Constitutional Issues

Village of Sag Harbor Taking Zoning Dispute Over Pair of Giant Legs In Stride

Larry Rivers, the late Godfather of pop art, lived for a number of years in the Hotel Chelsea. You know who else lived there? Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Arthur C. Clarke, and Dylan Thomas. Mr. Rivers was either really famous or really cool. Or both.

One of Mr. Rivers’ sculptures, a supersized pair of walking legs seen at the image across the way, is causing a problem in the fancier-than-thou Town of Sag Harbor, New York. Sag Harbor is a 2,300 or so person village located on the East End of Long Island, with parts of the Village sitting in the Town of East Hampton (Andy Warhol!) and parts in the Town of Southampton (Shinnecock Hills Golf Club!).

For the first time in history, a pair of legs may be too long. At 16 feet 1 inch tall, the legs are more than one foot over the 15-foot limit applicable to such structures pursuant to the Village’s zoning code. The sculpture is also too close to the property line. As can be predicted in a community of this artistic history, the chairman of the Village’s Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board thinks Sag Harbor should take a forgiving view when applying zoning laws to artistic expression: “From where I sit, it is not and shouldn’t be reviewed as a shed or a structure because it is a work of art.” The owner of the legs agrees with her own constitutional freedom of expression: “I am not open to someone telling me how I should display my art.”

But dialogue and disagreement is what makes this country so great. To wit, the Village’s Mayor and its Attorney believe the law is the law, and it should be applied accordingly. According to the Village Attorney: “While some may consider this to be ‘art,’ [that opinion] is irrelevant….”

The Village continues to ponder the legs, the fate of which sits in the hands of the Zoning Board. Ok, at the feet of the Zoning Board. I’m not walking away from this story until I know the outcome.

You can read the Wall Street Journal’s article on the tail, er, tale, here.

Mike Thelen is a lawyer in Womble Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients in land use and land development issues, from local governments to businesses, in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

Categories: Constitutional Issues

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