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Westland haunted forest abruptly shut down by city, leaving customers in the dark

Posted: 6:27 PM, Oct 15, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-16 16:07:43-04

Jen Debler says she feels numb after seeing a work stop notice right in front of the Panic haunted experience she says was years in the making. 

The sign from the city of Westland begins “You do not have approval to run this haunted forest operation...”

The city of Westland pulled the plug on the haunted walking trail, saying the attraction's permit had expired four months prior. 

In July of 2016, Debler, the owner & operator, says she was given special permission to use the land for two years in a trial period, but she believed it meant two Halloween seasons. 

October of 2017 was the debut. But this year two weeks into its second season, the plug was pulled. 

"I believed in good faith we were operating under that trial period," Debler said. 

Debler says she was promised the city would review its status to continue operating, so as long as there were no major issues or complaints with the operation. 

No noise complaints were filed to her knowledge, but still, she says, that promised "review" never came. 

The experience was open to visitors Friday night, but by Saturday, she was forced to turn dozens of customers away.

Even harder she says was having to lay off over 30 employees that had been hoping to work there to save for Christmas. 

The city of Westland didn't immediately return our calls for comment. But Debler says she will fight to re-open. 

It's unclear if she will get the opportunity to re-open the business this year, if at all. 

The city of Westland responded with this statement Tuesday, Oct. 16, explaining the details leading to the closure of the haunted attraction: 

Bruce Thompson, Building & Planning Director from the City of Westland, updated the Mayor’s office on the status of the Haunted Forest.

The City Council granted a Temporary Special Land Use for a period of two years on July 5, 2016.  That special land use expired July 5, 2018.  With approval from the Mayor’s office, I contacted the City Attorney to determine if there was an option that did not involve going through the Special Land Use Approval process again (Planning Commission review and City Council approval).  He concurred that there was no other mechanism in the ordinance.  So, as I explained to Ms. Debler and her attorney, they must obtain special land use approval from the City Council once again to operate.   Be aware, when the special land use approval was still in effect, no permits were pulled (structures and foot bridges were constructed on the premises), no inspections were made, Fire Department requirements outlined during the original approval process were not completed and no Zoning Certificate was issued to allow operation of the use on site.  All of these must occur once again, if City Council approves the special land use.

7 Action News will continue to follow the developments and bring viewers the updates.