EBR council OKs rezoning for Halloween attraction

Plans for a haunted house and outdoor Halloween attraction south of Central were nearly killed by the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday over concerns about the theme of the development.

Dwayne Sanburn, of Midnight Productions which owns The 13th Gate, is purchasing about 63 acres of land southeast of where Joor Road meets Mickens Road for the development.

The project was before the council because the property had to be rezoned.

Sanburn has said the project would be similar to the downtown Baton Rouge attraction, with outdoor laser tag, a hayride and a corn maze. The attraction will be open for one-night events throughout the year, but do most of its business during the Halloween season.

He said the project will take about two years to develop.

Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards, whose district encompasses the development, said she didn’t support the project because she doesn’t celebrate Halloween.

She did say, however, that she appreciated that the project would bring development and jobs to northern Baton Rouge.

“I personally don’t celebrate Halloween,” Edwards said. “I know there are other faith-based groups that don’t celebrate either and take exception to framing the activities around that component.”

Edwards abstained twice from the vote, which effectively counted against the project approval.

The Rev. Gregory Cooper, a pastor with Antioch Baptist Church on Ford Street, spoke out against the project to the Metro Council.

He later said in an interview after the vote that he doesn’t support what Halloween represents — which he described as “ghosts and goblins, witches and warlocks.”

“I oppose the 13th Gate because the concept promotes Halloween,” Cooper said. “None of the churches in the community celebrate Halloween, so why would we support it?”

The developer was seeking to have the land for the project rezoned from A1 residential to a Planned Unit Development.

The first vote by the council rejected the rezoning, 6-2, with two abstentions and two absences. Edwards and C. Denise Marcelle abstained. Tara Wicker and Chauna Banks-Daniel voted against the project, and Donna Collins-Lewis and Joel BoƩ were absent from the meeting.

The Metro Council later reconsidered the item and approved it by a vote of 8-1, with one abstention and two absences. Banks-Daniel and Marcelle voted in favor of the project in the second vote, saving it.

Wicker said she voted against the project because she did not think it was providing the kind of economic activity that was beneficial to the area.

Sanburn, addressing concerns about the Halloween theme, said the attractions are designed to be family-friendly.

“We don’t do anything objectionable, we don’t do anything satanic or anything like that,” he said. “That’s why we’ve been so successful, because it’s family oriented.”