By Dan Hust
BETHEL Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson’s attorney filed court papers yesterday contesting the Town of Bethel’s demand of $25,000 from the couple for allegedly violating a consent order banning even the advertising of events on their land.
Kingston attorney Russell Schindler said he filed an affidavit from Howard testifying that “any planning that was done was incidental to the camping permits.”
The couple had garnered five camping permits from the township earlier this month, allowing them to host up to 25 campsites on their land.
The town has contended that nothing further is permitted, but a variety of websites indicated Howard and Abramson were going to host bands and vendors as well, coinciding with the Phish concerts at nearby Bethel Woods this coming weekend.
“What’s camping without singing around the campfire?” Schindler remarked.
But the couple were charging $50 per person in advance and promoting parking for up to 1,300 cars.
“This is an illegal operation,” charged Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm in an interview yesterday. “... And they’re going to get ticketed for any violation that occurs on their property.”
The tickets have already started, in fact.
Both Abramson and Sturm confirmed that town constables had presented the couple with two tickets for allegedly violating the town’s camping rules.
Sturm said Code Enforcement Officer BJ Gettel had observed “RVs and tents” on Howard and Abramson’s property from vantage points along Route 17B and Yasgur Road, a town road which doubles as the couple’s driveway.
The camping facilities were illegal, said Sturm, because the duo’s camping permits didn’t go into effect until last night.
The two tickets were thus for a violation Thursday and a violation Friday, and Sturm indicated two more for Saturday and Sunday would be forthcoming.
“I think this is just harassment,” Abramson replied yesterday. “There’s nobody here!”
“Our pictures indicate otherwise,” Sturm related.
Gettel could not be reached for details yesterday, but the Democrat’s visit of Howard and Abramson’s property turned up four RVs and a tent.
Two of the RVs and the tent were in the backyard of a house Howard and Abramson rent out, while the other two RVs were behind the couple’s home.
Only one was occupied, said Abramson, and that was for her and Howard’s handyman, who has lived in it since last year.
“The tent,” she added, “was here when I got here three weeks ago [from wintering in Arizona].”
Sturm said the town will keep an eye on Howard and Abramson’s land for the duration of the two-week temporary camping permits and on the 14 other properties that received such permits.
“We’re not just singling out Roy and Jeryl,” Sturm said.
But, he added, “if they break these regulations, they will pay. ... We’re going to monitor violations, and we’re going to hit their wallet.”
He took offense to any inference that the town is trying to “cash in” on the couple.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Sturm stated. “I have no interest in setting anyone up.”
The previously unpublicized availability of temporary camping permits which, up until this year, were available for free was made known, he said, because Phish’s concerts “seemed to be somewhat of a camping event.”
Since Bethel Woods doesn’t allow camping and local lodging establishments were filling up, Sturm and the town board opted to offer residents a moneymaking opportunity through these $50-a-pop camping permits.
“We did not expect nor did we encourage property owners to take advantage of the camping permit,” he explained, accusing Howard and Abramson of doing just that.
“It’s not fair to have an illegal operation when other businesses in the town have to go through the planning board process,” he added.
For now, the events planned at Howard and Abramson’s home are still on, and their filing of court papers yesterday means they won’t have to pay the $25,000 by today, the original deadline. Instead, the town must now reply and a judge must set a hearing date, according to Schindler.
Meanwhile, the town plans to closely monitor whatever happens at Howard and Abramson’s property, but Sturm said there’s no plan to stop it.
“We are not anticipating shutting down the site,” he affirmed. “... [Otherwise,] you’re going to have a lot of people that would have nowhere to go.”