Art does not have a special place in the Village of Sag Harbor’s zoning code. At least that’s what the village’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA) believes.
However, Vered, also known as Ruth Vered, may approach the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees to clarify its code in her quest to legalize “Larry Rivers’ Legs,” a sculpture which sits against the northern side of her Madison Street residence in violation of village code.
Vered and partner Janet Lehr purchased the sculpture in 2008 and erected it, in cement, adjacent to their Madison Street residence, the former Bethel Baptist Church.
According to the building department, the couple needs four variances to legalize the sculpture, which is considered a structure under the village code, and would have to move it 34 feet from the property line and shave 13 inches off the top in order to come into compliance.
In a memo penned by Sag Harbor Village Attorney Anthony Tohill, and shared by ZBA chair Gayle Pickering at the board’s Tuesday night meeting, he believes the couple may need two additional variances — one for lot coverage and another for use, as a sculpture does not fall under the definition of an accessory structure in the village code.
At that meeting, Clayton Munsey, representing Vered and Lehr, argued in his own memo that the sculpture is meant to be temporary in nature and is not conceived to be a permanent part of the residence.
“This sculpture was erected utilizing a concrete footing, but we can modify the installation by setting the base into a bed of deep sand with a tether wire attached to the building for stability,” said Munsey in his written statement to the board. “Utilizing sand would clearly make the installation temporary and it would be as safe as the existing installation.”
Munsey also presented a note from an unnamed real estate attorney, who suggested connecting the “Legs” to the building may remove its accessory nature and satisfy the zoning board.
“In either proposed resolution, I realize further consideration will be required by this board,” said Munsey. “The owners are ready to work towards a speedy resolution of this matter. I must stress once again that this sculpture is not permanent and it serves no utilitarian purpose as might a shed or a garage.”
But Pickering noted that viewing the sculpture as an ornamental feature would not suffice as those cannot, by law, exceed six-inches.
She added that as the property’s existing lot coverage is already more than double what is allowed, despite its pre-existing, non-conforming status as a residence, the sculpture as a structure would require the additional variances.
Pickering said the village code’s language for accessory uses, building and structures includes the phrase “anything constructed or erected,” meaning virtually anything, including the sculpture, falls into that category, whether ornamental or useful.
“Even if you have a patio set in sand, our village code considers that a structure to be counted towards lot coverage,” she added. “It appears to be a very tightly written code.”
With two members — Michael Bromberg and Benedetta Duebel — absent, the board declined Munsey’s request for a straw poll. Pickering did offer that the large number of variances required to legalize the “Legs” may not be a big deal in terms of this application, but will set a precedent for allowing accessory structures on a property line.
“That may not be a door we will be willing to open,” she said.
“There was a time when sculptures were displayed around town and it was to everyone’s liking,” said Vered. “In a town of writers and artists, it is a wonderful thing to do.”
“The village is not opposed to art,” said Pickering. “It is the fact of where it is.”
Pickering encouraged Vered to approach the village board of trustees if she was interested in changing legislation to protect art, and said if she could be assured allowing the “Legs” was a one-time exception, and not precedent setting, she would be more comfortable with the idea.
The next Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting is on November 9 at 6 p.m. The next Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting will be held on November 16 at 6:30 p.m.