The draft proposal for Bethels comprehensive plan is an impressive document. The plans goals protecting groundwater supplies, attention to details such as tree cover and the use of indigenous plants in landscaping, the encouragement of conservation subdivisions, and the creation of a new forest conservation zone, all suggest a laudable sensitivity to the environment.
The plan also reveals an awareness of the importance of the Route 17B corridor to the Bethel Woods performing arts project, the centerpiece of development in the town. The plan states This 17B zoning district should establish additional design standards to… preserve a quality image of the town and county as approached from both the east and the west, bearing in mind that Bethel Woods will attract new tourists to the area who can be an important economic resource if captured.
But the devil is in the details, and it is not clear that the details of the planned zoning on Route 17B actually assure the above goal. Both with regard to the specifics it lays out for the hamlet district of White Lake (H-17B), and with regard to the approach from the west from the border of the town to Perry Road (R-17B), the zoning proposals laid out in the plan seem to meet this goal admirably. But the same cannot necessarily be said for the specifications for the commercial zone envisioned from the town line on the east to White Lake and the gateway district from Perry Road to Route 55 in White Lake.
Special uses in the commercial district to the east include auto-related uses, RV parks, drive-in restaurants and retail of all kinds. This sounds like an invitation to strip malls and used car lots, just the kind of environment that tourists coming to the performing arts center are trying to escape. To a lesser degree, the same problem occurs in the definition of the special uses in the G-17B zoning district running from Perry Road right past the turnoff to Hurd Road to White Lake. There are no auto-related uses allowed here, and the general permission for retail is reduced to light retail, but RV parks are still allowed, hotels and motels are invited and the lot restriction is as small as one acre. Of course, the planning board would have to approve any special use application. But the future of these areas would be more secure if even the designated special uses were more consistent with a rural ambiance.
As tempting as it may be to load up Route 17B with commercial uses, it must be remembered that this route is the most important road to keep pristine if we wish the Bethel Woods performing arts center to succeed. The special value of the Bethel Woods site is its heritage as the site of the original Woodstock concert. Bethel doesnt have the Woodstock name—others have bought that. But we have the location. And the essence of the location is its iconic value as an unspoiled, undeveloped rural spot. Those who visit it will want to feel that they are going back to the garden in every sense of the phrase—not remaining stuck in their own overbuilt environment.
If, instead, visitors find themselves, after driving an hour or more from their city or suburb, running a gauntlet of commercial strip right up to the foot of their destination, it is unlikely that theyll ever bother to come back. Why not go to Tanglewood or some other rural performance center that takes better care of its land, and offers a real escape?
This is not to say that all commercial activity should be suppressed in these areas. But some of the proposed uses, like RV parks, auto-related businesses, motels and drive-in restaurants, should be eliminated; there should be more restrictions on density; and density restrictions should be phrased not only in terms of acreage, but also in terms of road frontage. Those making a pilgrimage back to the garden should have plenty of rural vista to view—fields and forests, not buildings—as they drive the last few miles to Hurd Road.
There will be plenty of opportunity for businessmen all over the county to create establishments that can gain income from the tourists who come to visit the performing arts center. But if we overbuild the artery that brings those tourists in, they wont be coming here at all. Despite our general admiration for the Bethel plan, we would hope that the plans for the gateway are rethought along these lines before it is finalized.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The River Reporter welcomes letters
on all subjects from its readers. They must be signed and include
the correspondent's phone number. The correspondent's name and
town will appear at the bottom of each letter; titles
and affiliations will not, unless the correspondent is writing
on behalf of a group.
Letters are printed at the discretion of the editor.
It is requested they be limited to 300 words; correspondents may
be asked to cut longer letters. Deadline is 1:00 p.m. on Monday.
Ted and Sue Muller of Narrowsburg are both doing well after the operation July 19 in which one of Teds kidneys was transplanted to Susan. Ted is back to work with Narrowsburg Water & Sewer District. Follow-up to the surgery required the Mullers to travel to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York (109 miles each way) for testing twice a week for four weeks; then once a week for three weeks. Susan now returns once a month, and is tested at a regional lab each week. Ted will be checked again next July. He summed it up by saying he would do it again if he could.