Town tables Hollow concert series

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

A decision on the proposal to hold a series of concerts at Magic Forest Farm this summer remains up in the air. File photo

COEYMANS HOLLOW — The joint planning/zoning board of appeals will not make a decision on the proposed concert series at Magic Forest Farm until its May 25 meeting.

The board held a public hearing May 9 on an appeal filed by Town Supervisor George McHugh requesting that the property owner be required to apply for a use variance rather than a special-use permit for the series of five concert weekends at the agritourism farm located at 134 Bucks Ranch Road in Coeymans Hollow.

Jason Ball, who operates the farm with property owner Joan Mahony, applied to the planning/zoning board of appeals for a special-use permit to hold five concert weekends, with camping, beginning in mid-June and running through October, with 250 to 1,000 attendees. If approved, the first concert would be held June 16-19.

The proposal has met with pushback from several area neighbors who have voiced concerns with noise — including concerts that are scheduled to run until the early morning hours — sewage, traffic, safety and other concerns.

McHugh filed an appeal to require the series of five festivals to apply for a use variance, which has a stricter set of criteria, rather than the special-use permit. The May 9 public hearing gathered community input on the issue.

Ball argued that he had been led to believe, by two building inspectors, that the project would only require a special-use permit. Ball and Mahony have hosted other concerts on the property in previous years, which drew smaller crowds.

“I was signing contracts started in November based on what [the building inspector] was telling me, that this was permissible,” Ball told the planning/ZBA. “This goes back years to when I talked to [former building inspector] John Cashen about this, about what I can and can’t do on my land, and he advised that if I had more than 150 people, I would need an operating permit. There was no talk of numbers, or special-use permits, and definitely not a use variance. This goes back many years — this project started around six years ago.”

Town attorney Andy Brick said Ball had submitted a letter and emails in support of his argument that McHugh’s appeal should be denied, “that he should be permitted a special-use permit as a campsite.”

Ball read his letter at the May 9 meeting and claimed the concerts would be held a few days of the year, but would generate enough income to keep the farm afloat. Mahony’s family purchased the farm in the early 1970s, and when her mother could no longer afford the property taxes, Mahony decided to take it over.

There was a lot of work that needed to be done at the farm, including repairing flood damage, cleaning up trash and debris, and paying back taxes, Ball said.

“She took out loans, applied for grants and did a lot of the repairs herself,” Ball said. “Once completed, a large debt accumulated and clearly selling vegetables would not pay this debt. Agritourism later proved to be the way to save the farm.”

Magic Forest Farm now grows vegetables, raises farm animals and hosts up to four campsites for agritourists who want to experience life on a farm. But that is not enough to keep the farm going, Ball said.

Ball and Mahony have resisted the idea of creating a commercial campground at the farm, though they have approval for as many as 400 camp sites, he said.

“We decided it would be better to stay as a noncommercial campground because the exclusivity and privacy is what makes the campground special in the first place,” Ball said. “We also thought that the neighbors would prefer us having the equivalent of a commercial campground for a few days a year instead of 40 or 50 campsites for eight months a year.”

To host upwards of 1,000 concertgoers, who would also be camping at the site during the festivals, Ball said he and Mahony are bringing in temporary infrastructure to accommodate the larger number of people at the site.

“Concerts aren’t the primary use of our land,” Ball said. “We are hard-working farmers who run a successful agritourism business. These camping events are a great way for us to use our land and reach a broader audience.”

McHugh was unable to attend the hearing, but submitted a letter supporting his case that the festival series is more geared to music concerts — which would require a use variance — and less focused on camping — which would be allowed with a special-use permit.

The area where Magic Forest Farm is located is zoned as residential-agricultural, McHugh said.

“If the board believes that the primary activity to be conducted on the property is camping, with a concert secondary, then a special-use permit application is appropriate,” according to McHugh’s letter. “But if the board believes that the primary activity is a concert and camping is secondary or collateral activity of the concert, then a use variance application is more appropriate and the appeal should be granted, and the proposed concerts will not be permitted.”

The previous public hearing on the application focused on music, rather than camping, McHugh said.

“There was a great deal of discussion by the applicant’s promoters about a series of five concerts over summer months attracting between 250 to 1,000 spectators to the subject property,” McHugh said. “However, I do not recall much, if any, discussion about camping or the campsite permit application.”

“I believe that thus far the record clearly and accurately shows that the primary goal and purpose of the Magic Forest Farm is to conduct a number of concerts on the subject’s property,” the letter continued. “As a consequence of the concerts attracting upwards of 1,000 concertgoers that will be traveling long distances, such as from New York City, Vermont, Connecticut and other areas, camping may be involved, but this activity is certainly secondary to the primary purpose, which is obviously the concerts. As such, I respectfully request the board please approve the pending appeal and dismiss the applicant’s special-use application and order the return of the application’s fee.”

Local resident Frederick Allen voiced support for the concert series.

“I know Jason [Ball] for years — he is running a nice place there,” Allen said. “I don’t know if anybody here has been there, but it is top notch.”

Planning/ZBA board member Patricia Grogan said no one is opposing camping at the farm.

“I don’t think anyone is disagreeing or against camping, and I think as far as the farming and the experiences, it is amazing. I don’t think that is the issue,” Grogan said. “I think the issue is the concerts and the venue and bringing vendors in. I think that is what raised this question.”

Several neighbors raised concerns about the level of noise the concerts would generate in a rural neighborhood.

“It is the noise,” Kevin Hunter said. “I know in the presentation last time he said the main stage will be done at 11 o’clock. In the paperwork there are three stages up there and the other two stages will run until 2 o’clock. Two o’clock in the morning is a little too late for our neighborhood. Two o’clock in the morning, when you get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, just doesn’t cut it.”

Resident Allan Defazio expressed similar concerns about noise, along with traffic, the condition of the road, and possible trespassing by concertgoers.

“We came to the country to have peace and quiet, and we don’t want to see commercial [activity] across the street,” Defazio said. “I am all for farming, but those other concerns need to be addressed so that we know what is going on.”

Mahony, who owns the property, said she felt misled by town officials with regard to what was permitted.

“My issue with the whole thing is, we were led to believe that this was all OK,” Mahony said. “I put all my resources and my equipment into the project to move it forward, and Jason has put literally thousands of hours into creating this space to host these festivals. Nowhere in the past few years have they questioned it. Nowhere have they said it would be a problem.”

Mahony said she has spent a great deal of money investing in the concerts.

“We put everything we have into it, and now they are saying we made a mistake, we didn’t read the codes right,” Mahony said. “Now all our work is for nothing, and all the money I invested in this equipment is for nothing.”

“If you had told me all this two years ago, I would have put my resources into something else,” she added.

A board member noted that the current application is the first time Ball and Mahony had presented their case to the planning/zoning board of appeals

The board decided to reserve a decision on the appeal and meet prior to the next meeting on May 25 to consider the issue. A decision on the appeal is expected at the next meeting.

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