Plans to hold a haunted house attraction next fall in Union Hall moved forward with approval from the Franklin County Planning Commission on Dec. 10.
Union Hall residents Joe and Jessica Palotas applied for a special-use permit to establish and operate a haunted house on property at 173 Kemp Ford Road just north of Virginia 40. The Kemp Ford Haunted House attraction would be held open Thursday through Saturday from Sept. 24 through Nov. 7 next year.
A fall festival also will be held during the day offering a variety of family activities, food options and agricultural products for sale in a farmers’ market setting. The fall festival would be held Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. The haunted house would be open from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Thursdays and 6:30 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
This is not the first haunted house for the Palotas. They previously operated haunted houses in Salem and Roanoke. One of the houses was located at Hopetree Family Services in Salem in 2017.
“We know that this doesn’t always sit well with a lot of people, but we can tell you this is not our first rodeo,” Joe Palotas said when discussing his application with commission members.
Palotas said several safety precautions would be in the haunted house, including security monitors, emergency exits and fire extinguishers. Fire and EMS workers also will be at the event, and security personnel will check individuals for weapons before entering.
A portion of the money raised from the event will be given to FRAME (Family Readiness and Military Ease), a Salem nonprofit. “We are not just here with our own hand out,” Palotas said. “We would like to do something for the community.”
During a public hearing on the event, multiple Union Hall residents spoke out against the haunted house. Residents expressed concern that it would cause additional traffic on Kemp Ford Road and disrupt those who live nearby.
“I think we do need more civic engagement. I think we do need more opportunities to bring the community together, but I do not believe this is that event,” said Union Hall resident Shannon Brooks. “I believe it’s in the wrong place and it’s the wrong time and it’s the wrong impression.”
The planning commission’s Union Hall District representative Deborah Crawford said while she understood that not everyone enjoyed haunted houses, they can be a popular attraction. If successful, she said the business could bring more attention to the area and help it grow.
Gills Creek District representative Jim Colby joined Boone District representative Angie McGhee in voting against the proposal, which passed by a 5-2 vote. Colby said there was too much uncertainty in how the event would impact the community. “I find it hard to overcome those concerns,” he said.
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors will discuss the proposed haunted house at its Jan. 21 meeting.
Another application scheduled for a public hearing at the Dec. 10 planning commission meeting was withdrawn just a few hours before the meeting began.
Rodney Conner, a prospective buyer of property in the Kennedy Shores subdivision in Union Hall, withdrew a request for a special-use permit for a short-term rental home on the property.