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Feb 22, 2012 10:29 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor's 'Legs' Trudge Through Zoning Issues

Feb 22, 2012 2:04 PM

The tall, toned “Legs” sculpture striding alongside a Madison Street church-turned-house in Sag Harbor continues to trudge through a bramble in which zoning requirements and calls of artistic legacy and expression are brushing against each other uncomfortably.

The Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday night closed a public hearing and left open a 10-day period for written comment before making a decision on an application for variances that would allow the sculpture to remain where it is.

The decision came after testimony from attorney Richard A. Hammer, who argued that the legs adorning the home of his clients—art gallery owners Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered, owner of the Vered art gallery in East Hampton—are not a structure, as the village has argued.

Instead, he said, it should be seen as a “vehicle for exercise of fundamental right of speech and expression that I would say is an integral part of the Sag Harbor community.”

The quirky case is an admittedly unusual one for the board and has drawn plenty of media attention.

A full house of about 50 attendees, mostly “Legs” fans, packed the Municipal Building meeting room for Tuesday’s hearing, although a few neighbors of the sculpture who were present objected to it. Mr. Hammer also presented the board with a binder that he said included a petition containing more than 430 signatures and 62 letters in favor of the “Legs.”

Because the village has deemed the sculpture—created by the late Larry Rivers, a renowned artist at the vanguard of the arts scene locally and nationally—an accessory structure, Ms. Lehr and Ms. Vered, who appear on the application as Lehr Vered, must obtain the necessary variances to make the legs legal or take them down. The village had threatened to fine the women after they kept the legs up following a ZBA denial last May, but Ms. Lehr and Ms. Vered decided to reapply to the board, this time with a lawyer, Mr. Hammer, a partner in the Montauk firm Biondo and Hammer, to bolster their case.

The variances call for legalizing the legs so they can remain within 1 foot of the property line instead of having the required 35-foot setback, to stand 16 feet 1 inch tall instead of the required 15 feet, and to allow it to protrude through the sky plane by 16.7 cubic feet.

“Although in theory we’re here tonight to discuss a sculpture and its placement on a residential property in Sag Harbor, in reality we’re here to discuss a fundamental idea that extends beyond the boundaries of this property and well into the Sag Harbor community,” Mr. Hammer told the board, “In fact, the slender legs of Larry Rivers’s imagination carries some fairly weighty issues for your consideration here tonight.”

The attorney argued that the benefit of the “Legs” within the context of the artsy village far outweighs any detriment to the public. The sculpture does not make noise, emit light or otherwise harm others’ safety or well-being, he said. After some opponents pointed out that the legs are illuminated at night, he later clarified his statement to say that even though the sculpture does not emit light, it is lit from below—something that can easily be changed, he said.

Mr. Hammer also claimed that by classifying the “Legs” as a structure, the village was trying to regulate art.

David Joel, the executive director of the Larry Rivers Foundation in Bridgehampton, the mission of which is to further Mr. Rivers’s legacy, said that the village is inadvertently saying the sculpture is not art by calling it a structure, contradicting at least 18 years’ worth of documentation.

“If it’s art, then you shouldn’t be before this board,” ZBA member Anthony Hagen replied, unintentionally voicing a point made by the legions of “Legs” fans.

When Mr. Hammer pointed out that “Legs” is a temporary display and offered to have it approved to stand for a certain time limit, Mr. Hagen said placing a time limit reminded him of its commercial nature, comparing the “Legs” to a billboard to advertise the art business of Ms. Lehr and Ms. Vered—a remark that drew boos and hisses from the audience.

At issue was more than the art versus not art, debate, however.

While several residents raved about how much they enjoy the “Legs,” the ZBA tried to focus their attention on the actual zoning matters.
“We’re looking at this as a structure,” said Acting ZBA Chairman Brendan Skislock, who assumed his role in Chairwoman Gayle Pickering’s absence. “Art is an emotion. I don’t think it has any place on the Zoning Board of Appeals.”

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A few years back I had a building for my lawn mower and some garden tools at my residence in Southampton . One day I was told I had to remove the building due to the fact it was only 7 feet from the property line. What the building inspectors office failed to recognize was they were stepping on my artistic rights.
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Feb 22, 12 4:11 PM
You see.... My building also did not make noise, emit light or otherwise harm others’ safety or well-being, the building was admired by many for its rustic charm and depiction of a by gone era. So it is my contention the Village ZBA owes me an apology since it was not the eyesore they tryed to make it out to be, no it was the building I called "Shed"
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Feb 22, 12 4:17 PM
No matter what we want to call it, art or otherwise, it is obviously a structure. Surely in a place with so much historical character as Sag Harbor, where so much as a window cannot be replaced without proper authorization, there must be a clear law on the books. Fine them now and talk about permits later.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Feb 22, 12 5:35 PM
If they like the sculpture so much, why not put them in their back yard? Or is this purely exhibitionism? Not a very interesting piece of art for my tastes.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Feb 22, 12 5:58 PM
Well, I think they look sexy...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 22, 12 9:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
Sure, thigh high nylons on a sexy pair of legs is hot, I agree.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Feb 23, 12 2:31 PM
Is this not the same women who got fined for serving Alcohol at her art exhibition in her store in EH last year. Shameless promotion seems to be habitual for this two .
By They call me (2826), southampton on Feb 23, 12 5:04 PM
and this is headline news for the hamptons! Jeez..
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Feb 23, 12 8:10 PM