Tag Archive | "Ruth Vered"

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

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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.

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.”



UPDATED: Sag Harbor ZBA Stalls “Legs” Decision; Suggests Compromise

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The “Legs” of Sag Harbor will not be walking anywhere. At least for the next month, that is.

On Tuesday night, the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals tabled Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr’s application for variances to allow Larry Rivers’ sculpture, “Legs,” to remain on the side of their Madison Street home. While all members of the board, save Michael Bromberg who has recused himself from the case, expressed reservations about the precedent they would set in allowing the sculpture, deemed a structure by the village building inspector, to remain on Lehr and Vered’s property line, chairwoman Gayle Pickering suggested a compromise might be reached in this matter after literal years of debate.

Pickering suggested that Sag Harbor Village attorney Denise Schoen could draft an approval that sets a clear timeline on how long the “Legs” may remain on the side of the residence, which is the former Bethel Baptist Church. She added other requirements could be that the “Legs” could not be lit at night as they have been and that Lehr and Vered could be prohibited from similar installations in the future as a condition of the zoning board’s approval.

At last month’s zoning board of appeals meeting, which Pickering was not present at, Lehr and Vered were supported by dozens of Sag Harbor and East End residents, the two people in the crowd opposed to the “Legs” notably being the women’s neighbors. In addition, Lehr and Vered came to the meeting with attorney Richard A. Hammer, who argued the two-year-old case based on its legal merits.

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 village residents at large.

Lehr and Vered have also collected over 100 letters of support, although Pickering noted on Tuesday night that many dealt with the “Legs” as art, when the building inspector and the zoning board is charged with reviewing them as a structure.

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.

“Personally, I don’t see how I could approve it,” said board member Anton Hagen. “I have been on this board for a number of years and a variance of that magnitude is significant and would have an impact on the village in terms of the applicants we have looked at before and after this. We are not hostile to art, and to be accused of that is a red herring as far as I am concerned. It is not the issue, so I don’t want to hear that anymore.”

Hagen questioned whether or not Lehr and Vered, who own the Vered Art Gallery in East Hampton, have a commercial interest in keeping the “Legs”

“That the applicant is a professional in that field and that they have an interest in representing themselves is a substantial matter,” said Hagen.

“As it hits home, the idea that we would open this up as far as other applicants coming in, I would have an issue there,” said board member Brendan Skislock. “I would have an issue if I was the second applicant coming in and I could not do the same thing. It is not about art. I am just looking at this as a structure.”

“We are setting a precedent and it is not about the art, it is about the law,” said board member Benedetta Duebel. “We have the right to represent Sag Harbor Village in this thing and if we say yes, what is someone else wants to do it, but it doesn’t have to do with art. I know you don’t know this, but I have traveled the world to look at art, but in this case we are talking about a legal thing.”

Pickering said she aimed to find middle ground, suggesting a limited year basis could be imposed on the “Legs” being house on the side of the house.

“Some people like it, some people don’t and the neighbors hate it,” said Pickering. “I am trying to balance everyone’s interest. I don’t want to see this become a revolving art gallery, but on the other hand Sag Harbor is unique.”

“I don’t want to see a Frank Gehry garage parked a foot froom the property line and called art,” she added.

Hammer approached the podium and said that he has already laid out how this case, and this property, is unique in a number of ways that could make an approval one that would not set a precedent.

Outside of the fact that Larry Rivers was an artist who resided in Southampton and is a part of the East End’s artistic history, Hammer argued that the amount o support Lehr and Vered have received, which is filed with the zoning board as evidence, was indicative of the fact that there is a value to this structure remaining in the Village of Sag Harbor.

Hammer said he would not suggest a time frame for the “Legs” existence, as that would be under the purview of the zoning board to make a formal suggestion. However, he added that it was his belief that the “Legs” should not have a time frame associated with it. Hammer said using the balancing test the zoning board is required to use with each application he believed he had shown the “Legs” are a benefit to the community and should be able to remain for an unprescribed period of time.

“I think we have demonstrated the benefit of this structure,” said Hammer.

Hammer also took exception to the notion that Lehr and Vered commercially benefited from the “Legs,” noting that the zoning board does not review the financial benefit of residential applications.

“It just so happens my clients have an artistic background,” said Hammer, noting that as an avid fisherman he decorates his home with fishing artifacts, but it is not in any way meant to commercialize or sell his interest in fishing.

He added that he does not believe this should be reviewed under zoning as art because it is a form of freedom of expression, protected under the Constitution, but that the village building inspector has laid out this path for Lehr and Vered to keep the “Legs” and that is what they are trying to do.

