Town grants McHugh appeal on concert series

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

The grounds of Magic Forest Farm in Coeymans Hollow. File photo

COEYMANS HOLLOW — The town’s planning/zoning board of appeals granted an appeal Wednesday filed by Town Supervisor George McHugh with regard to a proposed series of music concerts at Magic Forest Farm.

The board’s decision means the concert series will likely not take place, but the farm’s operator is looking for a way to hold the smallest event, an August concert of about 250 attendees booked directly through the musical band.

McHugh filed the appeal April 12 requesting that the property owner be required to apply for a use variance rather than a special-use permit for the five concert weekends, which would include on-site camping, at the Coeymans Hollow agritourism farm located at 134 Bucks Ranch Road.

The proposal had been met with both opposition and support from the community.

The farm’s operator, Jason Ball, and property owner, Joan Mahony, had applied to the town for a special-use permit to hold the five concerts on weekends beginning in mid-June and running through October, with 250 to 1,000 attendees.

A public hearing on the appeal was held May 9 and the board reconvened prior to the May 25 meeting to discuss the issue with town attorney Andrew Brick.

“We met in executive session with attorney-client privileges for an hour before this meeting,” planning/zoning board of appeals chairman Robert Nolan told Ball and Mahony. “It was a very in-depth discussion about your application. It was a hard decision. We all know you, everybody likes what you do up there. There is nothing against what you do up there.”

Brick read the board’s decision granting McHugh’s appeal.

“A review of the application materials and testimony provided makes it clear that the use being sought for the property is multiple music events with on-site camping incidental to them,” Brick said. “The for-profit event is the music, not the camping. The self-described event promoters are selling tickets to a music event, not to campsites. The use of campsites is clearly incidental to the planned music event. In fact, the camping itself can be viewed as a byproduct of the music events’ no re-entry policy, not a stand-alone use of the property. This determination is based upon the totality of the applicant’s materials and presentations.”

Brick cited specific examples gleaned from the record that he said support the board’s determination, including the application’s wording of the proposal as “five separate music festivals with camping,” similar wording in the environmental assessment form completed by the applicant, and the applicant’s agents, who testified at April 11 and April 27 board meetings and introduced themselves as event promoters, rather than campground operators.

“Their testimony centered primarily upon conducting a multi-day music event with overnight camping incidental,” Brick said.

To back up the board’s determination, Brick also cited other instances — such as the property owner’s testimony at the previous meeting that she did not want to apply for a commercial campground special-use permit. Campgrounds would be a permitted use for an RA, or residential-agricultural, zone, which is the zone in which Magic Forest Farm is located.

“Operating campsites for commercial gain is an allowable use in the RA district subject to obtaining a special-use permit,” Brick said. “Conducting music events for profit, regardless of their size or their planned overnight accommodations, is not an allowed use in the RA district. The appeal is granted.”

The applicant has the option to apply for a special-use permit for a commercial campground site, if he desires, Brick said.

Property owner Joan Mahony asked if motorcycle racing is allowed under the code as another farm in the area holds racing events.

“How is that allowed?” Mahony asked. “Same exact thing, whether it’s motorcycle racing or music events.”

Brick responded that the issue is “not relevant to the appeal” with regard to Magic Forest Farm.

“I’m limited to addressing the facts of your application and the appeal,” he said. “I am not aware of any complaints to code enforcement or motorcycle racing in violation of the town code. If they were made, I’m sure they would be investigated.”

Mahony challenged that assertion.

“I know there were complaints made over the years by the neighbors,” she said. “This is exactly the same situation, where this activity is not listed as part of the zoning codes, with overnight camping. They are not a commercial campground… We followed their lead and now you are saying we can’t do exactly what they are doing. Either they shouldn’t do it or we should be able to do it. You can’t make different rules for different properties, correct?”

Brick agreed that was the case but said the motorcycle racing events are not the issue before the board at this time.

“This board is addressing the application before them and the appeal before them,” Brick said.

Ball asked if music is permitted.

“Are we allowed to have music at a campground?” Ball asked. “Is music an acceptable form of entertainment at a campground if we do go with a commercial campground?”

Brick responded, “If you submit an application for a commercial campground, this board has the ability to process that application and impose any reasonable conditions it deems necessary to alleviate any concerns that may arise for neighboring properties, for adjacent properties, for abutting properties, as part of a special-use permit application for a campground.”

Mahony said she felt the board’s decision was unfair in light of motorcycle races being permitted in the area and said creating a commercial campground would be a pricey venture.

“Putting in a commercial campground is a large expense and I feel like we were misled the last few years and we already put a bunch of money and time into this, and now it’s no, you can’t do that,” Mahony said. “So how do I make sure that is not going to happen again? We were getting permits the last few years, we were given green lights, so how do I believe this is not going to happen again?”

Magic Forest Farm has held smaller concert events on its grounds in previous summers, with fewer attendees, and were granted operating permits by the town’s Building Department.

This is the first time the farm owner and operator have applied to the planning/zoning board of appeals for a special-use permit for such an event.

Ball wanted to know if they would be permitted to hold the smallest concert — an August event with about 250 attendees.

“The big guys, they are able to go and get another venue easily, but the 250-person event where it’s the band throwing it, it’s very difficult for them and they will be out $5,000 or $6,000,” Ball said. “I am asking if I move forward with one event and abide by the sound ordinance, do I pay a fine or will the event be shut down? What can I do to proceed with one August event?”

Brick and the code enforcement officer agreed to meet with Ball and Mahony to review the code and see what would be permissible under town law.

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