UPDATED: Sag Harbor ZBA Stalls “Legs” Decision; Suggests Compromise
The “Legs” of Sag Harbor will not be walking anywhere. At least for the next month, that is.
On Tuesday night, the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals tabled Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr’s application for variances to allow Larry Rivers’ sculpture, “Legs,” to remain on the side of their Madison Street home. While all members of the board, save Michael Bromberg who has recused himself from the case, expressed reservations about the precedent they would set in allowing the sculpture, deemed a structure by the village building inspector, to remain on Lehr and Vered’s property line, chairwoman Gayle Pickering suggested a compromise might be reached in this matter after literal years of debate.
Pickering suggested that Sag Harbor Village attorney Denise Schoen could draft an approval that sets a clear timeline on how long the “Legs” may remain on the side of the residence, which is the former Bethel Baptist Church. She added other requirements could be that the “Legs” could not be lit at night as they have been and that Lehr and Vered could be prohibited from similar installations in the future as a condition of the zoning board’s approval.
At last month’s zoning board of appeals meeting, which Pickering was not present at, Lehr and Vered were supported by dozens of Sag Harbor and East End residents, the two people in the crowd opposed to the “Legs” notably being the women’s neighbors. In addition, Lehr and Vered came to the meeting with attorney Richard A. Hammer, who argued the two-year-old case based on its legal merits.
Hammer challenged the zoning board to consider Lehr and Vered’s right to Freedom of Expression, noting that similar methods of expression are not regulated by the village’s zoning code, such as flagpoles or birdbaths, for example. He added that if the “Legs” were to be considered a “structure,” the board could still state that it does not violate the basic principals in zoning — that is it does not benefit Lehr and Vered while proving a detriment to village residents at large.
Lehr and Vered have also collected over 100 letters of support, although Pickering noted on Tuesday night that many dealt with the “Legs” as art, when the building inspector and the zoning board is charged with reviewing them as a structure.
As a “structure” under the village code, Lehr and Vered need three variances. The “Legs” are located a foot from the property line where 35-feet is required, and are seated at 16.1-feet high where 15-feet is the maximum allowed. They sculpture also protrudes into the sky plane 16.7 cubic feet more than allowed under the code.
“Personally, I don’t see how I could approve it,” said board member Anton Hagen. “I have been on this board for a number of years and a variance of that magnitude is significant and would have an impact on the village in terms of the applicants we have looked at before and after this. We are not hostile to art, and to be accused of that is a red herring as far as I am concerned. It is not the issue, so I don’t want to hear that anymore.”
Hagen questioned whether or not Lehr and Vered, who own the Vered Art Gallery in East Hampton, have a commercial interest in keeping the “Legs”
“That the applicant is a professional in that field and that they have an interest in representing themselves is a substantial matter,” said Hagen.
“As it hits home, the idea that we would open this up as far as other applicants coming in, I would have an issue there,” said board member Brendan Skislock. “I would have an issue if I was the second applicant coming in and I could not do the same thing. It is not about art. I am just looking at this as a structure.”
“We are setting a precedent and it is not about the art, it is about the law,” said board member Benedetta Duebel. “We have the right to represent Sag Harbor Village in this thing and if we say yes, what is someone else wants to do it, but it doesn’t have to do with art. I know you don’t know this, but I have traveled the world to look at art, but in this case we are talking about a legal thing.”
Pickering said she aimed to find middle ground, suggesting a limited year basis could be imposed on the “Legs” being house on the side of the house.
“Some people like it, some people don’t and the neighbors hate it,” said Pickering. “I am trying to balance everyone’s interest. I don’t want to see this become a revolving art gallery, but on the other hand Sag Harbor is unique.”
“I don’t want to see a Frank Gehry garage parked a foot froom the property line and called art,” she added.
Hammer approached the podium and said that he has already laid out how this case, and this property, is unique in a number of ways that could make an approval one that would not set a precedent.
Outside of the fact that Larry Rivers was an artist who resided in Southampton and is a part of the East End’s artistic history, Hammer argued that the amount o support Lehr and Vered have received, which is filed with the zoning board as evidence, was indicative of the fact that there is a value to this structure remaining in the Village of Sag Harbor.
Hammer said he would not suggest a time frame for the “Legs” existence, as that would be under the purview of the zoning board to make a formal suggestion. However, he added that it was his belief that the “Legs” should not have a time frame associated with it. Hammer said using the balancing test the zoning board is required to use with each application he believed he had shown the “Legs” are a benefit to the community and should be able to remain for an unprescribed period of time.
“I think we have demonstrated the benefit of this structure,” said Hammer.
Hammer also took exception to the notion that Lehr and Vered commercially benefited from the “Legs,” noting that the zoning board does not review the financial benefit of residential applications.
“It just so happens my clients have an artistic background,” said Hammer, noting that as an avid fisherman he decorates his home with fishing artifacts, but it is not in any way meant to commercialize or sell his interest in fishing.
He added that he does not believe this should be reviewed under zoning as art because it is a form of freedom of expression, protected under the Constitution, but that the village building inspector has laid out this path for Lehr and Vered to keep the “Legs” and that is what they are trying to do.
As a “structure” under zoning, Hammer said the zoning board was ultimately tasked with weighing the overall good or detriment of an application and “make a community based decision.” He said removing the lighting was something his clients were amenable to if that was a condition of approval.
Neighbors Jennifer Houser and Charlie McCarron both opposed the “Legs” at last month’s meeting. Houser raised the issue of the lighting, but also of the responsibility the village must take in protecting its historic district.
In an impassioned plea to the zoning board on Tuesday night, Vered charged that McCarron uses his residence as a rental and hopes to sell it, but that ultimately both were just two people who didn’t like the “Legs” as opposed to the hundreds who have signed petitions and sent letters of support to the board.
“I think we have had a tremendous amount of support and I think it does count,” said Vered. “There is no such thing as one size fits all or we would not have a board like this.”
Pickering said once more she would like to see a compromise and asked attorney Schoen to write a draft resolution to that affect for the board’s review.
The matter was tabled until the board’s April 17 meeting, which will begin at 6:30 p.m.