October 19, 2011 —
In the ongoing battle between the Town of Bethel and property owners Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson, the latest round goes to the town. At a town meeting on October 12, town supervisor Dan Sturm announced that State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Cahill ruled against the couple, and said they violated a consent decree.
The latest incident regarding the property on Route 17B, owned by the couple and known as Yasgur’s Farm, dates to Memorial Day Weekend when the jam band Phish was scheduled to play concerts three consecutive nights at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
Howard and Abramson had permits that would allow them to accommodate about 250 campers, but there were also going to be concerts and other activities on the property, and they had reportedly invited more than 5,000 people to stay on their property over the weekend. Most of the 5,000 were ultimately turned away and found other places to stay, and the concerts did not take place.
However, in 2007, the couple signed a consent order with the town saying that they would not hold a mass gathering, nor organize any large scale concerts or recreation amusements without the proper permits, nor would they advertise any such events. Further, if they violated the consent order they agreed they could be fined $25,000.
The couple argued that entertainments that had been scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend were organized by the campers and were, therefore, incidental to the act of camping, and were protected as free speech on the part of the campers. But the judge said some of the activities were clearly organized by the couple and, in this case, camping was incidental to the large concerts, and that the couple violated the consent order.
Sturm said, “We have had a problem with these property owners for many years, and it has cost the town, in the past, quite a bit of money. By not following the agreed upon consent order, they are now subject to a $25,000 fine, which I fully intend to collect. In this particular instance, there could have been a serious health and safety issue, for the very successful Phish weekend that we had here in Bethel.”
The couple’s attorney said he would appeal the decision.
Zoning and gas drilling
Also at the meeting, Sturm said the proposed zoning amendment, which would ban high impact industrial activities in the town, including gas drilling, was too broad and needed to be reviewed. He said, for instance, that banning all industrial activity was not necessarily the best fit for the Town of Bethel.
He appointed a zoning review committee to take another look at the amendment, which was prepared pro bono by lawyers and gas drilling activists Helen and David Slottje, and to suggest changes to the town board, which would then vote on whether to accept them.
Sturm made clear, however, that gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing would continue to be banned from the entire town.