As a “structure” under zoning, Hammer said the zoning board was ultimately tasked with weighing the overall good or detriment of an application and “make a community based decision.” He said removing the lighting was something his clients were amenable to if that was a condition of approval.

Neighbors Jennifer Houser and Charlie McCarron both opposed the “Legs” at last month’s meeting. Houser raised the issue of the lighting, but also of the responsibility the village must take in protecting its historic district.

In an impassioned plea to the zoning board on Tuesday night, Vered charged that McCarron uses his residence as a rental and hopes to sell it, but that ultimately both were just two people who didn’t like the “Legs” as opposed to the hundreds who have signed petitions and sent letters of support to the board.

“I think we have had a tremendous amount of support and I think it does count,” said Vered. “There is no such thing as one size fits all or we would not have a board like this.”

Pickering said once more she would like to see a compromise and asked attorney Schoen to write a draft resolution to that affect for the board’s review.

The matter was tabled until the board’s April 17 meeting, which will begin at 6:30 p.m.

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.”

Making Room for Public Art

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Now that the village has approved a law making music in restaurants legal, it may soon find itself tackling a thornier subject: making public art legal. Or more disturbing still: defining art.

Gallery owner and Sag Harbor resident Ruth Vered — or Vered, if you will — learned this week that there is no place for public art in the village code. It doesn’t address it, beyond allowing ornamental structures no more than 6-inches from the building.

Vered has erected a work of art — a pair of legs created by Larry Rivers — alongside her home on the corner of Henry and Madison streets that stands about 15-feet tall. Clearly it goes beyond the approved limits of an ornamental structure.

As things go, the village’s zoning board of appeals would probably never have addressed the legs, had there not come a complaint from the village’s architectural review board. Like many things when enforcement is involved, if no one complains, we’ll just let it slide. But pushed, they needed to render a verdict based on the law as it stands. No art in the code? It must be a structure — like a tool shed or a gazebo.

Well, it’s not.

And here the village’s board of trustees may be called upon to make room in the code for public art in our neighborhoods; which frankly we don’t think is a bad idea.

Whether or not we like the legs — and for the record, we kind of do — we are a community that has embraced art and we recognize art enriches the community. The road to codifying art is a tricky — if not impossible — one; but it is one we think the village should begin the conversation about taking.


Let’s See Your Legs, Larry

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By Helen A. Harrison

 The oversize legs striding along Henry Street have prompted some spirited debate in these pages. Clad only in old-fashioned nylons (sans garter belt), they add a dash of spice to the village’s architectural streetscape. Passers-by, not knowing the backstory, may well wonder where they came from and how they got here. Surely they didn’t walk to Sag Harbor on their own.

Their journey began in Lake Grove, Long Island, home of the Smith Haven Mall. When it opened in 1969 it was one of the nation’s largest shopping complexes, according to The New York Times, which also reported that it contained an unprecedented mixture of “high art and low commerce,” thanks to commissions arranged by Leonard Holzer, an executive with the mall’s developer. As it happened, Holzer’s wife, Jane, was something of an art-world personality. An uptown girl with downtown inclinations, Baby Jane, as she was known, was one of Andy Warhol’s “superstars,” appearing in several of his films, including Soap Opera, Batman Dracula and Ciao Manhattan. She persuaded her husband that the mall should feature site-specific work by contemporary artists, and got him to earmark $350,000 for the project. Among the pieces she convinced Holzer to commission—oddly, none by Warhol—were a stabile with a mobile top by Alexander Calder (dubbed Janey Waney in her honor) and a mural by Larry Rivers, 40 feet long and 15 feet tall, titled Forty Feet of Fashion.

Heavily into his assemblage phase at the time, and influenced by his friendship with the French kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely, Rivers delighted in using vinyl, Plexiglas and recycled material to make dimensional mixed-media constructions, sometimes with moving parts. His recently completed The History of the Russian Revolution, for example, featured storm windows, plumbing pipes and real military weapons. Like Warhol and the other Pop artists, Rivers embraced the iconography of mass-market culture. His concept for the mall included references to some of the consumer products available in the surrounding shops: cosmetics (floating lips, à la Man Ray), bathing suits (somersaulting swimmers), appliances (including a clock with Leonard Holzer’s portrait as the face) and hosiery, represented by a pair of disembodied mannequin legs modeling sexy black stockings. There was also an automatic slide show, which broke down not long after the mural was installed. It was never repaired.

