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Housing, Fire Facility
Planned for Bethel

By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE — May 14, 2004 – From Woodstock concerts to housing developments, the Bethel Planning Board had much on its plate Tuesday evening.
With a room only slightly less packed than when the town board meets at the senior center in Kauneonga Lake, the board heard nearly a dozen applications. The most significant five are detailed below and in the sidebar.
Bethel Woods
At the top of the list was the final planning board approval of the Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center at the Woodstock festival site in Bethel.
Since the planning and town boards shared lead agency status and the town board already signed off on the project, Tuesday’s unanimous vote cleared the way for the Gerry Foundation, which owns the site and surrounding acreage.
However, plans have been greatly reduced since owner Alan Gerry initially announced a 390,000-square-foot performing arts complex catering to up to 30,000 visitors at a time – although Gerry Foundation officials say that's been the plan all along.
Now, the project (not counting the size of the performing arts center itself) will encompass no more than 40,000 square feet and host a maximum of 7,000 visitors – large enough to require mass gathering permits, but much smaller in design. Additionally, surrounding roads will now not be rerouted or expanded to accommodate the tens of thousands originally expected to attend concerts.
The Gerry Foundation is looking to expand in future phases of construction, but for now, concrete plans only include breaking ground for the approved structures in July.
“We’ve spent a lot of time working on this,” remarked town planning consultant Thomas Shepstone. “Every point we’ve brought up has been addressed to our satisfaction.”
Gerry Foundation attorney Larry Wolinsky thanked the board for their cooperation and said he looked forward to seeing them at the next site plan application meeting for future phases – “hopefully not too far down the road.”
Two Developments Planned
On the housing front, David Goodstein of Brookside Homes and his attorney were present to talk about Brookside’s plan to build 33 homes on 77 acres of land off Britman Road between White Lake and Mongaup Valley.
Board members said that site had once been considered for a trailer park, but the attorney assured them that Brookside was not looking to do anything that would require a variance.
The lots would be a minimum of 1.5 acres, situated on private roads, with individual septic and water systems. Tentatively called Bethel Acres Estates, the development would feature a homeowners’ association.
Shepstone listed several issues the board wanted to see addressed, from traffic to water, and Goodstein promised the information would be forthcoming.
Local architect Michael Chojnicki was also on hand to talk about his clients’ desire to build an approximately 20-unit townhouse development on the site of a current bungalow colony west of the White Lake Firehouse on Route 17B.
Chojnicki and his associates explained that the number of buildings would decline from 16 to 11, as they would tear down all the old structures, but the new, two-story, 1,600-square-feet buildings would be slightly larger.
A new pool, community center and basketball courts would also be constructed. Two on-site wells would service the development, but it would hook into the town’s sewer line.
“I thought it was a generally good project,” said Shepstone.
The developers are due back with more facts and figures at a future meeting.
A Place to Learn to Fight Fires
A parcel on the Old White Lake Turnpike between White Lake and Swan Lake will likely become the home of the county’s firefighters training facility, if approved by the board.
Board members were told by former Smallwood/Mongaup Valley Fire Department chief Matt Stiene that the original idea of siting the facility at the county airport was rejected after Sullivan County Fire Service officials could not locate an appropriate source of much-needed groundwater.
Just a few miles away, next to an historic synagogue and across from the town landfill, county fire officials found what they were looking for: a 11.34-acre parcel owned by the Town of Bethel.
Conveyed from the town to the county for $10,000 (but maintaining a town right-of-way through the property to town land behind it), the new site of the training facility should be a source of pride to Bethel, said Stiene.
“This location will become the hub of the fire service in Sullivan County,” he predicted.
A public hearing on the matter will be held at the next planning board meeting on June 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the senior center in Kauneonga Lake.

