By the time
they get to Woodstock…
By CHRIS CONROY
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.”