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Apr 17, 2012 10:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor ZBA Says 'Legs' Must Come Down

Apr 19, 2012 9:23 AM

The Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday night ordered the “Legs” sculpture, which has drawn worldwide attention and sits outside a Madison Street home, to be taken down by September 15. Also, all lighting of the sculpture was ordered to stop immediately.

In a 4-0 vote, the board denied three variances requested by art gallery owners Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered that would have allowed the more than 16-foot-tall fiberglass figure of a woman’s legs to remain standing outside their home, where it has faced Henry Street since it was installed in 2008. The piece has stirred controversy about its legality under village zoning. At the same time, the statue has also attracted plenty of fans who have argued that “Legs,” a sculpture created by the late Pop artist Larry Rivers in 1969, is a work of art and, as such, should not be forced to comply with the village’s zoning standards.

But, ultimately, the argument failed to sway the board.

“We are not persuaded by the argument that a sculpture is ‘art’ and therefore somehow exempt from the village zoning code. A sculpture can be both ‘art’ and a structure subject to zoning,” states the board’s decision, which Ms. Pickering said was written by Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr. “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 regarding structures.”

ZBA Chairwoman Gayle Pickering, as well as members Anthony Hagen, Brendan Skislock and Benedetta Deubel, via their vote of denial, upheld a previous determination by the village building inspector that the statue is an accessory structure that would therefore require a building permit.

A structure, according to village code, is defined as “anything constructed or erected on or under the ground or upon another structure or building, excluding at-grade walkways and access driveways.” Under this definition, the “Legs” are illegal, standing just 1 foot from the property line, where a 35-foot setback is required. This variance request was a major reason the board cited in its decision, calling it significant and also that it would set a precedent that would undermine the village’s efforts to create space, light and air. The “Legs” would also need a height variance—as the statue is 16 feet 1 inch all, where only 15 feet is allowed—as well as a sky plane variance, to be legal.

The fifth member of the board, Michael Bromberg, recused himself from the vote, citing relatives who have a home nearby.

The ZBA’s decision states that several neighbors of the property vehemently opposed the application, objecting to the sculpture’s size and proximity to the lot line, and its being lit during the evening. The sculpture stands on a subterranean concrete footing and is mounted on a steel support at each foot.

The board determined that the dimensional requirements of the “Legs” result in an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood and a detriment to nearby properties. It is also contrary to the village’s goals of protecting and preserving the village’s historic district.

Finally, the board ruled that Ms. Lehr and Ms. Vered have self-created their alleged difficulty. “The structure in question was erected without a permit or any inquiry of the proposed location. Only after it was constructed, complaints were lodged, and a notice of violation was issued, did the applicant come to the village to address this matter,” it states.

ZBA Chairwoman Gayle Pickering said a suggestion she made last month to find a compromise, such as a temporary variance for the “Legs,” was opposed by the village attorneys.

The village previously ordered the “Legs” to come down by January 20, but zoning board members hinted at the time of their previous denial that they would be willing to consider allowing the structure to remain if some modifications were made and a new variance was sought.

Ms. Lehr and Ms. Vered expressed displeasure at the announcement of the denial. “They’re chickens, just a bunch of chickens,” Ms. Vered muttered.

The pair have not yet made clear what they plan to do next, or whether they plan to sell the statue.

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So sick of RULES and the pathetic ilittle local napolleons that wield their power and take themselves waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to seriously and ignorantly and perhaps with an ax to grind, destroy a thing of beauty , a piece of art unique to nowhere else and beholds such intrinsic local color just to satisfy their pathetic ego that conjurs up BS issues just to" hands on hips" enforce the rules well you suck!!!!!!!!The void of that beautiful scultpure (NOT STRUCTURE)is a crying shame and ...more
By lursagirl (245), southampton on Apr 17, 12 11:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
Those legs are totally out of character with the historical sense of the village. Art they are, but in the wrong place they were. Perhaps the nouveaux Parrish will take them as a donation for their sculpture garden?
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Apr 18, 12 12:31 AM
2 members liked this comment
"Those legs are totally out of character with the historical sense of the village."

