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Rivers “Legs” Will Remain in Sag Harbor as Court Case Continues

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By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Gavin Menu

You might call it a stay of artistic execution.

This week, Sag Harbor village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said the Village of Sag Harbor would not cite Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered for keeping the Larry Rivers’ “Legs,” planted in a thin strip of property next to their Madison Street home until a court decides the sculpture’s fate.

In June, Lehr and Vered filed an article 78 lawsuit against the Village of Sag Harbor’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) contesting that board’s April decision to not grant Lehr and Vered variances, relief needed to legalize the 16-foot sculpture, which was erected next to their home in 2008.

It was in 2008 that village officials ruled Lehr and Vered needed a building permit to display “Legs” alongside their home, the former Bethel Baptist Church on Madison Street in the historic district of Sag Harbor. For almost two years the “Legs” went unnoticed. Then a member of the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board (ARB) pursued the matter after Vered applied to that board for a certificate of occupancy to repaint the historic residence.

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.

The ZBA refused to entertain any arguments that the “Legs” should be exempt from the code as it is art, noting it did not believe art should be legislated. Their decision also noted 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 proposed 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.

The board did agree to allow Lehr and Vered to keep the “Legs” through the summer, until September 15. However, it stipulated Lehr and Vered must remove nighttime lighting as it was one of the issues neighbors have with the sculpture.

In June, Lehr and Vered sued the ZBA, calling their decision unreasonable and one made without taking into account the full record amassed during a two-year battle in front of the village boards.

Because the case is ongoing, said Thiele in an interview this week, the village will not pursue requiring Lehr and Vered meet that September 15 deadline to remove the “Legs.” However, Thiele said the women, who own and manage Vered Modern and Contemporary Art, have ceased lighting the sculpture.

“I think where we are is that they will be allowed to remain, pending the outcome of the litigation,” said Thiele noting the practice is fairly common.

Thiele said currently the Village of Sag Harbor is working on a legal brief for the court and hoped between now and the end of the year a judge in the New York Supreme Court will have ruled on the case.

Thiele added that in an article 78 lawsuit, the court only considers whether or not there was a rational basis for a determination by examining the court record.

If either side is unhappy with the court’s decision, said Thiele, they will have the opportunity to appeal that decision in the appellate court system.”

Lehr & Vered Sue Sag Harbor Village Over “Legs” Sculpture

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When Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered revived their battle in 2010 to keep Larry Rivers’ sculpture, “Legs,” planted next to their home on Madison Street in Sag Harbor, anyone who knew the proprietors of East Hampton’s Vered Art Gallery knew they would not give up a fight to defend what they view as their right to display art.

Earlier this month, they proved just that.

On June 5, Lehr and Vered’s attorney, Stephen Grossman, filed an Article 78 against the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals contesting that board’s April decision to not grant Lehr and Vered variances. Those variances were needed to legalize the 16-foot sculpture, which was erected next to their home in 2008.

It was in 2008 that village officials ruled Lehr and Vered needed a building permit to display “Legs”  alongside their home, the former Bethel Baptist Church on Madison Street in the historic district of Sag Harbor. For almost two years the “Legs” went unnoticed. Then a member of the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board (ARB) pursued the matter after Vered applied to that board for a certificate of occupancy to repaint the historic residence.

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 its decision, the zoning board of appeals cited a Southold court case Miller vs. Price, where that town decided a sculpture of a heron needed a building permit. The town was sued but the decision was ultimately supported on the appellate level of the State Supreme Court.

The ZBA refused to entertain any arguments that the “Legs” should be exempt from the code as it is art, noting it did not believe art should be legislated. Their decision also noted allowing a structure a foot from the property line was not a precedent they wished to set and that neighbors “vehemently” apposed the application.

The decision also states the location of the proposed 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.

The board did agree to allow Lehr and Vered to keep the “Legs” through the summer, until September 15, however, it stipulated Lehr and Vered must remove nighttime lighting as it was one of the issues neighbors have with the sculpture.

While the decision was levied in April, as of this week, the sculpture still remained lit at night, although on Monday, Sag Harbor Village Attorney Denise Schoen said the building department was in the process of filing charges regarding the lights.

When those charges would actually be levied, Schoen was unsure.

