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Commissioners grant permit, allow Reaper’s Realm to continue operations for remainder of Halloween season

SALISBURY — After a discussion that stretched well over an hour, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday approved a temporary use permit that will allow the Reaper’s Realm haunted house and trail to operate for the rest of the Halloween season.

Tony Jenkins, the owner and operator of Reaper’s Realm, requested a temporary use permit to operate the haunt at his property at 175 Shuffler Woods Road in China Grove in 2017. Although that temporary permit expired in 2019, Jenkins did not reapply for the permit in 2019 even though he continued to operate the haunted house.

The expiration of the permit came to the county commissioners’ attention after a shooting occurred at the haunted attraction on Sept. 26.

“If there wasn’t a shooting, none of us would have thought about this event going on,” said Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. “This became a real public safety issue when shots were fired.”

Following the shooting, Jenkins met with county officials to address concerns over the property and the haunted house’s operations. Since that meeting, Jenkins has attempted to bolster security to include five private security officers, who Jenkins said are primarily “ex-military,” as well as five sheriff’s deputies. However, Jenkins said he’s had problems ensuring that there are five law enforcement officers at the site during operations.

Jenkins has since received permit approval from the Environmental Health Division of the Rowan County Health Department to sell concessions at the property and has worked with the Bostian Fire Department to ensure that the building is compliant with fire regulations.

Jenkins told commissioners that he had “never seen anything like” the number of people who came to the haunted house on the night of the shooting on Sept. 26, which was the haunt’s opening night for the 2020 season. Jenkins said that the main issue came from Charlotte-area teenagers being dropped off at his property. 

“We had 600 teenagers that didn’t have a ride when the incident happened,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said that, despite indications that Reaper’s Realm would be down 50% in customer traffic, they have had more people this Halloween season than they ever had before. Increased traffic, along with COVID-19 health concerns, have created new problems for Jenkins and his staff.

“Now we’re trying to figure out every weekend how to solve a new problem,” Jenkins said.

After the shooting, Jenkins said he outlawed drop-offs and has only permitted cars to come onto the property, no customers on foot. Jenkins said they’ve also required teenagers under the age of 16 to be chaperoned by an adult. Staff members have begun checking IDs at the entrance, he said.

Commissioners questioned Jenkins about the measures he’s taken to improve security at the haunted house and offered suggestions on how he can make the operation more safe. Commissioner Mike Caskey advised Jenkins that he should consider adding a second entrance to the property in cases of emergency. Commissioner Judy Klusman encouraged Jenkins to further investigate online ticketing to reduce crowd sizes.

The commissioners also brought up complaints they received from some of Jenkins’ neighbors about noise extending past midnight, which is when the former permit required operations to cease.

Jenkins said that staff typically have the venue cleared out shortly after midnight.

“What it comes down to, in a lot of this, is that in this area, with neighbors, is this event going to get smaller, is it going to be less loud?” Edds asked. “Is this going to be something that we’re going to have to say to neighbors that for the rest of their lives they’re going to have to deal with this in September and October?”

Although commissioners approved the temporary permit for Jenkins to continue operating Reaper’s Realm for the remaining six nights of the Halloween season, they did so with several stipulations: Jenkins must have five county or municipal law enforcement officers at the property during operations; operations must cease and crowds must be cleared out by midnight; and emergency medical services must be present on the property during operations.

Commissioner Craig Pierce said that he would like commissioners to reconsider rezoning the property in the future, especially if the haunted house continues to grow in popularity.

“If it looks like the capacity situation will keep being an issue, should we not request that it be rezoned to accommodate this many people and this much traffic?” Pierce asked.

Edds echoed those concerns.

“I’ll agree to approve the remainder of this year, but I don’t want to go forward with another two-year plan until we really have an opportunity to sit down and determine where we are as a board going to go with you that takes into account the folks who live around you,” Edds said.

In other meeting business:

  • Commissioners approved an incentive request by the Rowan County Economic Development Commission for “Project Enterprise” to offer an unnamed company considering expanding to Rowan County a level one grant, which would have the county return 75% of the company’s paid property taxes in the form of a grant each year for a five-year period. Scott Shelton, vice president of the Rowan County EDC, said that the company is a “well-respected and established” company from the northeastern United States that is looking to expand into the Southeast. If the company selected Rowan County, it would create 142 jobs and would invest $17.51 million in building improvement and equipment. Shelton said that the average salary of an employee hired by the business would be a little over $46,000 and would also include benefits. The company would generate $699,498 in tax revenue for the county over a 10-year period. The unnamed company is considering two other counties in the Charlotte area. Shelton said that he expects a final decision on whether the company will select Rowan County or one of the other counties by the end of the month.
  • Commissioners approved a request for an easement to improve access and safety for the development of a new Arby’s on Statesville Boulevard. The Arby’s will be located near West End Plaza, across the street from a shopping center that contains a Food Lion.
  • Commissioners approved a request from Commissioner Jim Greene to transfer the site of the former Woodleaf Elementary School from Rowan-Salisbury School System to Rowan County for the purpose of adding a park to the county’s park system.
  • Commissioners approved a request from Robert Polk to purchase a parcel on Barbour Street for $1,200. County Assessor Chip Main believes the offer is fair for the lot, even though it represents 15-20% of its assessed value.
  • The Rowan County Board of Commissioners approved the donation of a soon-to-be retired county ambulance to the city of Kannapolis for use by its fire department.
  • The presentation on the bid results for the “design solutions” phase of the county’s project to equip county facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was removed from the meeting agenda. Edds said that the presentation will be rescheduled for a later date. It was previously stated that the improvement to count facilities must be completed by the end of December for the county to be reimbursed by the federal government.

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