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Jan 4, 2012 9:20 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Threatens Fines If 'Legs' Not Removed

Jan 4, 2012 10:17 AM

The Village of Sag Harbor has threatened to issue civil fines to the art gallery owners who have a statue—a 16-foot-tall pair of women’s legs—on the side of their house.

In May, the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance request by Vered and Janet Lehr to allow the statue to remain mounted on the house, a cavernous former church that the pair recently completed an extensive renovation of, and last month the village’s building inspector sent the women a letter telling them that if the statue was not removed by January 20, they would be issued a court summons. A resulting fine could be as high as $1,000 per violation, per day, until the statue is removed.

“It’s just petty nonsense,” said Ms. Vered, who owns the Vered Gallery in East Hampton Village. “It’s not conventional, and they’re trying to make it conventional. This in a town that is supposed to be known for the writers and the artists.”

The statue is the work of Larry Rivers, an artist Ms. Vered described as “monumental” and who lived in Southampton and is buried in a Sag Harbor cemetery. Ms. Vered vowed to produce petitions with the signatures of 200 people supporting the statue staying in place.

Ms. Vered and Ms. Lehr have based their defense of the statue on the fact that as a work of art the statue should not be forced to comply with the village’s zoning codes. But last year the village ruled that the legs are, in fact, a structure, and as such are not legal, mounted as they are just a foot from the property line. Ms. Vered and Ms. Lehr filed for a variance but did not hire a lawyer to represent them, instead sending a gentleman Ms. Vered said this week was their caretaker. Zoning Board of Appeals members said the negotiations were cumbersome, since the man couldn’t make any decisions at the board’s monthly meetings without consulting the women and returning the next month.

At the time of the denial, members of the zoning board hinted that they would be willing to consider allowing the structure to remain if some modifications were made and a new variance applied for.

“It got really weird,” ZBA Chairwoman Gayle Pickering said this week. “Their representative wasn’t as effective as he could have been. So we left it open. We denied it, but told them if they wanted to come back with a new application, we would listen again. People don’t dislike the legs, per se. I think if they, hypothetically, had an attorney who was creative and knew the law, I think they could make it work.”

Ms. Vered, who said she asked that the statue be permitted to remain for just two more years, admitted she did not understand much of the substance of the stance the ZBA took beyond the board members’ concern that allowing the structure would set a precedent for other property owners to place structures—perhaps ones not as innocuous as a statue—on their property lines. She dismissed such concerns as foolish: “That is stupid. That has no place in a democracy.”

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