By Christine Sampson
Sag Harbor Village has made good on what some of its officials said last week was their renewed interest in enforcing the New York State Supreme Court decision that said the “Legs” sculpture attached to a house at the corner of Henry and Madison Streets was indeed a structure subject to village building codes.
Sag Harbor building inspector Tom Preiato this week issued six citations to Ruth Vered, who along with Janet Lehr owns “Legs,” a 16-foot-tall fiberglass form of shapely female legs by the late artist Larry Rivers that have stood astride their residence since 2008.
A lengthy legal battle over the status of “Legs” as either artwork protected by the First Amendment or as a structure subject to village building codes ensued beginning in June 2012, when the two women filed an Article 78 lawsuit claiming their right to free speech was being subjugated. That suit followed years of debate before the Sag Harbor Village boards, including trustees who declined to define the piece as art, and the zoning board of appeals, which denied a variance request to allow the sculpture to remain mere feet from the property line.
The issue drew national attention, packing board rooms with supporters calling on village officials to give the piece exception as the work of a famous artist who called Southampton home for many years, and with some residents opposed to the installation, which for some time was lit nightly.
A state Supreme Court justice decided the case in the village’s favor in November 2015, but the village took no formal action enforcing the ruling until this week. A recent ZBA decision that a too-tall flagpole at a local gas station must come down reawakened interest in the “Legs” case among some village officials, who said the two cases shared similarities.
Mr. Preiato wrote the six “Legs” tickets on Tuesday, just one business day after Sag Harbor Village responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The Sag Harbor Express that showed the village spent $12,377 on legal fees incurred by the village related to the case over the span of more than four years. Invoices referenced in the FOIA documentation date between March 20, 2012, and October 26, 2016.
The building inspector cited “Legs” for lacking a building permit for an accessory structure; for lacking a certificate of compliance; for having an accessory structure in a front yard; and for violating the pyramid law and rules governing the setback and height of accessory structures.
“I rightfully must ticket all the zoning violations associated with the ‘Legs,’” Mr. Preiato said in an email to the Express.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Ms. Lehr said she had not yet received anything from the village.
“The ‘Legs’ don’t move. They don’t do anything,” she said. “I don’t know anything about it.”
A Timeline of Larry Rivers’s “Legs” in Sag Harbor
2008: Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr erect Legs at their house, at the corner of Madison Street and Henry Street. Village officials note that a building permit application should have been filed, but the issue is not pursued.
2010: Ms. Vered and Ms. Lehr apply for a permit to repaint their house and replace windows, the former Bethel Baptist Church in the historic district, and a member of the village’s Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board takes notice. The permit is denied and the owners turn to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance.
May 2011: The ZBA issues its first denial for a variance for Legs “without prejudice,” which left the matter open for its owners to reapply for a variance.
December 23, 2011: Tim Platt, former village building inspector, advises Ms. Vered and Ms. Lehr they have 30 days to remove Legs or be cited by the village for the illegal structure.
January 23, 2012: The 30-day deadline for the removal of Legs passes; the installation remains in place.
February 21, 2012: The owners reapply to the ZBA for a variance to keep Legs in place, presenting to the board 62 supportive letters and a petition with more than 400 names in favor of the Legs.
April 17, 2012: ZBA rejects the variance, again, and rules Legs must come down by September 15, 2012.
June 5, 2012: The ZBA’s decision is appealed via Article 78 proceeding, with Ms. Vered and Ms. Lehr claiming their freedom of expression was being subjugated. The case makes its way through the court system.
November 4, 2015: NYS Supreme Court Justice James Hudson rules in favor of Sag Harbor, deeming Legs a structure rather than a sculpture and stating the village’s building codes apply to it.
December 2015: The documentary “Legs: A Big Issue in a Small Town,” by local filmmakers Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke, is screened privately for a local audience of family, friends and people who appeared in the film.