In Lehr and Vered’s lawsuit, Grossman argues the village cited the case of Miller vs. Price in error, as that case had less to do with a municipality defining art as a “structure” and more to do with a plaintiff failing to exhaust all other remedies before seeking a decision by the court.

“If in fact the sculpture is not a structure then the Board had and does not have any jurisdiction in this matter and it is Petitioner’s contention that both the decisions of the Building Inspector and the Board in this regard are arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and illegal in all respects,” writes Grossman.

He also argues the board ignored relevant facts and other evidence submitted into the record, “relied on self serving statements of fact and conclusions” and that it contradicted itself in determining the sculpture would not have a substantial impact on the physical and environmental conditions of the neighborhood, but would cause an undesirable change in the neighborhood.

Grossman also argues, given the size of the lot Lehr and Vered own, it was unreasonable for the board to suggest they could move the “Legs” elsewhere.

Lehr and Vered are asking the court to annul the ZBA’s decision, as well as their decision to uphold Platt’s determination that the “sculpture” is a “structure.”

According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, village attorney Denis Schoen will handle the case for the ZBA. Schoen has until July 5 to review the case and respond to the court.

“This is not an issue of zoning, but a case where people just didn’t like it,” said Grossman in a phone interview on Monday. “I think the board acted inappropriately and my clients could win.”

UPDATED: Vered and Lehr’s “Legs” Must Walk

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The Larry Rivers sculpture “Legs” was given walking papers at the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Tuesday. The board denied an application by Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered to legalize the 16-foot sculpture, which was erected three years ago next to their Madison Street home.

According to Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals Chairwoman Gayle Pickering, the “Legs” must be removed by September 15.

The battle over whether the sculpture should be allowed to remain on Lehr and Vered’s property, however, may be far from over.

“We have a Plan B that will put the burden of proof on the village,” said Lehr, hinting at possible litigation over the case. “It will be costly and expensive for the village.”

The “Legs” case has captured the attention of local residents, but has also spanned the globe in terms of media coverage, mainly because of the core argument that Lehr and Vered have made — that the sculpture is art, and not something that should fall under the purview of zoning regulations.

But the Village of Sag Harbor’s Board of Trustees denied a request by Lehr and Vered last year to define art under the village code. Village Building Inspector Tim Platt has continuously ruled that the “Legs” are in fact an accessory structure, and as such needed three variances from the zoning board in order to remain alongside Lehr and Vered’s residence, the former Bethel Baptist Church. The “Legs” are located a foot from the property line where 35-feet is required, and are seated at 16.1-feet high where 15-feet is the maximum allowed. The sculpture also protrudes into the sky plane 16.7 cubic feet more than allowed under the code.

In addition to seeking those variances, Lehr and Vered also asked the board to consider nullifying Platt’s definition of the “Legs” as a structure. After a protracted debate on Tuesday, Lehr and Vered were denied on all fronts.

“In all the years I have been here on this board I have never had a variance ask for that much relief,” said board member Anton Hagen, referring to the request for a variance to allow the “Legs” within a foot of the property line where 35-feet are required. “It goes against all other decisions I have made in 10 years on this board.”

“I feel the same,” said board member Brendan Skislock. “If they were looking for one or two feet of relief it would be different.”

The remainder of the board, with the exception of Michael Bromberg who has recused himself from ruling on the case since a family member owns a neighboring parcel, agreed the application should be denied.

In reading the decision, Pickering said deciding whether or not Platt erred in classifying the “Legs” as a sculpture would have required the board to consider whether or not the decision was “irrational or unreasonable.” The code defines a structure as “anything constructed or erected in the ground or upon another structure or building,” and as the board’s decision notes the “Legs” meet the definition of “anything.”

She added that the board’s analysis was also driven by a court case out of the Town of Southold, Miller versus Price, where the town decided that a sculpture of a heron needed a building permit. The town was sued but the decision was ultimately supported on the appellate level of the State Supreme Court.

“We are not persuaded by the argument that a sculpture is ‘art; and therefore somehow exempt from the Village Zoning Code,” reads the board’s decision. “A sculpture can be both ‘art’ and a structure subject to zoning. There is nothing in the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Code that exempts ‘art’ from the definition of a structure. Further, the concept of a local government determining what does and does not constitute ‘art’ would present a constitutional conundrum that government must avoid. ‘Art,’ like ‘beauty’ is in the eye of the beholder and is not something to be legislated.”

