show that Trustee Daryl Hoopingarner had asked Fengel to create an ordinance to "help corral the mess that has come along with the haunted attractions."
Fengel said he scoured ordinances regulating such attractions from across the country and developed one that he said "is fair and enforced across the board."
The ordinance requires an annual license fee of $500 that can be obtained only after an application has been reviewed by the fire and police chiefs, the building inspector and the director of public works. The applicant must have liability insurance with coverage of not less than $500,000 for injury or death to any one person and $1 million for injury or death to any number of persons in any one accident.
In addition, the building or structure must be of sound structural condition, equipped with fire extinguishers and a sprinkler system, exit and emergency lighting, emergency exits every 20 feet, fire and police chief approved parking plans, and ticket sales to the property where the haunted house or haunted walk is located must be limited.
The ordinance sets hours and dates of operation and lists nine violations for which an attraction can have its license suspended or revoked, including if "the premises are in violation of the health, building, fire, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, elevator or zoning codes of the Village of Bartonville, or the laws of the State of Illinois."
When told that Callear believes the ordinance will put his side business out of business, Fengel said, "That's news to me. That was never our intent."
Trustee Leon Ricca voted for the ordinance but had some concerns about the process. A committee meeting held a couple of weeks before the December board meeting where the ordinance was approved degenerated into a shouting match, according to several sources in attendance. The audio recorder at the committee meeting malfunctioned, according to the village clerk, so there is no audio record of the meeting. The actual ordinance that was approved was given to trustees at the start of the December meeting, Helms said.
"There's no way every trustee had the time to read the ordinance cover to cover," Helms said.
"I kind of thought that maybe we should have tabled it and voted at another meeting," Ricca said. "But it's a good ordinance and I think it should help circumvent some of the problems there. If anyone has a problem with the details, well we have until next October to address them."
Chris Cassidy, the general manager of Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, home to the annual Spider Hill haunted attraction, said abiding by state laws that regulate "amusement attractions" has always proved sufficient for that business to operate safely. The city of Chillicothe does not have a haunted attraction ordinance.
"Haunted attractions in Illinois fall under the State Amusement Licensing Laws, which are pretty strict already," Cassidy said. "The state used to inspect and license us direct, but, since we are a not-for-profit, the local fire department is charged with making sure we are safe to operate. In either case, haunted attractions are already held to pretty high safety standards in Illinois, as they should be."
For his part, Callear believes he shouldn't be regulated exactly the same way as other haunted attractions.
"Sprinklers," he said. "It's not practical. I'm not inside a building. I'm in the woods."
Scott Hilyard is the Journal Star communities reporter. He can be reached at 686-3244 and email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @scotthilyard.