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
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.”