As for the rest of the variances, the board had to consider whether the benefit to Lehr and Vered outweighed the detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood or community and if it would result in an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood.

“We are concerned about allowing a structure one-foot from the property line and the precedent that would set,” said Pickering.

She added neighbors have “vehemently opposed the application.” At public hearings earlier this year, Lehr and Vered received ample community support, but neighbors spoke against the application citing the size of the sculpture, the location just a foot from the property line and the fact that it is lit in the evening hours. Because of those factors, the board said the “Legs” would result in an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood and that the detriment to neighbors and the community outweighs the benefit to Lehr and Vered.

The decision also states that the location of the proposed 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.

“Sag Harbor has been a center of culture and the arts,” reads the decision. “It is part of the village’s character and commerce. The arts have thrived in the village’s environment. Art galleries are a permitted use in the village business district. Art studios are a permitted use in the residential district and the display of art on public lands is encouraged. Finally, sculptures may be displayed on individual residential properties provided it is in a conforming location. In summary, there are a variety of options for the display of a sculpture in the village that do not run afoul of the village zoning code.”

While the village attorney, Denise Schoen, suggested the sculpture come down some time in the next 60 days, with the zoning board’s support Pickering said the “Legs” could remain until September 15.

“All artificial lighting of the structure shall be discontinued immediately,” she added.

After the decision was read, while walking out of the room Vered called the board “a bunch of chickens.”

Outside the board room she said the lighting of the sculpture, on the Henry Street side of her residence, provides needed street lighting on an otherwise unlit portion of the village. She also wondered why that lighting was so undesirable when the village is considering allowing a new convenience store and remodeled gas station at Harbor Heights on Route 114, which will come with new lighting on the edge of a residential neighborhood.

“They should pay me to have the lights and the sculpture,” said Vered.

She later returned to the boardroom and questioned two additional variance applications, including one for board member Skislock, saying they should not be approved because the applications did not adhere to the letter of the village zoning code.

“That is what variances are for,” said Bromberg.

After both applications were approved on first hearing, with decisions expected next month, Vered threw up her hands while walking out of the boardroom.

“What a surprise,” she said. “So fast, so fast.”



Vered’s Case Has Legs; Decision Tabled Until March

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Tara Newman purposefully drives or walks past Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered’s Madison Street home each day, to admire Larry Rivers’ sculpture, “Legs,” and she is not alone.

“This is art, no question,” said Newman during a Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Tuesday night. “Larry Rivers’ was not just some local guy, and this is not just some sculpture, but the work of a world renowned artist.”

Newman was one of scores of people who came out mostly in support, though some opposed, the longstanding application of Lehr and Vered to legalize the 16-foot sculpture by the Village of Sag Harbor’s standards under its zoning code.

In a village not unaccustomed to debate, or art for that matter, in the last two years this story has evolved into a discussion about the right of a property owner to display expression as a Constitutional right versus whether a sculpture like the “Legs” should be defined as a structure.

For the first time since 2008, on Tuesday night, an attorney, Richard A. Hammer of Montauk, known locally as “Andy,” represented Lehr and Vered in their quest to keep the “Legs” planted next to their home, the former Bethel Baptist Church.

Hammer challenged the zoning board to consider Lehr and Vered’s right to Freedom of Expression, noting that similar methods of expression are not regulated by the village’s zoning code, such as flagpoles or birdbaths, for example. He added that if the “Legs” were to be considered a “structure,” the board could still state that it does not violate the basic principals in zoning — that is it does not benefit Lehr and Vered while proving a detriment to the health, safety and welfare of residents in Sag Harbor.

Down two members — ZBA Chair Gayle Pickering was away for Tuesday’s meeting and Michael Bromberg, who has relatives with homes nearby, has recused himself from hearing the application — the zoning board ultimately decided to table the application. By doing so, they will allow a 10-day period for new public comment, and give Pickering time to review the record and become involved in the decision making process.

The next zoning board of appeals meeting is scheduled for March 20 at 6:30 p.m.

