North Castle Denies Permit for Popular Haunted House

What had become a Halloween tradition in North White Plains over the past decade became another casualty of the coronavirus.

The operators of The Haunt at Rocky Ledge on Old Orchard Road were recently denied a special event permit by the North Castle Town Board after town officials were uneasy about having crowds congregate for the themed attraction.

Board members listened earlier this month to The Haunt’s proprietor, Marc Mancini, propose capping crowds to 50 people at one time, down from as many as 300 last year. He also proposed advance ticketing only in hopes of controlling crowds and adhering to social distance protocols.

Mancini said he wanted to keep the tradition alive even if he wasn’t going to make money on the attraction this year. He had already paid for the non-refundable insurance premium for the event by the time he met with the Town Board on Sept. 9. The Haunt at Rocky Ledge has run throughout October and into November.

By limiting the number of people on the premises at one time and requiring advance reservations, Mancini said he could probably run a safe event.

“So it’s more of a control issue, and yet if I have to take a hit, it won’t be a banner year, getting it to keep it alive, keep it going even if I have to take a step back and say this is really not about the business end of it, it’s more about my passion for it,” Mancini said.

After consideration, officials concluded that they weren’t comfortable letting The Haunt go forward this year despite the best efforts by Mancini and his partners. Councilwoman Barbara DiGiacinto said there was a good reason why officials canceled other longtime events in the town such as the Lions Club’s Fol-de-Rol, the Armonk Outdoor Art Show and Frosty Day.

“They’re not going to take place this year, and the people who organize, and they’re just like you, they put their heart and soul into these events, stepped back and realized it was just too risky,” DiGiacinto said. “So I really in good conscience could not support this event this year.”

Councilman Jose Berra said he was sympathetic to Mancini’s plight but with up to 50 patrons and 30 employees, he wasn’t ready to risk what has always been a fun, well-run event turn into a cluster of cases.

“It could spread very, very quickly and widely, and all the progress we made and the tremendous cost economically and otherwise, a lot of businesses have suffered so far, so this to me seems like a really, really tough one to be able to support,” Berra said.

This would have been the 11th Halloween season for The Haunt. For the first year or two neighbors were concerned about traffic, noise and crowds. But the town and residents quickly embraced its return each fall.

Supervisor Michael Schiliro said he thought that Mancini could pull it off this year, but with people’s health, livelihoods and even lives at stake he concluded it wasn’t right to push forward. He then urged Mancini to return next year when life may be closer to normal.

“In the end we have to do what is best and safe for the public, and not just people who attend the event but people in Westchester and surrounding areas,” Schiliro said.

Mancini said after the vote that he realized it would be a challenge to convince the board this year.

“I gave it my best shot to try and make it work and I totally understand,” he said. “Hopefully, next year we’ll all be on the same page and I’ll be in there instead of on Zoom.”