So are electricity and hot and cold running water - shall we forego all change? Please tell us to what date we should set our clocks back. Looks like we'll need to send a huge fleet of trucks to the Parrish. Or just maybe we allow the village to grow with the times.
By VOS (1241), WHB on Apr 18, 12 12:05 PM
1 member liked this comment
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Apr 18, 12 9:54 PM
I grew up in Sag Harbor and its been evolving into an artsy village for the past 80 or more years in addition to having a history of being a whaling village..Get out of the dark ages!!!!...The legs meld right into their location as if they have always been~Love the legs:(
By lursagirl (245), southampton on Apr 18, 12 1:35 AM
1 member liked this comment
I think the gallery has consistantly found great ways to get their publicity into the news side of the paper. Seemingly an intense controversy each year with a multi-week life. Fighting encroaching irrelevancy is tough for all of us. I wish them well.
By Speonk Shores (31), Remsenburg on Apr 18, 12 6:03 AM
I personally think the legs are hideous, but wish they could stay. They have become part of Madison Street. However, when you buy a house in the village, you know there are tight rules/regulations - so you shouldn't be surprised when the policies are enforced.
By MartyMcDougal (24), Sag Harbor on Apr 18, 12 9:28 AM
If it was a sculpture of the legs of Margaret Olivia Sage it could be moved to the library. Otherwise, it was time for them to take a walk. Bravo! Sag Harbor ZBA..
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 18, 12 10:27 AM
Why exactly were these controversial?
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Apr 18, 12 10:36 AM
1 member liked this comment
Glad that eyesore is going. So out of character for Sag Harbor. Why don't they just walk those legs over to Long House Reserve or Parrish? Maybe they will be more appreciated over there. I'm sure Vered is already on the phone with the NY Post looking for publicity on this "persecution" of the legs!!!
By SisBoomBonacker (106), Hamptons on Apr 18, 12 11:03 AM
1 member liked this comment
Larry Rivers by written and filmed accounts was a bit of a sexist bastard. He filmed his pre-pubescent daughter topless and also in the nude somewhat controversially and exploitively. His artwork, however, we are told, should stand aside from that. When the sculpture in question was standing astride his driveway in Southampton, presumably the location it was designed to inhabit, there was a large hedge in front of it and also a lot of overhanging trees to make it a more private piece of art by ...more
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Apr 18, 12 11:59 AM
Interesting backstory that I was not aware of. I can see how they might rub people the wrong way now. Still, you are right in that at times Sag does (or at least did) resemble the West Village more than it's historic namesake. But now, with the loss of Bay St. and Java Nation and now 'the legs' perhaps it is trying to return to its non-bohemian origin.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Apr 18, 12 12:09 PM
The bucolic charm of the East End has been dealt a massive blow by the "moneyed" crowd, that is for sure. Insane real estate costs, the young left to inherit/live in their parent's home, leave, or pay "Madison Ave." rent for their natural born days. Such a display is called "vanity", in more than one shape or form, that much is accurate.

I saw those legs every Friday on Little Plains while doing my village route for many years. Mr. Rivers was a long time customer of the family business. ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 18, 12 6:02 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By The Royal 'We' (199), Southampton on Apr 18, 12 12:16 PM
Oh Heaven help us...no Java Nation is the beginning of the absolute end for Sag Harbor to become anything worth visiting at all. As bad as when CVS threatened to take over the 7-11, liquor store, Chinese take-out strip. The Save Sag Harbor movement should have been expanded to save Java Nation and also Black Cat Books, as well as the Indonesian Boutique, altho' that lovely lady did retire. It is all about greed and Madison Avenue Manhattan soaring rents for those small shops...that service real ...more
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Apr 18, 12 1:25 PM
2 members liked this comment
All the members of the board were doing is enforcing existing guidelines. The owners failed to do this when they put them up. Allowing the legs to stand could very well have opened a Pandora's box for further applications.
By itsamazing (224), Southampton on Apr 18, 12 7:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
This is not about greed or the old guard running the show in the town.....It's about setting a precedent....I happen to love the legs...but if they're allowed to stay who's to say a big neon sign isn't art also....? I was more upset the the facade of the old metaphysical book store was destroyed...where was the uproar then???
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Apr 18, 12 9:00 PM
I also love the sculpture but understand and agree with the decision. These are laws, not just guidelines, and the fact that the 'structure' is art is totally irrelevant.
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Apr 18, 12 9:49 PM
The law is the law and should apply equally to everyone; I am tired of the elite who for what ever reason think they are exempt, time for the legs to take a walk.
By MickNY (43), East Hampton on Apr 19, 12 7:53 AM
2 members liked this comment
Excellent news!! Send them to LA or Las Vegas, where they belong! It's "art"? It was a decoration for Smithtown Mall for God's sake!!!!
By HarborBoy (7), Phoenix on Apr 19, 12 2:55 PM