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Gerry plans change


BETHEL — Amid the excitement of the presentation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Bethel performing arts center, there is serious concern about the changes made to the project.

“The Gerry people have done exactly what they had told us they wouldn’t do,” said Woodstock Preservation Alliance (WPA) member Carolyn Madsen after she had a chance to review the document.

What the Gerry Foundation (GF) had laid out in its original plans for the $40 million performing arts center left the 37 acres of the original Woodstock concert site virtually free of any improvements. In fact, according to the original master plan, the only structure that was expected to occupy the actual site was a permanent outdoor stage, installed at the base of the natural amphitheater that hosted the 1969 concert. All other construction was to take place on adjoining land.

Now, after months of quiet planning, GF announced a number of changes when it presented the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to a joint meeting of the Bethel town and planning boards on March 5.

“There are some [changes] that we feel we should show you,” GF executive director Jonathan Drapkin told the joint board meeting, “rather than hope that you will discover them among almost two feet of documentation.” He then proceeded to list some of the most prominent, though far from all, of the changes in the performing arts center plan.

“The first thing that… is critical to tell you is that the location of the pavilion has changed. It changed by moving further south,” he said, “in an effort for us to respect our pledge to keep the pavilion out of the bowl on the original 37 acres.”

The reason for the change in location?

According to Drapkin, the originally planned location turned out be on solid bedrock, a situation that would make construction financially impossible. “That was most unfortunate, but a reality of what happens when you try to build on an open field.”

Partly as a result of that one move, the core of the original activities (a visitor center and marketplace) had to be relocated. It is this move that began to worry WPA members. The new location chosen for the “Central Core,” as it is called in the document, is located on the site of the current fall farmer’s market.

That puts it directly on a large portion of the 37 acres of the original site.

“We believe that we have done our best to respect the festival site but have occupied the southern portion with some of the core activities,” Drapkin said. He further pointed out that this move has reduced the necessity to cut down trees and to cut in the formerly proposed “New Hurd Road.” It will, however, require heavy landscaping of the area surrounding the Central Core and the cutting of a pedestrian path between the core and the festival stage.

“They’re taking about one-third of the site and putting their core activities there,” Madsen said. “We weren’t happy with the farmer’s market there.”

Other current WPA concerns include the proposed security fence that would encircle the performance pavilion or the central core, and nearly the entire original festival site. “We can [no] longer pretend to invite thousands of people to a site area without trying to take into account the different way in which the world now views the need to provide security,” Drapkin said.

“I don’t see a need for the type of security fencing they’re proposing,” Madsen said.

A large portion of the DEIS deals with how the traffic flow will be managed. Without the addition of the New Hurd Road access, the existing Hurd Road will instead serve as the main entry point for events and the construction vehicles that will build the initial phase of the project. The DEIS states, “Hurd Road would be widened to three lanes from its intersection with Route 17B and northward to the proposed bus drop-off area, which would be located across from the Central Core.”

The town now has until March 22 to review the document with the help of its own experts. At that point, a preliminary report will be made, either confirming that all the required information is in the DEIS or requesting that GF provide more information on any aspects found lacking. Coordinating the project for the town from this point forward is Tom Shepstone. According to Shepstone, the rough timeline from March 22 could lead to an April 4 approval of the DEIS as complete. That declaration would allow the scheduling of public hearings.

“A project of this nature is immense,” said Shepstone. “It will be possible,” he said, “for final approval, complete with all required permits, to be obtained in time for a late August ground-breaking.”

“I wish more people would get involved,” Madsen said, pointing out that there is still time for the public to change what they don’t like about the current plan. Following through on their commitment to keep the original site as undeveloped as possible, Madsen said that members of the WPA will be meeting with GF officials next week to voice their concerns.

“We’re not against the PAC itself,” she said. “We just want to see [the original site] developed properly…. We want this to be around for our great-great grandchildren.”

What do you think? Talk about it on the discussion board!

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