Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell
WEARING HIS CELLPHONE on the back of his cap, Roy Howard awaits the Bethel ZBAs decision on his and wife Jeryls (left) plans to hold a Woodstock reunion on their Bethel property.
Says Zoning Board
By Ted Waddell
KAUNEONGA LAKE July 22, 2005 It was thumbs down for Yasgur Road Productions (YRP) on Monday night, as the Town of Bethel Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denied Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramsons request for a variance to create a temporary campground at the site of one of Max Yasgur's old farms in Bethel.
But several things in life remain sure bets: death and taxes, swallows migrating to Capistrano, and in the case of the Town of Bethel, the return of the annual Woodstock reunion.
In the wake of Alan Gerry buying up the site of the original Woodstock concert of 1969, Howard and Abramson have been battling with the local town to stage what are billed as "reunions" for those faithful to the lingering spirit of "peace and love" or, as some neighbors feel, folks in search of a place to get drunk and smoke a little dope.
In recent years, while music and good feelings permeated the couples property, neighboring dairy farmers were getting riled, two alleged stabbings took place, cops were fed up and the town searched for ways to control what they viewed as illegal camping and problems associated with several hundred people living for a few days in a field.
By the time July rolled around and the hallowed concert anniversary of mid-August appeared on the horizon, Bethel's town board and zoning board meetings were the places to be, as Howard and Abramson squared off against the powers-that-be in a Don Quixote-like quest for gatherings at Yasgur's old farm.
Despite the lack of a permit giving the nod for a temporary campground for August 12-14, YRPs Website invited folks to visit (the following text has since been removed from the site).
"Attention All Hippies and Yasgur Roadies: As usual, announcements have been delayed due to permit issues, but after meetings upon meetings and a lot of hard work, we believe we have it all ironed out. . . . Camping will be legally permitted this year for the first time ever! . . . Roy and Jeryl thank all of you who have remained loyal to the cause despite all the political strife and rumors of cancellations over the past 10 years."
Then the town started protesting, as the board said they wouldn't decide on the issue until the ZBA ruled on the variance, and the ZBA held a series of public hearings right down to the wire.
After Howard and Abramson made their pitch and the public had its say on Monday night, it seemed as if the issue would be continued before the ZBA at next month's meeting, until a board member said that would be after the fact as the concert without a stage would already have come and gone.
Howard, for one, didnt seem that worried with the proceedings. During the public comment period, he appeared to nod off and had to be poked awake by his wife.
In a lighter moment, mounting tension in the room was broken when the flip phone clipped to the adjustable band of Howard's ballcap suddenly went off, awakening the apparently snoozing owner.
As he grabbed for the cellphone, his hat and attached phone fell to the floor, and while Abramson showed him how to turn it off, a ripple of laughter spread around the room.
Other folks didn't think anything was funny, however.
"The board should shut this thing down. . . . You have lost direction," said Darren Wiseman, a musician whose family has owned a nearby piece of property for 30-some years.
After wrangling a bit with the board and the town attorney over whether they had to cough up escrow money and ZBA Chair Stephen Morey reading the entire SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) long form, Abramson said, "You don't have any proof of any negative impacts. . . . We've made mistakes, [but] every year we've been in compliance. . . . We never intended this, people just come to us."
The tide appeared to turn when Morey read into the record an affidavit filed by Harold Russell, a neighboring dairy farmer, before the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Sullivan, dated as received by the county clerk on August 4, 2004.
In his affidavit, Russell alleged that events staged in recent years by Howard and Abramson caused the death of two dairy cows, numerous instances of trespass on his property, the theft of a huge hay bale, concerns about fires and "several years ago in our hay barn I found three young men and a young woman, who had been attending an event, beating another young man. At the time that I arrived, the victim was on the ground and the attackers were savagely kicking him."
As the hearing drew to a close, Howard said, "We were set up for a fall last year."
His reaction to the ZBA nixing YRP's request for a variance that would permit them to establish a temporary campground next month?
It's Not Over Yet
By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson arent done with the Town of Bethel quite yet.
The town planning board has scheduled a special meeting for 7:30 p.m. on August 2 in Kauneonga Lake to discuss the couples request for a special use permit for the reunion at their Bethel property August 12-14.
While it can be predicted with near certainty that the board will not attempt to overrule the zoning board of appeals prohibition of camping, the planning board can still approve a special use permit for the actual event, which this year is not scheduled to include booked acts or stages.
If acceptable proof of insurance and security is provided to the board on August 2, it is possible the couple will get a green light for the Woodstock-themed event.
The permit would legally sanction the gathering, although certain rules would apply, including no overnight stays.
But even if the permit is denied, residents well understand that hundreds perhaps thousands of people will descend on Bethel next month for whatever entertainment and social events can be cobbled together.