Tag Archive | "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.

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.”

Graffiti Whales Descend on Sag Harbor Village

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By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Michael Heller, Kathryn G. Menu & Penelope Hope

A rash of graffiti was reported last week to village police, the tags bearing an image most people associate with Sag Harbor — a whale.

According to Sag Harbor Village Police, the department has received a total of five reports of the friendly, smiling whale being tagged on buildings throughout the village.

On Sunday, September 2, the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) on Main Street was defaced with four whales — in neon shades of pink, blue, green and yellow — on plastic sheeting along the scaffolding above the front entrance of the historic library.

The library is in the process of a multi-million renovation and expansion and contractors just recently finished a laborious (and expensive) restoration of the brickwork, mortar and limestone cornice, according to JJML Director Catherine Creedon.

On September 5, a neon blue and green whale, smiling broadly, was discovered on the rear of Apple Bank’s Main Street building. The same day, a neon green whale was found painted beneath the now infamous Larry Rivers’ “Legs” sculpture on the side of Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr’s Madison Street home, although it was quickly painted over.

Not even religious institutions were safe, as the caretaker of the Sag Harbor Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church discovered on the morning of September 8. A more crudely drawn outline of a blue whale was discovered on the west side of the church building facing the Old Burying Ground.

The same day, a white and blue whale was found on the Schiavoni building on Jermain Avenue — that building has been the subject of several tags over the years, according to Sag Harbor Village Police Sergeant Paul Fabiano. Along with that whale was the tag reported last week by police that reads “freedumb.”

All of the whales were painted between two-to-three feet in height with a length of five-to-six feet.

According to Creedon, whose library was the first victim of the graffiti spree, her first concern is for the safety of the artist who had to scale scaffolding and actually move it around in order to accomplish all four whales at JJML.

“The whales were actually installed outside the scaffolding railings,” said Creedon. “My fear is we are going to end up with a local kid who is hurt or injured trying to do something like this.”

Creedon said in addition to a security system at the library, both contractors and police have agreed to increase patrols around the library.

“The community has entrusted us with restoring a building that is a symbol of Sag Harbor and its history,” added Creedon. “We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on restoring the exterior of the original building.”

Creedon said while the graffiti ultimately did not damage the building, if the paint had gotten through the plastic sheeting, the chemicals needed to clean spray paint off the historic brick would degrade that material, a costly and precious loss, she said.

According to Sergeant Fabiano, the department is looking at the tags of graffiti artists they have nabbed in the past, as well as tags found by police departments outside of Sag Harbor.

Sergeant Fabiano said most graffiti work does occur overnight and in this case he expects it could be more than one individual responsible for the unapproved art.

If someone is collared for the graffiti whales in Sag Harbor, Sergeant Fabiano said he or she could face a misdemeanor charge of making graffiti for each defacing. Graffiti made on private property can also carry a charge of trespassing and if someone enters a building there could even be charges of burglary, he said.

Sergeant Fabiano asked that anyone with information about the graffiti contact Sag Harbor Village Police at 725-0247. All calls will be kept confidential.

“And maybe we can put this person or these people to work in the village doing some decent artwork that is approved,” he said.

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

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Heller_Vered Legs Sculpture Illuminated at Night 6-18-12_5447

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.”

“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.

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.

Larry’s Legs: Are They Art?

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By Claire Walla

“We’re not looking at it as art, but as a non-conforming structure,” said Zoning Board of Appeals member Brendan Skislock of the 16’ 1” pair of legs standing along the northern wall of 161 Madison Street near downtown Sag Harbor.

All ZBA members repeated this message during Tuesday night’s planning session as the Board met with Vered (who chooses to go by her last name) and Janet Lehr to discuss the fate of “Larry Rivers’ Legs,” the sculpture designed by Rivers in late-60s that now rests along the northern side of the two women’s property.

The Legs currently violate four sections within Chapter 55 of the Village Zoning Code.

However, the meeting ended at a standstill. All parties agreed that certain elements of the Planning Code needed to be clarified by the Village Attorney, Anthony Tohill (who happened to be out sick), before a well-informed decision could be made. The ZBA will revisit the case at its next session October 19.

“The Board made the correct decision,” said Janet Lehr after the meeting. Though she and Vered came expecting to get the final word on their appeal, the Board was on-the-fence about certain legal aspects of the case. Had she and Vered pressed for a decision that night, and had it not gone in their favor, it would have been to their great detriment. According to Board member Gayle Pickering, in order to overturn a decision at that point, Lehr and Vered would have to sue and prove that the Board did not adequately hear their case. (In other words, it would be quite difficult.)

The hot topic now, as the debate continues, concerns the difference between two very similar words: “sculpture” and “structure.” Vered and Lehr purchased the sculpture in 2008 to adorn their property, the former Bethel Baptist Church. They placed the sculpture on a narrow strip of grass along the side of the house, just one foot away from the sidewalk; so, as a safety precaution they secured it into place by laying cement around its base.

According to the zoning board, this is where the trouble begins.

For the duration of Tuesday night’s meeting, the ZBA was operating under the impression that it’s the presence of the cement that actually makes the Legs a structure instead of a sculpture, and by calling it a structure the Board must attach zoning code regulations.

“Ok, so I’ll remove the cement,” Vered told the Board in attempt to put the issue to rest.

But the Board could not respond. This was a stumper, and just one example of why the Board hesitated to make a decision without Mr. Tohill’s presence.

As it stands now, in order for the Legs to be considered a legitimate structure they will need to be moved another 34 feet away from the property line (they are currently within a couple feet of both the sidewalk and the house) and they will need to lose about 13 inches off the top (structures should not exceed 15 feet).

“It needs to be moved to a conforming location,” Pickering said after Vered stated her case.

“But, the house is not conforming,” Vered retored.

This seemed to resonate. Member Anthony Hagel said he was “happy to hear the owner’s presentation,” agreeing that “it is unusual in a residential district for a building to come right up to the sidewalk.”

Whereas initially Board members expressed their concerns over making a decision that might set a precedent for future ZBA cases, all seemed content with postponing the decision until October, when Mr. Tohill could better advise discussions.

Other members of the 10-person audience spoke-out about the cultural significance of prominently displaying Rivers’ work of art: photographer Paul Ickovic pressed it as a matter of First Amendment rights (which he read for the crowd), and Vered’s and Lehr’s neighbor Charlie McCarron expressed outrage over the visible presence of art that, in his opinion, has nothing to do with the history of the town. On both accounts, however, the Board reiterated the fact that it’s not a matter of debating the legitimacy of the art itself.

Before the meeting adjourned, community member and local shop owner Susan Youngblood briefly addressed the Board. “What if [the artwork] wasn’t on the ground, but was mounted on the side of the building?”

Again, the Board was stumped. Pickering said that, according to Village Zoning Code, mounted objects can’t extend out further than 18 inches, but beyond that she wasn’t sure if the Legs could legally be affixed to the side of the building.

“Because it would be a shame if you have a no-win situation,” Youngblood continued. “There’s just nowhere else [on the property] to put them.”