Roy and Jeryl's Reunion
Seeks Official Approval

By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE — May 14, 2004 – Preceding the Bethel Woods approval at the Bethel Planning Board meeting Tuesday night in Kauneonga Lake was a Woodstock concert plan by Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson, the current owners of former Woodstock site owner Max Yasgur’s farm.
In response to a crowd of thousands who descend on the couple’s open and forested acres on Route 17B in Bethel every Woodstock anniversary, they have been working with the planning board to gain special-use approval for a three-day paid concert series.
“If we weren’t doing this, where would they go?” said Abramson in an interview yesterday.
Although initially Howard and Abramson were considering holding the event on August 13-15 – partially coinciding with Woodstock’s 35th anniversary of August 15-17 – Abramson told the board that it was now set for August 20-22.
She said they were anticipating up to 5,000 people (the legal limit before a mass gathering permit is necessary) for a tickets-only series of concerts on the huge lawn surrounding their home. The price of a ticket has yet to be determined.
Although children under a certain age would be admitted free, Abramson clarified to the board that only 5,000 wristbands would be distributed to visitors, regardless of age. And the wristbands would be good for the entire three days – in other words, no one would be able to purchase a wristband for one or two days.
And no camping would be allowed, per local and state laws.
But why go through this gathering again, which always at the very least results in a large cleanup effort and friction with the neighbors?
“This has become a business for us in a way. [But also] it’s a labor of love,” explained Abramson yesterday. “It’s part of our life. It defines who we [as a town and county] are.”
Even though no other local concerts have been announced, she added, “Is there no room for more than one [Woodstock reunion]? Woodstock took place in Sullivan County, not just at the festival site.”
Besides, said Howard, thousands of visitors might otherwise descend on the as-yet-unfinished Woodstock performing arts center site, causing headaches for owner Alan Gerry.
Some of the particulars of the event have yet to be worked out, but according to engineer Louis Norella III, the senior vice president of Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. in Scranton, Pa., a contracted peacekeeping/ security force would oversee several acres filled with food vendors, a stage, parking (including handicapped), 50 port-a-johns, 30 55-gallon trash cans and Dumpsters, and four-wheeler-based emergency services.
Access to the event on Yasgur Road would be provided by three lanes in and one lane out during entry times and three lanes out and one lane in during exit times, said Norella.
The stage would be in its traditional spot on the east side of Howard and Abramson’s wide front lawn, although specific acts have yet to be announced.
An insurance policy would be taken out on the event, said Abramson, and it would cover the town.
Town planning consultant Thomas Shepstone expressed a desire to review security, emergency and cleanup plans, and other board members seemed slightly dubious.
“I have a problem, because I don’t think 5,000 people can camp or find housing in Sullivan County,” remarked Board Chair Herman Bressler.
Abramson responded that most attendees in past years have lived within an easy drive of her house, so they would drive home for the night.
Regardless, “we want somebody to definitively take responsibility for this,” said Shepstone.
Abramson promised the board whatever information they needed, but members of the public weren’t feeling so cooperative.
“I don’t see what the benefit to the town is,” remarked Daniel Wiseman, who lives on Nearing Road near the reunion site. “The performing arts center is one thing . . . but I think this is just a little too unorganized to make sense for the town.”
Joe Walsh, representing the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board, felt it wouldn’t have a good impact on local farming operations either.
Citing two dairy farms, one heifer facility and six livestock operations within a half-mile of the site, Walsh said his board is concerned about the potential interruption of farm activities, which could have a harmful effect on the milk production and health of local dairy cows.
He also expressed concerns about traffic, trespassing and vandalism – all of which neighboring farmer Harold Russell said he has had to contend with during past reunions.
The longtime Bethel Town Board member and 28-year farmer was adamantly opposed to a repeat performance.
“I don’t shut down for a weekend so something else can happen,” Russell told the board. “I’ve dealt with this situation . . . for 8 or 9 years now. It has been an economic loss to me.
“It bothers me,” he continued. “I don’t sleep for that weekend.”
Russell said one time even bottle-rockets had been fired at his highly flammable barn and hay storage facility – although he did admit Howard put a stop to such shenanigans.
Still . . . “there’s not anyone there who is more directly impacted than I am,” he said. “If this is allowed to happen, I don’t know how much longer I can afford [it].”
When contacted yesterday, Howard was upset with Russell’s characterizations, saying he’d allowed the farmer to use his barn and fields for nearly 10 years. Even when Russell stored chicken manure on his property, Howard said he never complained. And when Russell’s hay barn burned after being hit by lightning, Howard offered him the use of Yasgur’s old barn.
“He forgets that,” lamented Howard. “I didn’t complain, but he is complaining.”
He explained that these reunions last only three days out of the year and that his cleanup and control efforts extend way beyond his own property.
Howard promised his efforts to be a good neighbor would be no different this year.
“We live there. We’re not renting a piece of property and leaving after the event,” he remarked.
In the end, the planning board asked Howard and Abramson to provide contracts and literature on the proposed event prior to its next meeting. Board members also asked Walsh to observe and document any impacts the event (if approved) has on local farming operations.
“I think we’d be in a position to act on this at next month’s meeting,” said Shepstone.
More information on the event, who will play and how to obtain tickets will soon be posted online at, said Howard and Abramson.

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