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TRR photo by Chris Conroy
Gerry Foundation executive director and Woodstock project leader Jonathan Drapkin watches the Tuesday proceedings. (Click for larger image)

By the time they get to Woodstock…


BETHEL — A packed room greeted members of the Bethel Planning Board, Town Board and representatives from the Gerry Foundation (GF) as talks finally commenced on the future of Bethel’s world famous Woodstock site.

The May 8 joint planning board/town board meeting was the first step in the process of constructing the proposed $40 million, 3.500-seat performing arts center on the Gabriel Farm property adjacent to the site. That first step involves the creation of a new zone, a Performing Arts Center Development District (PA district), through the passage of a local law.

Larry Wolinsky, GF’s land use lawyer, presented the plan to the board members. A draft local law proposal outlined the particulars of the zone. A PA district, as defined in the proposal, “is intended to recognize the importance of the ‘Woodstock Festival’ site…as a premier location of our national musical heritage.” It would cover approximately 635 acres of land bounded by the Gabriel Farm, Star Path, Westchester Road and 17B. This is only a portion of the acreage owned by GF.

In addition to the agricultural and residential land uses permitted under the town’s current agricultural district rules, the PA district would also allow: performing arts centers, golf courses, campgrounds, hotels and study centers, among other things. The new development options are classified as special uses.

“One of the things we insisted on,” said Bethel’s planning advisor Tom Shepstone, “was that the center be treated as a special use.” According to Shepstone, this allows for approval of the general use of the site while still requiring detailed site plans to be presented.

The proposed local law imposes its own set of restrictions on development. A PA district can be no smaller than 500 acres and structures on the property cannot occupy more than 25 percent of the land. Stringent application procedures are set forth to assure that the development “does not impinge upon the health, safety and welfare of adjoining properties or the Town of Bethel.” These include limitations to building height, parking lots and lighting and special architectural and landscaping requirements.

No construction, or further approval of plans, can take place until the town adopts the proposed zoning. That isn’t stopping GF from getting ready for their next presentation, scheduled for June 12. At that meeting, to be held at the White Lake Fire House to accommodate the expected large crowd, initial site plans will be presented.

“We’re moving forward in a simultaneous fashion,” Wollinsky said. “The zoning is not yet adopted. We are proceeding at our own risk.”

Progress is what many Bethel residents have been waiting for. Duke Devlin, who came to Bethel during the 1969 concert, feels that things can’t move fast enough. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Devlin said. “I want to see it happen before I die.”

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