An oversized pair of legs brought a standing-room crowd to the small Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals hearing room Tuesday night, with residents filling every seat, standing against the walls, and flowing out into the hallway.
Nearly 70 people wanted to talk about a request by Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr to legalize their controversial "Legs" statue, a 16-foot-tall casting of a pair of women's legs by local artist Larry Rivers. The legs appear to be walking along the side of the women's home.
While the formal application was a technical request for a variance to lot line regulations and height limits, the comments expanded to question the entire zoning code, the role of art in the village and even the nature of Sag Harbor itself.
Some residents asked the board to make its decision not just on a narrow code, but on what kind of community Sag Harbor really is, and really should be.
The village has no code provisions specific to outdoor art. Under the village code, the legs are considered an accessory structure, the same as a garage or a deck.
Vered and Lehr have been fighting for three years to keep the legs in place. In late December, a building inspector issued them a summons for violating the zoning code.
They applied for zoning code exemptions, which would allow the legs to stay up and was to be the subject of Tuesday's hearing.
But residents at the meeting instead talked about the benefits of public art displays and the nature of art in general.
"This is clearly art" and not a structure, Carol Newman said of the legs. "I don't drive to work and say, 'Wow, what a great garage.' "
Board member Anthony Hagen countered that if the legs were art "it shouldn't come before us. It should go before the ARB [Architectural Review Board]."
The zoning board made no decision and kept the hearing open in order to accept written comments for 10 days. It could make its decision as soon as next month.
"I knew Larry Rivers since 1983," Brian O'Leary said of the artist, who died in 2002. "It might have amused his kids to learn his work is banned on the streets of Sag Harbor."