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No Peace in Staging of Woodstock Reunion

MANHATTAN (CN) - Yasgur Road Productions sued the Town of Bethel, N.Y. for trying to prevent it from staging a "Woodstock reunion" at the Yasgur Farm, where the music festival was held in 1969.

Plaintiff Jeryl Abramson owns land once owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who became a countercultural hero when he agreed to lease a portion of his alfalfa field to Woodstock's organizers after the villages of Saugerties and Walkill declined to provide a venue for the event.

Max Yasgur died in 1973. Abramson and her late husband, Roy Howard, owners of a package store and beverage distributorship in the area, bought Yasgur's home and about 100 acres of the surrounding property in 1985, according to The New York Times.

In 1997, she and Howard tried to host a Woodstock reunion event on the property, featuring music, vendors and camping.

Abramson says the City of Bethel obtained an injunction against her, her husband and their Yasgur Road Productions, requiring that any "'recreation amusement or recreation use,' as those terms were used in the Bethel Town Code, be properly permitted by the Town."

In 2006, Abramson says, Bethel took her to court, and as a result of those proceedings she agreed to be bound by the original injunction.

But that wasn't the end of her dispute with the city.

In May 2011, Bethel "sought, and obtained, a $25,000 penalty from plaintiff Jeryl Abramson, for her having advertised a 'recreation amusement or recreation use' without having first obtained a special use permit, even though plaintiff had obtained a temporary campground permit," Abramson says in the complaint.

That same month, a "recreation amusement or recreation use" was held on land owned by G&B Real Property LLC within the Town of Bethel, which featured all of the elements Abramson sought to host on her property, she says.

"Upon information and belief, said G&B Real Property, LLC, was issued camping violations but was not prosecuted for conducting a 'recreation amusement or recreation use' without a permit nor was an injunction sought by the defendants.

"Thereafter, in August of 2012, an event similar to the plaintiff's 'Woodstock Reunion' events was held within the Town of Bethel on land owned by G&B Real Property, LLC, featuring outdoor live music, vendors and camping and which was operated as a business and open to the general public," Abramson says.

At the time, she claims, such recreational uses were not permitted in the zone in which G&B Real Property's land is located. Abramson claims that after the event the town amended its zoning code, striking the term "recreation amusement."

In its place, the town amended the code to define "recreational facility, commercial outdoor" as a "recreational facility operated as a business and open to the public that is conducted outdoors which definition includes 'open-air concert venues,' and such uses are regulated under Section 345-17(B) of the Bethel Town Code."

She claims the town code does not allow open-air concerts to be held in the zone in which the G&B Real Property land is, nor does it allow for property owners in such zones to apply for a special use permit for such events.

"Despite the reunion event held on property owned by G&B Real Property LLC in August of 2012, the Town of Bethel did not seek an injunction, nor did defendants Bette Jean Gettel, Gregg Semenetz and/or Daniel Sturm enforce the land use provision of the Bethel Town Code as against G&B Real Property LLC."

Gettel is Bethel's code enforcement officer, Semenetz its building inspector, and Sturm the town supervisor.

"The plaintiffs, thereafter, sought and received a special use permit to conduct a Woodstock reunion event in August of 2013, featuring outdoor amplified live music, vendors and camping and which was open to the general public and operated as a business, and which was so permitted as a 'recreational facility, commercial outdoor' as so defined in the Bethel Town Code," Abramson says.

Around the same time, G&B Real Property advertised is own Woodstock reunion event, prompting Abramson to complain of the illegality of the event under the town code.

"Defendants nonetheless took no action to enforce the Town Code's land use restrictions," she says.

Abramson claims that in allowing the competing event to occur and requiring her to comply with a higher standard of care in staging her own event, the Town of Bethel and its officers deprived her of her right to equal protection under the law, damaging her reputation and hurting her financially.

Abramson seeks $1 million in compensatory damages, injunctive relief requiring the defendants to enforce the Bethel Town Code to prevent unlawful outdoor recreational commercial facilities, and attorney's fees.

She is represented by Russell Schindler of Kingston, N.Y.

The legacy of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, billed as "An Aquarian Exposition: Three days of Peace & Music," has been a contentious issue since the August weekend it was held, just days after Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

Rolling Stone magazine has listed it as one of the "50 moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll," while some contend the event at which 32 acts performed before an estimated 400,000 people was the beginning of the end of the counterculture because it awakened corporate America to the presence of a huge, untapped generation of potential consumers.

Concerts staged in Bethel to honor the original spirit of the event have inspired numerous disputes, especially since billionaire cable television entrepreneur Alan Gerry established an open-air performing arts center and museum on part of the original concert site.

According to an August 2007 report in The New York Times, "among remnants of the hippie tribe, some of whom live here year-round, there is a sense of loss in the coming of what they see as a prettified and manicured version of the Woodstock idea."

In that article, Roy Howard dismissed Gerry's venue - the same property Abramson complains about in the lawsuit -as "the millionaire's place" and contended that the town's crackdown on his reunions was carried out to benefit Gerry and the performance center.

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