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Long IslandTowns

Old Westbury planning board considers statue application

Real estate mogul Aby Rosen is seeking permits

Real estate mogul Aby Rosen is seeking permits for three large statues on his historic Old Westbury estate. The statues include a 33-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a nude pregnant woman and her fetus and one of the cartoon character Hello Kitty. Photo Credit: Newsday Staff

Representatives for Manhattan real estate mogul Aby Rosen testified last night before the Old Westbury Village planning board in an effort to gain approval for the display of a 33-foot-tall graphic statue and two other large sculptures on his historic Old Westbury estate.

Experts brought by Rosen were on hand to link the plan with the "avant-garde" history of the estate. They also promised to screen much of it from the view of neighbors.

Neighbors had complained to village officials last month after artist Damien Hirst's "The Virgin Mother" was installed on a conservation easement at the A. Conger Goodyear House, a 5.5-acre estate built in 1938 and listed in 2003 on the National Register of Historic Places.

Village officials said the statue needed approval from the planning board and architectural review board. Officials also noted that the statue, which depicts a nude pregnant woman with half of her fetus exposed, should not have been placed on the easement, which is subject to rules that prohibit structures.

After listening to comments from Rosen's attorney and members of the public, the planning board held off on approving the application Monday night until Old Westbury officials can tour the site.

The issue had previously led village Mayor Fred Carillo to introduce legislation limiting accessory structures, including statues, to 25 feet in height. The measure, to be heard June 16 by the board of trustees, would align accessory structures with the height limit for accessory buildings such as cabanas or sheds.

Rosen's application last night sought approval for "The Virgin Mother" as well as "Wind-Up Hello Kitty," described as a 2008 sculpture from Tom Sachs, and "Untitled: Figure Balancing on Dog," a 1986 Keith Haring sculpture.

Peter MacKinnon, Rosen's land use attorney, said in the planning board application that "the works of art are of a caliber and quality that truly compliment the historic site and its original owner."

At the meeting Monday night, supporters of Rosen's efforts attempted to show the board that the submitted application is in line with the avant-garde history of the estate.

"The Virgin Mother" is "very much an update of what we usually refer to as pop art," said Karl Willers, director of the Nassau County Museum of Art, who spoke to the planning board at Rosen's request.

"It's a very fitting place for such sculptures to be presented," Willers said. The home was "avant-garde when it was built."

Each sculpture will comply with setback requirements and a landscaping plan would screen the statues from neighboring properties, MacKinnon wrote.

Roslyn Heights resident Nancy Solomon, of Long Island Traditions, said, "I do hope the village doesn't embark on a denial of a most ambitious private arts plan that will greatly enhance the stature of the village and the country."

Neighbor Brooke Deutsch, who lives near Rosen's property, said "I don't necessarily oppose art, I oppose something if it's not screened in a proper way."

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