However, on Tuesday night it was clear Hammer gave the board a lot to consider, and while the crowd packed into the second floor meeting room of the Municipal Building, including members of the media brandishing video cameras, so did two neighbors who opposed the “Legs” and the impact it has had on their properties.

Hammer presented the zoning board with a petition in support of the “Legs” remaining on Madison Street 430 names strong. He also offered 62 letters of support including from Larry Rivers Foundation Director David Joel, David Levy of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Helen Harrison of the Pollock Krasner Foundation.

Hammer called on the zoning board to vote against building inspector Tim Platt’s determination that the “Legs” were a structure, noting that as the village code reads, a structure could be virtually anything from a birdhouse to a flagpole or pergola or even a seasonal decoration. When speaking to Platt about the code’s lack of definition when it comes to what is excluded in the definition of a “structure,” Hammer said Platt informed him it fell to his common sense.

Hammer questioned whether the village code was in fact designed to regulate a case like this.

“If everything is a structure, common sense has to prevail on what is regulated and what is not,” argued Hammer. He noted in East Hampton and Southampton towns, sculptures are allowed under code with a building permit designed, not to prevent it from being erected, but to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents, as all codes are meant to ultimately do.

The “Legs,” he continued, have no accessory benefit to Lehr and Vered, not providing storage, shade or lighting, for example, and other than their existence do not have a function associated with their residential property as is common with accessory structures.

“It’s a vehicle for the exercise of a fundamental right of free speech and expression and an integral part of the Sag Harbor community,” said Hammer to the cheers of many in the crowd.

Hammer further argued that if Vered and Lehr were required to move the sculpture to conform with village standards for a sculpture this would be regulating the content of free speech into a backyard.

Displays by veterans groups, or others, continued Hammer, are expressions not relegated to backyards.

Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals acting chairman Brendan Skislock said the zoning board could not look at this application in terms of art, but as it has been defined as a structure. He asked Hammer for decisions or cases in the village with similar setback concerns.

As a “structure” under the village code, Lehr and Vered need three variances. The “Legs” are located a foot from the property line where 35-feet is required, and are seated at 16.1-feet high where 15-feet is the maximum allowed. They sculpture also protrudes into the sky plane 16.7 cubic feet more than allowed under the code.

Hammer questioned whether the benefit to Lehr and Vered outweighed any detriment on the community or a violation of the character of the community. Under those standards, even as a structure, the board could approve the “Legs” to stay, said Hammer.

He added unlike non-conforming decks, it would be difficult to find a comparable example to the “Legs” in Sag Harbor.

“To play devils’ advocate, and maybe this is fine, but what if someone two blocks away was going to come in and ask for a variance and say, ‘I am only one foot away from the property line and you gave this structure an approval’ and then you had 10 more homes, 20 more homes or 150 more homes come in,” said Skislock.

Hammer said while he understood concerns over precedent setting, in this case it could be something to celebrate if 150 homes erected sculptures similar to Lehr and Vered, although he questioned how the sculpture could ever be compared by another attorney to a garage a foot away from the property line — something that could increase noise, odors or light and affect neighbors.

Sag Harbor Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. urged Hammer to focus on the “Legs” being considered a structure, noting there is case law that backs the village up.

“The second part is more pragmatic,” he said. “What I think is art and what you think is art and what everyone in this room thinks is art is going to be different. The last thing you want is for government to determine what art is.”

Hammer said that in addition to the “Legs” not impacting neighbors in a negative way, Rivers was a renowned local artist and that should be considered as well.

“I don’t share your vision for Sag Harbor where you stated you would welcome the development of 150 such structures in Sag Harbor in the future,” said board member Anton Hagen. “You state the precedence setting nature of our decision would further that goal you see as positive and I disagree with that.”

Both Skislock and board member Benedetta Duebel agreed with Hagen’s concerns about setting a precedent, with Skislock offering that perhaps the village code should be revised.

Sag Harbor resident Brian O’Leary, who said he knew Rivers dating back to 1983, said the artist would likely be amused that his sculpture could be banned in Sag Harbor.

“Sag Harbor should be proud his beautiful, whimsical sculpture lives in our village,” said O’Leary. “If the building was still a church and there was an equal size crucifix hanging on the wall, would you be asking the congregation to take it down?”

