Preserving the Grounds and Sculpture of Opus 40: A Reasonable Discussion of Fencing

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Our primary focus at Opus 40 is the preservation of the grounds and sculpture of Opus 40, and the sculpture, having incurred considerable water damage from recent flooding, is at risk. If we are unable to focus on sculpture preservation (fundraising, management, financial stewardship), we are not able to protect Harvey Fite’s work and legacy. We put up a fence in order to allow this necessary focus and to continue unencumbered by the many risks presented by having campers and parties at Fite House.

When Fite House began offering camping rentals in March, our Board President wrote to Arick Manocha at Fite House as follows, “we were taken a little off guard by learning through social media of the opportunities for campers to stay on your grounds.  I am afraid that this decision, to rent out grounds adjacent to the sculpture (and at extremely inexpensive rates), is going to create a series of liability and safety issues which will, in turn, force us to undertake safety measures that will diminish the aesthetic of the sculpture by requiring fencing and an abundance of no-trespassing signs, things which we would prefer not to do and have attempted to avoid.”  This was on March 28, 2021.

Two months after that warning and multiple other written warnings about campers on the sculpture before- and after-hours, after a site visit with a site safety lawyer, several consultations with the New York State Council on nonprofits and our insurers — all as, meanwhile, party packages were added to camping options at Fite House and a program of ticketed events began, including live fire dancing (guests encouraged to bring fuel) and techno parties beginning well after dark — Opus 40 put up a temporary fence. This was not done lightly, without warning, or without expert advice. It was done to allow the nonprofit to avoid unmanageable risk and remain open.

Note that AirBnB has banned parties  and Hipcamp asks that that “any hazards on your land or in structures are removed or clearly marked.” Fite House appears to be in violation of other tenants of Hipcamp, including not providing enough space or a toilet.

As of today, the Town of Saugerties has issued a Cease and Desist letter and a followup to Fite House. The original on May 21 and a followup on July 22 as camping and late-night parties have continued fairly regularly. Residents at Fite, George Sickle and Highwoods Road delivered a petition to the town regarding noise and light at Fite House in May. Opus 40, Inc. is liable for any accident that might occur on our property. An insurer would have ample reason not to pay a lawsuit resulting from party or camping guests wandering into Opus 40 property at 2 AM unencumbered. Further, a lawsuit for an injury, or worse, could involve much more money than Opus 40 or Fite House’s policies combined are able to cover. This would leave Opus 40 Board members personally and financially liable.

Our Board and staff are not in a position to monitor the late-night unsanctioned activities at Fite House, but have chosen to focus scant resources on the more important issues of providing a safe and beautiful environment for visitors, preserving Harvey Fite’s masterpiece, identifying donors to help purchase Havey Fite’s sculptures, now being sold by Pat and Tad Richards, for display at Opus 40, and developing a plan to unite the properties.

As recently as July 6th guests of Fite House complained on Hipcamp about partying until 4:30 AM and live fires close to tents. As recently as July 10, a party at Fite House with a live DJ began at midnight.

The last thing Opus 40 wants is to disrupt the landscaping of our beautiful site.  This decision was reluctantly made to allow Opus 40 to remain open and protected.

The Board has been clear that it will remove this temporary fence if there is an appropriate and binding safety, programming and management plan for Fite House in place. This will ensure that visitors are safe and that Opus 40 does not expose itself to major liability risks. We announced this publicly at a meeting of the Saugerties Town Board on July 14, surrounded by residents of Fite and George Sickle Roads supportive to our cause. The Board is unaware of any steps taken by the owners and managers of Fite House to prepare such a plan and eagerly awaits a response that serves all parties.

We are making the best decisions for our organization based on expert advice. We hope that those who love and cherish Opus 40, as we do, respect our position. All of us at Opus 40 use social media to promote our events and our site, but we don’t use it to mediate conflict or to argue. There are too many ways to incite anger and there is too little space for nuance, complexity and expansive thinking — all of which we consider to be hallmarks of the arts. We know that there are concerns about the temporary construction fence at Opus 40 and look to address that here. If there are questions, please reach out to our staff or Board. A fleshed out timeline of our processes with Fite House is below…

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February 2021

Opus 40 Board Vice President meets regularly with Arick Manocha to coordinate and share resources as he launches an AirBnB and museum at Fire House. A bi-weekly Zoom meeting is instituted with Manocha Opus 40 staff and event planner and the Board VP. Opus 40 staff invites Manocha into Google Calendar of Opus 40 events for the season.

 

March 2021

Without prior warning, Manocha posts camping rental options, allowing visitors to camp behind Fite House near Harvey Fite’s bluestone sculpture. He primarily uses Hipcamp as the source for rentals and advertises on the Fite House social media pages. The Board Vice President asks for details.

Opus 40 doubles its liability insurance coverage. The Opus 40 Board President writes a detailed letter to Manocha noting that Opus 40 cannot absorb the liabilities associated with camping on site within the fluid property on March 28 — “we were taken a little off guard by learning through social media of the opportunities for campers to stay on your grounds.  I am afraid that this decision, to rent out grounds adjacent to the sculpture (and at extremely inexpensive rates), is going to create a series of liability and safety issues which will, in turn, force us to undertake safety measures that will diminish the aesthetic of the sculpture by requiring fencing and an abundance of no-trespassing signs, things which we would prefer not to do and have attempted to avoid.”  He also informs Manocha that Opus 40 has engaged a lawyer to advise.

