“Legs” Suit Refiled Against Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals; Charges Chairwoman Bias

Posted on 03 October 2012

In an amended petition against the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered have charged that an April 2012 decision by the ZBA to not grant them relief to keep Larry Rivers’ sculpture “Legs” erected next to their Madison Street home should be vacated by a court. They say the reason is because the board’s chairwoman, Gayle Pickering, had a conflict of interest in deciding the case.

On Monday, October 1, the Village of Sag Harbor was furnished with an amended version of an article 78 originally filed in June by the women, who own and manage Vered Modern and Contemporary Art in East Hampton, by their Sag Harbor attorney, Stephen A. Grossman.

In April, the ZBA denied the couple’s application to legalize the 16-foot sculpture, erected in a planter next to their home just one-foot away from the property line.

According to Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt, the “Legs” are viewed as a “structure” under the village code. There is no provision exempting art from village law and as a structure Lehr and Vered needed four variances, including one that would allow an accessory structure one foot from the property line where 35 feet is required.

In their decision the ZBA noted that allowing a structure a foot from the property line was not a precedent they wished to set and that neighbors “vehemently” opposed the application.

The decision also states the location of the structure in the historic district is “contrary to the goals of the village to preserve and protect historic character” and that Lehr and Vered have other alternatives in how they display the sculpture.

According to a copy of the amended petition, among other reasons, the suit charges that Pickering failed to disclose that she had a conflict of interest in the case, namely that she had allegedly — several years prior to being the chairwoman of the ZBA — applied to have her artwork shown at the Vered Gallery and was rejected.

Pickering is an architect and artist with her own company, Pickering Architects.

“The fact that the Chair was responsible for the conduct of these hearings and led discussions and deliberations by the board with respect to this application and a previous related application in 2010 and cast a positive vote for the board’s decision herein, the entire proceeding was tainted and the decision should be thrown out,” states the suit.

On Tuesday, Pickering flatly denied even the appearance of a conflict of interest, stating the only time she has even shown her work since many years ago at the Pamela Topping Gallery in East Hampton — with a piece bought by fellow Sag Harbor resident Bea Alda — was this past summer at the Art by Architects exhibit at the Southampton Historical Society.

“That was the first show I have done,” said Pickering, calling the allegations “patently untrue.”

“I am flattered they would even think I would want to be shown in Vered’s gallery, but no, it is not true,” she said.

The suit also alleges the board did not make a “reasonable” determination taking into account the full record of the case, which included scores of artists begging the board to exempt the work as a piece of art rather than a structure — a request denied by the board which said it did not have the power to legislate what art is defined as.

In the meantime, the “Legs” sculpture will remain at Lehr and Vered’s home — the former Bethel Baptist Church at the corner of Henry and Madison streets — while the case is battled out in the New York Supreme Court.

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