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Jun 26, 2012 3:08 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Sag Harbor Legs Show Some Muscle

Jun 26, 2012 4:08 PM

The famous Larry Rivers “Legs” sculpture outside a Madison Street home in Sag Harbor was ruled illegal in April and must come down by September 15, but those legs are now showing some muscle—in the form of a new lawsuit.

The 16-foot-tall fiberglass figure of a woman’s legs was installed outside the home of Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered, where it faces Henry Street, in 2008. Though quiet for several years, controversy about its legality under village zoning picked up when Village Building Inspector Timothy Platt determined that “Legs” was a structure, according to village code, and therefore in need of a building permit.

“Legs” has legions of fans who have argued, so far unsuccessfully, that it is a work of art that should not be forced to comply with the village’s zoning standards.

A lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court on June 5 seeks the annulment of Mr. Platt’s determination. It was because of Mr. Platt’s determination that Ms. Lehr and Ms. Vered—Vered popularly goes only by her surname—had to go before the Village Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking several variances to allow “Legs” to remain standing. The biggest variance would allow the sculpture to stand just 1 foot from the property line, instead of the required 35 feet.

The suit also calls for the overturning of the ZBA’s April decision denying the requested variances. Finally, it asks the court to determine that “Legs” is a sculpture, not a structure, or, alternatively, that it direct the village to issue the requested variances for “Legs.”

“The purpose is to set aside a determination that is wrong,” explained Stephen Grossman, the Sag Harbor-based attorney representing Ms. Lehr and Vered, in a recent phone interview. “I am confident that we will win.”

The suit notes that the ZBA cites a case in Southold Town, Miller v. Price, as precedent. In that case, the courts upheld a Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals determination that a heron sculpture on a residential lot was a structure and therefore required a building permit. But Mr. Grossman said the Sag Harbor ZBA ruling really had no precedent. “This case has no relevance to this proceeding, since the holding there was simply that the plaintiff failed to exhaust its administrative remedies prior to seeking relief from the court,” the suit states.

Mr. Grossman also argued that the ZBA’s decision was contradictory. The suit states that the board found that the sculpture would no have no substantial impact on the physical and environmental conditions in the neighborhood, but also found that granting the requested variances would cause an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood and be a detriment to nearby properties. “These findings clearly contradict each other and are clear evidence of the arbitrary and capricious nature of the board’s decision,” the lawsuit states.

“The bottom line is that they’re making a value judgement based on something the neighbors don’t like. It has nothing to do with zoning,” he said. “It’s a structure because people don’t like it—or some people don’t like it.” He has received dozens of phone calls and emails in support of “Legs” remaining where it is, he added.

Mr. Grossman said the village has until July 15 to file a return, which includes a complete copy of everything in its file on the “Legs” case, as well as transcripts of “Legs” proceedings, though he said he would allow more time if needed.

As for the September 15 deadline by which the sculpture been ordered to come down, he said that prior to that date he will either come to an agreement with the village or ask for a stay of that deadline until the court case is decided.

The ZBA had also ruled in April that all lighting of “Legs” stop immediately, but reportedly the statue has still been lit at night. Mr. Grossman declined to comment on that issue.

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