The Aggie Fair now has permission to allow short-term camping at Bowe Field. The grounds have been used in recent years for overflow campsites for the region's big music festivals.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals has approved the Agricultural Fair's request to allow camping at the Bowe Field grounds for its events.
Tuesday's meeting finally codified a historic practice of camping at the fairgrounds off Route 8.
"We have been allowing it for over 30 years and we have let the Boy Scouts and other small groups camp out on the field," Charles "Chuck" Felix, a fair organizer, said. "We didn't know it was illegal until recently."
He was asking for a temporary lodging permit so Aggie Fair vendors and Solid Sound goers can officially use the grounds for camping.
Felix said the grounds have been mapped out to fit 325 tents and still allow space for emergency vehicles. He said this number will most likely be hit during Solid Sound or Fresh Grass when North Adams camp grounds hit capacity. The two music festivals at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art bring up to 9,000 people to the area during those weekends.
Felix added that using the grounds for temporary lodging really is a benefit to the town.
"We really try to push them to the [Greylock] Glen or to go eat breakfast downtown," he said.
The grounds will only be open for three to five events every year and will not be used as a traditional seasonal campground.
"They aren't there lounging around. They usually are in town for an event and go to bed at night and take off when they get up," he said. "They aren't lighting fires and cooking out. It's not really camping, it's temporary lodging."
Camp fires are not allowed and no more than four people can be in a tent.
Felix said there are bathrooms and wash stations and portable toilets are brought in to accommodate the number of people using the grounds.
The board did have concerns that the field did not have emergency lighting.
"When you have entertainment, there has to be emergency lighting and I know for a fact that there will be a concert down there soon," board member Michael Mach said. "You could be shut down and that would be a drag."
Felix said the fair organization was also made aware of that and will be installing emergency lighting.
When the field is used, emergency services and the Board of Health are informed, he said.
Building Inspector Don Torrico added that the town is currently developing a policy and a committee that includes emergency services, the Health Department and the Building Department to oversee the growing number of events.
"We all get together for events like this, this is the planning phase, but we want to be more organized," he said. "If we have 60 tents and we know a wind event is coming or a rain storm, we need to be able to move those people."
Chairman Peter Gutmann held up the application at first because he found an error in the form and suggested not seeing the applicant's request. Felix was looking for a special permit when he needed a variance.
The board suggested amending the application on the floor because the error was minor and Felix waited two hours to be heard; the meeting ran nearly three hours.
"He has been here for two hours and ten minutes to be told this," board member Francie Anne Riley said. "This is terrible."
Mach agreed and said the Building Department needs to do a better job of helping applicants fill out paper work.
"When an applicant goes before our building administration there should be someone there explaining the form," he said. "Most people don't know all of the zoning and it is just as much the Building Department's fault as it is the applicant's."
In other business, the board approved an application by New England Power Co., doing business as National Grid, for a special permit to remove soil in an industrial district.
New England Power representatives said they plan to make upgrades to the Zylonite Station Road substation and will need to remove 650 cubic yards of soil.
Gutmann noted that the board had to issue a performance bond but did not know exactly how much to ask for.
"The bond would be for if the project goes belly up, the town has enough money to restore the site," he said. "I am not saying it is going to happen but if there is a disaster that wipes out the substation and National Grid decides to just get up and relocate, we have to restore the site."
New England Power representatives said typically they bond for $125 per cubic yard of soil. This comes to approximately $60,000. They plan to put up a $100,000 bond.
They said the project will start in the fall and take about a year. Soil removal will take five to six days and no one will lose power during construction.
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