BURRILLVILLE – Those who hope to sleep in the woods surrounding Burrillville’s most infamous farmhouse will have their ghosts and camping too following approval this week by members of the Burrillville Zoning Board.
The board held a public hearing on Tuesday, June 27 on a proposal by owner Jacqueline Nunez to offer outdoor overnight stays on the lot at 1677 Round Top Road, which holds the 300-year-old house that inspired the 2013 hit film The Conjuring. Nunez purchased the property, and with it, a business marketing ghostly investigations, last May for $1.5 million.
Last month, many major news sources announced that visitors could camp on the property with a new experience marketed as “ghamping,” or “ghost camping.”
But unlike projects such as a proposed winery and campground in Pascoag, stays on the residential Harrisville property were for sale before any applications were submitted to the town’s zoning and planning departments.
An application for a special use permit to open 12 outdoor sites for overnight stays was submitted to the planning on Friday, May 26, and the Planning Board later held a hearing, ultimately giving the project a positive recommendation. On Tuesday, zoners heard testimony regarding plans for the 8.5 acre lot, situated in a farming/residential zone.
“One of my goals has been to offer different experiences,” Nunez told the board of her operations, doing business as Bale Fire, LLC. “I never intended to become a campground.”
The business plans to offer seven tent sites for, “primitive,” stays in the first year on select dates through October. Guests will not be allowed to bring their own tents, chairs or RVs, with accommodations provided, and propane grills for cooking. No showers will be offered, and guests will have to pay extra if they want to stay during the day, or be forced to leave and return if they’re staying for two nights or more.
With a staff of eight, Nunez has added security measures to the property that include a gated entrance, a 32-camera surveillance system and a 24/7 caretaker. Ghamping guests will check in around 5 p.m. and must check out by 10 a.m., and use porta potties, with pets, guns, fireworks, alcohol, drugs, campfires and screaming all prohibited.
Asked if she’s ever had trouble with a guest, Nunez told zoners the staff once threw a guy out who had marijuana.
“We’ll be searching their belongings,” she said of visitors.
“We attract people from around the world,” Nunez said. “People are investing a lot of money to come to the Conjuring House and have an experience.”
Of the campsites, she noted, “We tried to site them as far down and away from Round Top Road as possible. They can’t even go past the house.”
Nunez noted that there has never been a complaint to police regarding a paying guest at the house, a statement verified in a report submitted by Burrillville Police Col. Stephen Lynch. Lynch did recommend increasing staff at the house to three people during camp nights.
“I committed to that on the spot,” said Nunez.
Neighbors and others testified both for and against the project at the hearing.
“I think the neighbors would agree that there’s a lot of unofficial noise complaints,” said neighbor Tania Hall. “I don’t think any of the neighbors want to call the police at 2 a.m. every time they’re woken up by a scream. There is constant disruption.”
Zoning Board Chairman John Patriarca responded, “I think we all have issues at some point with neighbors.”
“Is it constant?” asked Hall, who noted she purchased her home on Round Top Road less than a year before the release of the 2013 movie.
“While there aren’t official police complaints, there’s noise,” she said. “There’s absolutely more traffic.”
Scott Partington, an attorney representing neighbor Donna Sullivan told zoners they should, “maybe step on the brakes a little bit.”
“The Sullivans are not necessarily against this,” said Partington. “If business belongs somewhere, so be it. We’re not anti-business by any stretch.”
The attorney asked what other permits may have been obtained for the property, asking if the current overnight stays inside the house qualified it as a bed and breakfast. Zoners noted it was their first application for the property, which to date has only obtained an entertainment license.
Nunez quoted the late Burrillville Building Official Joseph Raymond, saying when she met him last year he asked, “How do you zone for a haunted house?”
“Ghost hunting is very much like fishing,” she said in dispute of the complaints regarding noise. “You cast your reel – you put out a voice recorder, and you wait. By its nature, paranormal investigations are very quiet.”
Live-in caretaker Cody DesBiens read a letter in support of the project submitted by Kenneth DeCosta, founder RISEUP Paranormal. DeCosta noted that to date, his organization’s annual Ocean State Paracon events in Burrillville have raised more than $40,000 for Rhode Island-based advocacy programs. This year, Nunez will be a sponsor when Paracon returns to the Assembly Theatre in September, a two-day event to benefit the Tomorrow Fund.
“In essence, her goal was to become a good neighbor while conducting her business,” DeCosta said of the house’s owner. “Ms. Nunez takes this very seriously.”
“There’s a reason that we’re there 24/7 and that’s to enforce our rules, but also the town’s rules,” said DesBiens.
Solicitor William Dimitri disputed Nunez’s contention that what she’s going to operate will not be a “campground.”
“We can agree to disagree,” said Dimitri. “I do a lot of camping. If you’re in a tent on your own site, it’s a campground.”
Zoners ultimately approved the request unanimously. But first, Zoner Giovanna Patriarca asked if there was any concern guests might try to tip over the porta potties. Nunez said not if the campers are anything like the guests she’s had to date.
“People are excited to come. They’re very respectful,” she said.
“I’m also looking at 2023 as a trial period,” added Nunez. “If it’s too much of a hassle for us and it causes too many problems I’m not going to want to do this again.”