David Joel, the director of the Larry Rivers Foundation said he was concerned that through this debate the work of a great artist was being deemed “not art.”

“They have been documented in books, documented as art,” said Joel. “You don’t have to go reaching into some strange atmosphere to determine this art.”

“If it’s art, it shouldn’t be before this board,” said Hagen.

“I agree, 100 percent,” said Joel.

“We have no standing then,” said Skislock.

“Maybe you should recognize this should not come before you and you should not be in the uncomfortable decision of having to decide this,” said Joel. “The precedent you are setting here is the precedent of this is not art.”

“The issue being lost here is no one has said you cannot put up a sculpture in the Village of Sag Harbor,” said Thiele, after Duebel noted if a sculpture meets setbacks it is allowed as a structure.

“You have the ability to say this is not a structure,” added Hammer. “You could simply say this is not a structure, it’s art and kick it back to the board of trustees.”

However, not all supported Lehr and Vered, including Jennifer Houser, a former trustee and local businesswoman, who owns two houses facing the “Legs”

“This is not, for me, about art,” she said. “This is about living in the historic district of Sag Harbor and clarifying the codes that have been put in place. Again, this is not about art, but the precedent it sets.”

Houser, who said the “Legs” are illuminated at night, said she believes this has become a business opportunity for Lehr and Vered, and asked the board to uphold the standards of the historic district.

“I think the precedent you might want to consider not setting is censoring art in Sag Harbor,” said resident Duncan Hale, who wondered if he would soon be cited for the stone statue he has in his yard, three-feet from the property line.

“For the future of Sag Harbor and the artistic community, I am concerned there is a fear of what will happen if, God forbid, another person chooses to put another sculpture into their yard,” said artist and businesswoman Elizabeth Dow, who recently purchased the former Sag Harbor Methodist Church which she is converting into her textile design studio. “I believe if someone is to erect some sculpture of a certain size there should be a building permit for safety’s sake.”

However, Dow said with the confusion about the definitions of “art” and “sculpture” it should not be up to this board and they should dismiss it.

Noyac resident Charles McCarron, who owns a neighboring residence to Vered and Lehr, said he opposed the sculpture being lit. He noted that in order to do anything in Sag Harbor Village, including shingle a house, a permit is needed and he questioned why this should be different.

“I don’t know if it is art or not, but I don’t like them and I am a neighbor,” said McCarron. “Jennifer doesn’t like them and she is a neighbor.”

After the hearing, Vered was elated by Hammer’s performance, and said ultimately the application should stand on its own rather than the board choosing otherwise out of concerns for the next application.

“In this country, every decision should stand on its own and is important,” she said. “That is the kind of freedom we want — not to have everyone in one bag and thrown out. This is a beautiful country and everyone is judged by what they have done and not lumped into one place.”



“Legs” Headed Back to Zoning Board

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Homeowners Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered are expected to come before the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals this February or March. When they do, whether or not the famed Larry Rivers “Legs” striding across their residence on Madison Street should even be subject to zoning will be a question raised by Lehr and Vered’s new attorney, Richard A. Hammer.

Hammer, known locally as Andy, is a Montauk attorney with the firm Biondo and Hammer, and a former East Hampton Town Assistant Attorney, whose law practice focuses on land use and zoning. He was hired by Lehr and Vered to handle their years long case with the Village of Sag Harbor in attempt to keep the Rivers “Legs” sculpture, which has reached almost iconic status in the village, on the side of their home.

According to Sag Harbor Village Attorney Denise Schoen, Hammer has filed an application with the village’s building department that will be referred to the zoning board of appeals.

The applicants, art dealers and collectors who run the Vered Gallery in East Hampton Village, first erected the sculpture in 2008. Then building inspector Al Daniels notified the women the sculpture would need a building permit to remain. Sag Harbor Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. also issued an opinion that the sculpture should in fact be deemed a structure under the village code, and therefore would have to meet all the requirements of the village code without relief from the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals.

For over a year, the issue remained unaddressed. Lehr and Vered never filed for a building permit and the “Legs” remained. However, in 2010 when they sought to replace windows and rotting wood, and repaint the historic former church, which they have restored, the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) revived the debate.

