By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE A public hearing Tuesday at the White Lake Firehouse was designed to determine the scope of the performing arts center (PAC) project at the Woodstock festival site in Bethel.
That scope widened tremendously the very next day.
Gerry Foundation and New York Philharmonic officials jointly announced on Wednesday that the nations oldest symphony orchestra would be the premiere star of the 17,500-seat center when it opens in 2004.
One of the first opportunities for people to experience a concert in this new, world-class performance space should belong to a world-class orchestra, said Liberty billionaire and foundation head Alan Gerry. We are happy that the New York Philharmonic has agreed to play for our grand opening season.
Although the current agreement is for an unspecified number of concerts in the centers first year of operation, Gerry and the Philharmonics board chair, Paul Guenther, indicated that a more long-term arrangement is their hope.
We are delighted and honored that our outstanding orchestra has been invited to inaugurate this new site with concerts in 2004, and we welcome the many possibilities that this new relationship presents, remarked Guenther. Alan Gerrys visionary and long-term contribution to the Catskills region and its revitalization is very commendable, and were pleased to be a part of it.
Philharmonic Executive Director Zarin Mehta went even farther, saying, The center is a world-class endeavor, and the Philharmonic looks forward not only to its opening season, but to participating in what promises to be an outstanding performing arts center in the natural landscape of New York State.
How that landscape is going to look and be used was the focus of Tuesday nights meeting, which had nothing to do with Wednesdays announcement. Instead, the meeting was held by the Town of Bethel planning and town boards at the request of the Gerry Foundation to solicit public input on the scoping document leading to the creation of a draft environmental impact statement.
The session only concerned Phase I of the plans for Gerrys 635 performing arts center-zoned acres in Bethel, which includes the 126,000-square-foot center itself, a 62,000-square-foot performance hall and a 15,000-square-foot festival stage, all to be built by 2004.
(Phase II, which is slated for completion by 2012, includes a 250,000-square-foot museum, a 127,000-square-foot visitors center and marketplace, a 70,000-square-foot performing arts school, a 150,000-square-foot hotel and convention center, and a 15,000-square-foot administrative facility.)
Issues addressed included:
Land Use, Zoning and Planning The draft scoping document indicates that the major impact of the performing arts center complex necessitates a study of how the land is and will be used, current zoning requirements, and how to fit the project into the constraints of the towns, countys and local farmers existing policies.
There was no public comment on this portion.
Geology, Soils and Topography Since a good deal of construction will be necessary, erosion and drainage, along with determining the existing soil, are of paramount importance.
No public comment was offered.
Wetlands, Vegetation and Wildlife The ecosystem of the property and surrounding properties will be studied to ensure minimal adverse impacts.
Again, no one offered comment.
Agriculture and Farmland Since the area surrounding the site is heavily used for agriculture, officials are concerned about the impact of development and traffic, though the document says the land within the property in question is agriculturally inactive.
In the first of several statements made that evening, Joe Walsh of the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board took issue with the term inactive, saying that there are over 20 active farms in the immediate vicinity, from dairy to poultry to alpacas.
We feel the project will, rather than may, have an effect on local farmland operations, he said.
Community Services Due to increased tourism and employment, officials anticipate the possible need for additional emergency services and will contact local leaders for information.
No public comments were made.
Economic Conditions Revenues may go up, says the scoping document, but so may municipal expenses. A study will be undertaken to eventually make estimates of those costs.
There was no public comment.
Growth-Inducing Aspects From new businesses to new homes to new recreational opportunities, the center is anticipated to help the area grow.
Towards that end, Weekend of Chamber Music founder Judith Pearce asked Gerry Foundation officials to speak with her and the rest of the arts community directly to ensure that this growth included them.
The center is probably at least as important to us as it is to the Town of Bethel, she remarked.
Cultural Resources This includes archaeological and historic resources, which could be anything from Native American arrowheads to the 1969 festival site itself.
Ed Brender of Kauneonga Lake, for one, hoped the center might add to the cultural qualities of the area and urged officials to include a library/media center, a theme park and an accredited school with college-credit courses.
Visual Resources How the site looks before and after construction both from normal eye-level and from above is key to many officials and residents. Eventually, photo simulations of how the site will look will be taken.
However, no public input was given.
Traffic Potentially the most contentious issue, traffic patterns and needs will be studied by the state DOT and local officials, especially ten nearby intersections. The document indicated up to 30,000 people could be coming to the center at any one time, so roads and emergency access will be looked at.
Chuck Laven of Callicoon asked officials to also look at traffic impacts on the western side of the site toward Fosterdale and Callicoon not just at Bethel, White Lake and Monticello (the main route into the center).
Frank Goodman of White Lake and Joe Walsh both stated that Route 17B would likely need to be widened possibly to four lanes to accommodate such traffic. West Shore Road and Hurd Road might need individual attention also, they said.
Air Quality Due to an increase in traffic and operating facilities, studies are slated to be conducted on how good or bad the local air is and can possibly get.
No comments were made.
Noise Two issues were addressed by the draft scoping document: vehicles (including helicopters) and performances. A screening analysis will be conducted to determine if planned mitigations are inadequate. If so, a detailed analysis will be prepared.
Walsh, again speaking on behalf of the Ag and Farmland Protection Board, expressed concern about the effects of noise on local farm animals.
Infrastructure and Utilities This section is broken down into Water Supply, Sanitary Sewage, Electricity, and Solid Waste, all of which will require substantial new arrangements. The document indicated a well or wells would likely be used for water, while sewage would be either handled on-site or piped into the Kauneonga Lake sewage treatment system. Electricity and trash removal would probably be handled by NYSEG and an outside firm, respectively.
Ted Yeomans of Kauneonga Lake asked that officials consider creating a ten-inch sewage pipe along Route 17B from the center to Kauneonga Lake to open up the corridor for development. As it was not a question-and-answer session, he made his comment and abruptly left the meeting immediately afterwards.
Ed Brender suggested a tertiary system that would make the effluent as clean as drinking water, and Joe Walsh asked that any sewage or water lines be constructed around 17B, not the farm-rich West Shore Road. Walsh also said that he hoped the right-to-farm laws would be acknowledged by officials (for example, the common practice of spreading manure on a nearby field might mean an unpleasant but perfectly legal smell at the indoor/outdoor performing arts center).
The remaining issues of Construction Impacts, Alternatives, Mitigation Measures, Irreversible and Irretrievable Commitment of Resources and Unavoidable Adverse Impacts generated no public comment.
However, both the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce threw their support behind the project through written statements.
Anyone can make a written comment to the town or planning board through July 17 by addressing their letter to the Town of Bethel, POB 300, White Lake, NY 12786. The comments will be seriously considered and possibly effect the final scoping document to be released at the end of July, said officials.
The actual draft environmental impact statement is expected no earlier than late fall, said Larry Wolinsky, an attorney for the Gerry Foundation.