That was only the first step in the gradual deterioration of the mall and its art. The Calder lost its moving top section, and the base was insensitively relocated outside, where it graced the parking lot. Other pieces simply disappeared. Forty Feet of Fashion remained in place until another developer took over the mall in 1985 and did a major renovation. Rivers’ mural didn’t gibe with the new look, themed around the restored Calder, so the developer suggested donating it to a museum. But Rivers insisted on its restoration first. When they couldn’t come to terms, the mural was disassembled. Rivers got a few of the elements, including one of the swimmers, which is on view through August 31 at the Vered Gallery in East Hampton, as part of the exhibition, “Larry Rivers: Pop Icons.” He also got the legs, slightly reworked and repainted them, and planted them on the lawn outside his house on Little Plains Road in Southampton, where they disquieted the neighbors until his death in 2002. They were later acquired by gallery owner Ruth Vered and her partner Janet Lehr and installed on their Sag Harbor property, the former Bethel Baptist Church, two years ago.

Opinion seems to be divided on their appropriateness, and not only because they’re out of character with their surroundings. As the work of an artist whose controversial video portrait of his daughters’ sexual development is the subject of a tug of war between his younger daughter Emma and his estate, they are viewed less than sympathetically by those who see the artist as a degenerate who exploited his children in pursuit of his own agenda. That argument will be settled by the interested parties, and really has no bearing on the merits of the legs as a work of public art in a prominent village location.

Considering the paradoxical dearth of public art in a village notable for the many artists who live and work here, I think it’s about time we got a monument by a prominent local artist that’s livelier and more noteworthy than the generic Civil War statue at the intersection of Main and Madison. Rivers was a member of the East End art community for more than half a century. To be sure, he didn’t live in Sag Harbor, but he is buried in our Jewish cemetery, so he’s truly a permanent resident. The former church is also a fitting location for his sculpture. It became an art center when Abraham and Esther Rattner bought it in the 1950s—it’s where Jackson Pollock’s girlfriend, Ruth Kligman, worked briefly during the summer of 1956—so what could be a more suitable spot for showing off Larry’s shapely legs?


Helen A. Harrison, a Sag Harbor resident, is the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs. Her monograph on Larry Rivers was published in 1984 by Harper & Row.

Let Larry’s Legs Stay

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Art objects have always existed in a somewhat gray area when it comes to matters of taste, to say nothing of municipal zoning. What one person views as a masterpiece, another could claim assaults their eyes. And when subjective taste is involved in crafting or enforcing everything from village code to federal decency standards, it becomes a slippery slope indeed.

For example, here in Sag Harbor we have a 15-foot pair of female legs firmly planted alongside Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr’s Madison Street home. The Larry Rivers sculpture has created something of a stir in the neighborhood, with some people loving it and others hating it.

Apparently one member of the Sag Harbor ARB is in the latter category. When Vered and Lehr came before the ARB this week to get approval for exterior paint color and permission to make needed repairs on their home, ARB member Tom Horn, Sr. abstained from casting the deciding vote on the issue at hand because he doesn’t happen to like the gams.

To be fair, Vered and Lehr were told two years ago they needed to get a building permit for the legs, and have thus far failed to do so. And while the exact nature of Horn’s aversion to the legs is unclear, aesthetics is clearly an issue. Perhaps he deems them too large and out of character with the shrubbery and urns at neighboring properties. Or perhaps he feels those shapely limbs might pollute the minds of Sag Harbor’s youth. Or maybe he’s just afraid they might take a tumble on a windy day and crush a passerby — now that might be a legitimate concern, and one we assume a building permit is designed to prevent.

We do know one thing. Horn’s abstention from voting on a legitimate application because he doesn’t happen to like what’s in the yard is inappropriate. Have Vered and Lehr ignored the law that requires them to get a building permit for the structure? Yes. But in that case, it’s up to village code enforcement to pursue the matter. It is unfair for one person to hold up needed repairs and a paint job because of art. By this rationale, should we let the village’s historic homes fall into disrepair because we don’t happen to like what’s on the lawn? If the legs weren’t there would Horn have approved the application? 

We completely agree with ARB member Diane Schiavoni who said the legs are a separate issue. They are indeed.

As far as we’re concerned, the legs are a recognizable piece of art by a celebrated internationally renown (and now deceased) American artist. Irregardless of their provenance, freedom of expression should be allowed in this capacity — with a building permit, of course. So we say “Let Larry’s legs stand” (or stride, which is a more  accurate description of what they’re doing).