By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE October 11, 2002 Capping off two years of intense review, comment, documentation and debate, the town and planning boards of the Town of Bethel jointly approved the final generic environmental impact statement of the Gerry Foundation and a special use permit regarding plans for a performing arts center at the Woodstock festival site in Bethel.
A crowd of about 50 residents, Woodstock enthusiasts and local officials gathered at the seniors center in Kauneonga Lake Tuesday evening to witness the unanimous vote which virtually clears the way for Liberty billionaire Alan Gerry and his staff to begin construction on the 17,500-seat indoor/outdoor performing arts center and related facilities.
This is the next-to-last step in the state environmental quality review [SEQRA] process, said Gerry Foundation attorney Larry Wolinsky at the meeting.
The truly final step short of the official designation of more than 600 acres at the site as a performing arts zone is a statement of findings from the town and planning boards, which are jointly functioning as lead agency in this matter.
Although Wolinsky said there is no additional public comment period, Bethel Supervisor Allan Scott said that the public will be allowed to send their written concerns to the town for the next 10 days, which means what should be the final public comment period on Phase I of the arts center project will end on October 18.
Public comments have been a crucial and sometimes controversial part of the planning phase of the project, with some people calling for the 38 acres of the original 1969 concert site to be preserved. (Current plans indicate structures will be built on the southern third of that acreage.)
All the comments were addressed in some fashion in this final impact statement approved on Tuesday, and a cursory review of the more-than-100-page document indicates that most of the comments were either supportive or about agricultural, environmental and infrastructure impacts.
Gerry Foundation and Bethel officials seemed unsure as to what impact this new round of public comments might have on the process, but each will be reviewed, they said.
By mid-November, Scott expects to have the statement of findings released, and in the following spring, said Gerry Foundation spokesperson Glenn Pontier, ground should be broken for the project.