Though it has been allowed in years past, Manhattan’s Community Board 2 voted unanimously last week to deny a group of Wiccans the right to hold their annual celebration—WitchsFest—in Astor Place, citing the group’s “lack of connection to the neighborhood” as the basis for their decision.

WitchsFest, sponsored by the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies and billed as a celebration of New York's pagan community, has been held in the city—first in Union Square, then in Astor Place—without incident for the past three years. Despite this, District Manager Bob Gormley said the Temple lacks "an indigenous relationship to the street or immediate neighborhood."

"It's not just a matter of an applicant coming to us,” he said. “It’s also about closing a street, closing traffic, and closing businesses along that street." Moreover, he called the Wiccan Temple's connection to the neighborhood "tenuous" at best, and advised the group to hold the festival in a neighborhood in which they are more deeply rooted.

Other board members agreed—and besides, they said, Astor Place is already teeming with other festivals that disturb the neighborhood peace—there simply isn’t room for another. “How are the people living on that block going to feel if they have two fairs in six days?" asked board member Katy Bordonaro.

But Temple founder Starr Ravenhawk said the decision to deny her organization’s application—which, she said, was completed in full—was not a matter of neighborhood affiliation or overbooking: It’s discrimination.

"We are a pagan Temple," she said. "We are not one of the regular religions with a permanent space that can say 'This is where we belong,'" adding that Gruber’s demeanor toward her group was derogatory.

"He didn't say 'our temple', he said 'these groups,'" she said, likening the term "your group" to "you people."

"With pagans in general, we have to go around and prove things that other religions don't have to prove," she said.

But Gruber is adamant that the nature of the event has nothing to do with the board's decision.

"That's simply not true," he said. "It doesn’t enter into the equation with us."

In any case, he added, the final word lies not with the community board, whose powers are only advisory, but with the city's Street Activity Permit Office, which grants approval to festivals shot down by the board several times each year. Just recently, Gruber said, the board also voted to deny festivals to the groups P.R.I.D.E on Astor and Log Cabin Republicans.

"We have disagreements with SAPO all the time, but life goes on," he said. "We've given our input."