Thiele reaffirmed his position in 2010 that the sculpture should in fact be deemed a structure and called it unreasonable to expect the Village of Sag Harbor to define art, which is what it would have to do to exempt the “Legs” from the zoning code.

In May of 2011, the zoning board of appeals denied Lehr and Vered’s application without prejudice, leaving the door open for them to re-file and argue the case again. After several months, in a letter dated December 23, Lehr and Vered received notice from Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt stating they needed to remove the sculpture from the side of their residence within 30 days or face potential citations from the Village of Sag Harbor.

On Monday, on the 30-day deadline, the “Legs” remained and Schoen said in light of the new application she was unsure whether or not Platt would cite Lehr and Vered or if he would wait to hear the outcome of the zoning board of appeals case.

On Wednesday morning, Platt declined to comment.

In order to comply with village codes for accessory structures, Lehr and Vered would need to gain four variances — one to permit the sculpture to sit a foot from the property line where 35-feet are required, another for the height of the sculpture, which at 16.1-feet is just 1.1-feet higher than allowed by village code, a third to comply with the village’s pyramid law and a fourth that allows an accessory structure in the front yard, illegal under village code.

If approved by the zoning board of appeals, the sculpture would also have to receive a certificate of appropriateness from the Sag Harbor ARB as it has been erected in the historic district.

On Wednesday morning, Hammer said he was just recently retained and was still reviewing the case.

“I would say, at first blush, I feel this is not a zoning related issue and a curious file in terms of how they got in front of the zoning board of appeals,” said Hammer.

“My feeling is the structure is clearly an artistic expression of some form and I am not sure whether or not it should be regulated as a structure from a zoning perspective,” he continued. “I am not sure what distinction makes this different from any other artistic expression, whether that be a fountain or a flag or a plaque.”

Hammer said he would like to hear a well thought out response from the village about what does distinguish the “Legs” from other forms of artistic expression.

“My initial feeling here is by saying it is allowable — but has to meet a setback — is regulating the context of free speech,” said Hammer. “By saying, we think your artistic expression is okay, but we will tell you where it is allowable, now you talking about regulating the context of the structure.”

That being said, Hammer said he hopes that an intelligent dialogue can emerge about the case, and that it should not be a case viewed on whether or not anyone likes the “Legs,” but rather whether Lehr and Vered have the right to express themselves freely.

“I don’t think, looking at the structure, that this is a situation where public health, safety or welfare issues are at hand,” said Hammer, noting it does not impede traffic flow or other issues that would dictate this a question of zoning.

Hammer said the case was interesting because it does involve artistic expression and revolves around a sculpture created by an artist who once lived in Southampton and displayed the first cast of sculpture at his studio, much to the chagrin of River’s neighbors.

“If Jackson Pollock sculptures were displayed in Springs would this be an issue,” wondered Hammer.

“Legs” May End Up In Court

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By Kathryn G. Menu


For Janet Lehr, the letter she received from the Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt dated December 23 was “a very unmerry Christmas letter” indeed.

In the letter, Platt informed Lehr and her partner, Ruth Vered, that they had to remove the Larry Rivers sculpture, “Legs,” from the side of their Madison Street residence by January 23.

“Failure to remove the structure will necessitate the issuance of an appearance ticket,” writes Platt. That means if the sculpture is not removed Lehr and Vered could be charged with violating several sections of Sag Harbor Village code and could wind up in front of Sag Harbor Village Justice Andrea Schiavoni.

The letter is another chapter in what has been a years long debate over the legality of the “Legs” sculpture, which was erected on the side of Lehr and Vered’s Madison Street home over two years ago and has become something of a landmark in the village.

Lehr and Vered erected the sculpture in 2008 and subsequently were notified by then-building inspector Al Daniels that the sculpture would in fact need a building permit from the village to remain. Sag Harbor Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. also made a formal opinion that the sculpture should be considered an accessory structure, and as such needed a building permit to conform with village code without relief from the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals.

However, Lehr and Vered did not apply for a building permit and “Legs” remained. The debate was only revived in June of 2010 after Lehr and Vered sought to replace windows, rotted wood and repaint the historic former Bethel Baptist Church, which they call home.

At a Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board meeting that month, board member Tom Horn, Sr. said he was uncomfortable approving the restoration with the “Legs” issue outstanding.