 

April 2021

Opus 40 Executive Director Caroline Crumpacker speaks to John Rusk, a lawyer with experience in site safety, about the issues involved and walks around the site to discuss how to protect Opus 40 from liability. She also speaks with the head of insurance programs for the New York State Council on Profits.

Manocha adds glamping options to Fite House and tags Opus 40.  Posts begin “Glampstars/Opus 40.” This company did not continue work with Manocha and he ended up using Hicamp exclusively for camping options.

Opus 40 repeatedly finds Fite House guests on property, including bluestone sculpture, after hours. Manocha was made aware of this, in writing, and asked to address it on April 19, May 3 and May 5.

Party Upcharges are added to Air BnB and Hipcamping options. These include renting the Barbara Fite room as a party space or inviting guests (Fite House “loves” having extra guests at campsite fire pits). Staff is not present for the majority of these events. Note that AirBnB has banned parties. Hipcamp asks that that “any hazards on your land or in structures are removed or clearly marked.”

Opus 40 staff begins to receive calls in April about late-night parties, with neighbors erroneously believing that Opus 40 was the producer and host of said parties. Some calls are from longitme members.

May 2020

The parties with AirBnB/camping guests continue. Sometimes several times per week.

Mr. Manocha then launches ticketed events at Fite House. Events often use the Opus 40 hashtag, leading to confusion over who is hosting.

The first major event at Fite House is a Candescent Fire Jam, on May 13 and advertised as bi-weekly, 7 PM to Midnight with a DJ starting at 9:30 and fire dances with live fire. Guests are encouraged to bring fuel.

Fite House then begins advertising a late-night techno party for May 22, 2020. The ads read “when the sun goes down, the beats turn up” and speaks of “ample outdoor dance space in the sprawling lawn.” However, the Fite House lawn is small; the only sprawling lawn area belongs to Opus 40. The event is advertised as running, outdoors, from “11:30pm-Late … based on the magic.”

On May 14, Opus 40 lawyer John Rusk sends a letter to Pat and Tad Richards and Arick Manocha, warning them that Opus 40 intends to separate its site from that of Fite House, develop an independent entrance and put up a safety fence.

On May 21, the Town of Saugerties issues a Cease and Desist order, noting that commercial camping and events are not permitted in private residences.

Opus 40 receives calls from hopeful party attendees inquiring about getting tickets “for the rave at Opus 40” on May 22.

Opus 40 erects the fence on May 22, 2020. This marks nearly two months of repeated written warning from Board and staff including the warning in March that a fence could have to come up if programs do not stop.

The late-night party happens. Residents of Fite Road report partygoers on the street late at night. More neighbors call Opus 40 to complain. Residents of Fite, George Sickle and Highwoods Roads deliver a petition against noise, light and nuisance disturbance at Fite House to the Town of Saugerties Building and Zoning Inspector.

June-July

At a Town Board meeting on June 17, local residents complain about noise and light disturbance at Fite House. See: https://www.dailyfreeman.com/local-news/uses-of-fite-house-near-opus-40-in-saugerties-angers-sculpture-park-operators-neighbors/article_77f2db0c-cf87-11eb-8c16-3fec2e882c56.html

Camping at Fite House continues. Tents are seen on many weekends.

On July 3, Opus 40 Board President tells Tad Richards, that Opus 40 would consider moving the fence only after it receives a “comprehensive plan for how Fite House will operate and be managed” and “clear and binding assurances of what will take place in Fite House.” Richards is informed that the Board is focusing on ‘Long-term planning, including first and foremost sculpture maintenance.” The Board President also expresses Opus 40’s interest in purchasing Fite House.

On July 6, a review submitted to Hipcamp, the site where people book and pay for camping, of camping at Fite House, includes the following, “My only issue stemmed from the other guests who stayed on the property my second night, building a fire near my tent and hosting other friends loudly until 4:30 in the morning, which seriously undermined any tranquil vibes. If fellow campers aren’t coming with common courtesy, I’d recommend some house rules with quiet hours (otherwise, take your chances with whatever other guests might be there, because the tent sites are very close to each other).”

On July 10, a DJ pulls into Opus 40 property saying that he was hired by Opus 40 to DJ a party. It turns out that he was hired by Fite House. Party runs until 3:30 am. Neighbors complain to police, citing noise and nuisance.

On July 12, the Opus 40 President responds to a request from Tad Richards to remove the fence by citing the party that occurred on July 10th and stating, “Opus 40 has no reason to remove the fence because the same conditions that existed when we put it up are continuing. I wish that were not the case, but it is.”

On July 14, Neighbors and Opus 40 representatives appear before Town Board to complain about continued disturbances from Fite House.

On July 19, the President of Opus 40 writes to Richards, “the fence is temporary and we will consider moving it, as I said previously, once an appropriate and binding safety, programming and management plan for Fite House is created and agreed upon by you and the folk at Fite House, Opus 40, Inc., our site safety lawyer, and the town of Saugerties.” marking the third written communication to this effect.

On July 22, the Town of Saugerties issues a followup letter to its Cease and Desist order to Fite House.