By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE The Ulster County Supreme Court has ruled against Bethel couple Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson, and the Town of Bethel is now demanding $25,000 from them.
In a decision rendered last week, Judge Christopher Cahill did not accept the couple’s arguments that their ultimately-cancelled May events were permissible and Constitutionally protected.
Howard and Abramson had garnered five temporary camping permits from the town in April, allowing them to host up to 250 people overnight on their Route 17B property, the former Max Yasgur farmstead, during the Memorial Day weekend.
That coincided with the Phish concerts at Bethel Woods, which brought in an estimated 20,000 visitors, quickly filling up hotels and motels for miles around.
Howard and Abramson began advertising that musical events and vendors would also be available with the camping, however, which Bethel officials contended violated a five-year-old consent order banning such.
At the last minute, the duo cancelled the gathering and turned away some of the campers, blaming the town for causing the problem.
The matter, however, went to court when the town sought to fine the couple $25,000.
On October 4, the Supreme Court sided with Bethel, rejecting the couple’s argument that the non-camping activities were incidental to the camping and were part of the attendees’ First Amendment free speech rights.
“In this court’s opinion,” wrote Cahill, “providing such entertainment in addition to camping constituted a ‘recreation amusement or recreation use’ as set forth in the consent order.
“As it is undisputed that the defendants did not obtain any approval required by the consent order before conducting the complained-of activities,” he concluded, “the court has no choice but to deny the motion.”
That consent order which was entered into by the town and the couple after repeated clashes over Woodstock-themed gatherings on their property in years past enabled the town to seek $25,000 from Howard and Abramson in the event of future violations.
And Bethel is looking to collect.
“They are now subject to a $25,000 fine, which I fully intend to collect on, without exception,” Supervisor Dan Sturm confirmed at Wednesday’s board meeting.
The payment is due within the month.
He acknowledged the town’s difficulties with Howard and Abramson for many years but said Bethel welcomes “legitimate businesses and economic opportunities.”
“I guarantee, anyone who comes to Bethel properly will get a fair shake from our boards,” he promised.
The couple’s attorney, Russell Schindler of Kingston, said the appeal paperwork is being prepared and Howard and Abramson are also seeking a stay on having to pay the $25,000.
“We believe the town failed to identify any special permit that Roy and Jeryl failed to obtain,” Schindler said.
Howard and Abramson declined to comment further on the case.