Lehr and Vered eventually found themselves in front of the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals in an attempt to gain a building permit that would legalize the sculpture. In order to do so, according to the last notice filed on their hearing, Lehr and Vered had to gain four variances from the zoning board. First they needed a variance to permit the “Legs,” which the village is considering an accessory structure, one-foot from the property line where 35-feet are required. The art dealers, who run Vered Gallery in East Hampton, also need a variance for the height of the sculpture, which at 16.1-feet is 1.1-feet higher then allowed by village code. They also need a pyramid law variance and a variance that allows an accessory structure in the front yard, which is illegal under village code.

Through a representative – Clayton Munsey – the zoning board considered the case for several months, and entertained ideas like the “Legs” having a shelf life on Madison Street and having them reduced in their height. However, no agreement was ever finalized and concerns over setting a precedent plagued the zoning board as they looked at the application.

In March of 2011, with board member Michael Bromberg abstaining as an adjacent property is owned by a family member, the board took a straw poll to deny the variance. With no April meeting, in May the zoning board officially denied the request for variances to legalize the “Legs” sculpture, but did so without prejudice should Lehr and Vered decide to submit a new application to the board.

On Tuesday, Lehr said that she and Vered were seriously considering making a new application to the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board and were considering that option as the clock ticks away on the “Legs’” life at their residence.

If the women do not file another application or remove the “Legs” by January 23, they would then be issued an appearance ticket, and according to village attorney Denise Schoen could face a potential fine up to $1,000 for each violation of the Sag Harbor Village code as well as an order by the court to remove the sculpture.

“The goal here is always compliance,” said Schoen on Tuesday.

If the women did reapply for their variances and succeeded in convincing the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals they should have the relief, the sculpture could become legal, provided they also receive formal approval from the village’s ARB.

“It takes my breath away that we may have until January 22 to remove the ‘Legs,’ which we don’t want to do,” said Lehr on Tuesday. “I would like to reiterate the “Legs” are not a thing, are not a structure, they are a work of art and art is a fundamental right. It is protected by the First Amendment.”

Lehr added that Rivers is also an important artist who called Southampton home.

“This should be treasured as opposed to being trivialized,” she said.

Public support for Lehr and Vered keeping the sculpture is enormous, she added.

“Hundreds of people have come by the gallery saying they hope we can keep the ‘Legs,’” said Lehr. “Not one person has said to me the village is right in this. And I watch, and I chuckle, as people walk by and photograph them, or stop their cars to take a picture, and I can see they feel self conscious about photographing someone’s property, but art should be public. It would be a wonderful thing if the village could agree this is in fact special.”

No More Legs at Vereds

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By Kathryn G. Menu

After several months of discussion, on Tuesday night the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals officially denied Janet Lehr and Vered’s request for variances to keep the Larry Rivers’ “Legs” sculpture on the side of their Madison Street residence, although they did so without prejudice, meaning a new application could be filed to legalize the sculpture.

However, it is unclear if Lehr and Vered will file a second application. On Wednesday morning, Vered declined to comment on what she plans to do moving forward.

Vered and Lehr’s fight to keep the “Legs” has been an on-and-off debate for over two years, as the Village of Sag Harbor has entertained the couple’s request to legalize the sculpture in the historic district, but not as art, rather as an accessory use.

Without approval from the zoning board of appeals (ZBA), Lehr and Vered must either take the “Legs” down or face continual fines from the village building department.

At the March ZBA meeting, Vered had offered the board a covenant where she and Lehr would agree to remove the “Legs” sculpture in two years time. To reduce the number of variances they would need to keep the “Legs,” Lehr and Vered’s representative Clayton Munsey had previously offered to lower the sculpture reducing its height on the side of the residence, as well as remove a concrete patio in the back of the house to reduce the total lot coverage on the property.

The concept appeared appealing to members of the ZBA, many of whom have been vocal in their concern about the application setting a precedent allowing accessory structures to be constructed on a property line if the “Legs” application was approved. However, village attorney Anthony Tohill said a new application would have to be filed with the board for that plan to be considered.

The vote to deny Lehr and Vered’s application was almost unanimous. Board member Michael Bromberg has recused himself throughout the application from weighing in on the issue.