By Dan Hust
BETHEL As of yesterday, everything’s still on at Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson’s property in Bethel.
That’s from Abramson herself, who has been posting updates to various websites since announcing a gathering coinciding with the Memorial Day weekend Phish concerts at nearby Bethel Woods.
She and Howard are charging $50 per person and have been approached by more than a dozen bands interested in playing to the crowd.
“We are running it like a business,” she told the Democrat this week, pointing out the hiring of a licensed and bonded security firm, sanitation services and insurance.
Abramson added that she had not planned to host anything more than the 25 campsites the Town of Bethel has given her permits for. But once she advertised that on Facebook, Phish fans and more started organizing a get-together for before, during and after the concerts at Bethel Woods.
“Before I knew it,” Abramson related, “I had hundreds of people talking for me all over the Internet. ... Then the bands and vendors started calling me, because Phish travels with a show, and that show has to land somewhere.”
Since Bethel Woods is only allowing picnic-style tailgating and socializing for ticketholders in its parking lots and not vendors, staged performances or overnight stays the old Max Yasgur farmstead evidently became that “landing spot.”
But the Town of Bethel has slapped the couple with a $25,000 fine, per a five-year-old consent order banning promotion of any unpermitted events on their property.
And the town seems poised to fine them further if they follow through with plans to host thousands of people on their acreage along 17B.
“I’m still waiting for what their next step is going to be,” Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm confirmed yesterday.
Howard and Abramson have till Monday or Tuesday to pay the $25,000 to the township. If it remains uncollected, Sturm said the town will determine its next step, possibly including litigation and/or a lien on the property.
The couple could take the matter to court but have not yet indicated whether they will do so.
Sturm said the duo proposed a settlement this week, but the town rejected it.
“I have no interest in negotiating with anybody who has broken the law,” Sturm stated, declining to give details on the proposal.
Also, Town Clerk Rita Sheehan, with the blessing of the town board, plans to refuse to issue peddling permits for any vendors wishing to do business on Howard and Abramson’s land.
“I have gotten a lot of calls but no applications yet,” she said this week.
Sheehan estimated that about 10-15 callers seeking to sell arts, crafts, clothing, jewelry and posters have been told no peddling permits are available for that venue until the matter between the town and the couple is resolved.
“How can I issue a permit for something the town is saying, ‘No, you can’t do this’?” she explained.
“That could be construed as to us having a large event there that is not sanctioned,” added Sturm.
The entire situation frustrates Abramson, who has constantly bumped into opposition from the town on planned events on her land.
“Isn’t 15 years of exile and ostracizing enough?” she lamented on Monday. “Does everyone who comes here for entertainment have to get caught up in a war that doesn’t have to be?”
Abramson believes Bethel has never really latched on to the fact that it draws international interest because of the 1969 Woodstock music festival.
“The Town of Bethel has much to offer, but we are not tapping into it,” she said. “After 42 years, we should ask ourselves, ‘If not now, when?’
“We should all be capitalizing on the gift that the Gerry Foundation has bestowed upon us. Everyone invested in Bethel should be working together to make this a destination. It can't be on one man’s shoulders alone.”
Abramson argues that the town could be far more welcoming to the tourists who want to come and the property owners who want to host them.
“Let’s support what the town actually is,” she urged. “... We didn’t invite Phish here, but as a township, we need to come together to support Bethel Woods and the economic opportunity we have at this time!”
Sturm said that should be the case this Memorial Day weekend, even on Abramson and Howard’s property.
“If you’re hanging out there during the day, welcome to Bethel!” he stated. “We want to respect private property rights as well.”
Sturm reiterated that the town may take a judicious hand with code violations. While the code enforcement officer has the power to shut down public access to a site, Sturm said the officer can also simply issue a ticket to the property owner on the spot or afterwards.
The inspector will be making the rounds, he confirmed, but will focus on complaints made by residents and visitors about camping and vending without a permit, too many campers on one site, and noise issues, Sturm cited as examples.
“If there’s any complaints, we’re going to answer those first,” he said. “We’re not looking on Memorial Day weekend to count campsites.”
In fact, Sturm remains optimistic about the weekend and an expected influx of 15,000-20,000 people for the Phish concerts alone.
“I’m excited, because it’s a good economic shot in the arm for the county,” he stated.
For those residents who are worried about the traffic congestion, he advised “a little more thought and a little more caution.
“Plan ahead, and use back roads,” Sturm said.
See page 7A for Jeryl Abramson’s letter to the editor about the situation.