ROCK FALLS – Last fall, Terry Warren transformed his front yard at 201 Seventh Ave. into the 7th Avenue Shocker, a free haunted maze for the community’s enjoyment.
This year, he wanted to make it bigger and better, but his work has been interrupted by a city citation telling him he is in violation of building, zoning and fire codes.
Warren was told to put his work on hold and that he could he could state his case before the council Tuesday. With several supporters in tow, including youth toting a sign that said “Save 7th Avenue Shocker”, Warren told city officials that he would do whatever it took to comply.
“I want to save the 7th Avenue Shocker for all the great people of Rock Falls, of all ages,” Warren said. “I’m willing to comply – I’ll do anything I’m told.”
His impassioned plea came from a place of sadness. This year’s maze was to be a fundraiser for Huntington’s disease awareness and research. Warren’s wife, Jennifer, 33, has battled the disease for 10 years, and is now at a local nursing facility.
“My wife is the definition of strength, and I wanted to pay tribute to her and increase awareness of a horrible disease that many people know nothing about,” Warren said.
Huntington’s is a degenerative neuromuscular disease that has no cure. It is genetically contracted, and children of those with the disease have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the gene.
Mayor Bill Wescott said he believed the project was for a worthy cause and Warren’s efforts were admirable, but this year’s maze posed safety issues because it has become more of a structure, rather than a display.
“Unfortunately, the construction is done mainly with wooden pallets that have been stacked very high,” Wescott said. “The Department of Labor needs to be contacted for an inspection because of the amusements element.”
Warren was told that the citation was given with everyone’s best interests at heart.
“If an accident happened on your property, it could put you in a serious legal predicament,” Wescott said. “The council doesn’t have the authority to make all these concerns go away. It sets a precedent that puts us in a very difficult position.”
Someone from the audience asked if the maze could be built to code, and they were told that City Building Inspector Mark Searing and Fire Chief Gary Cook would be willing to work with Warren on a scaled-down version.
Warren won’t have to pay a fine if the project is brought into compliance, Searing said.
“When someone called us about this, it was described as a display,” he said. “There was no mention of 8-foot walls. The way this is built it is classified as a structure, and it’s not a safe one.”
Stacie Warren of Sterling, Terry’s sister, said her brother is a talented artist, and this project has been therapeutic for him and sons, Logan, 13, and Caleb, 10.
“This got him back into his art, and it was something he and his sons could work on together during a difficult time,” she said. “Terry’s been working on paintings for this since March.”
The Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2, at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St.
The agendas will be posted at www.rockfalls61071.com and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.
The City Council meeting also can be viewed live on Channel 5.