Edgartown CPC will rescind yellow house vote

Edgartown CPC will rescind yellow house vote

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Appraised at just over $2 million, the yellow house on the corner of Summer street and Main street in Edgartown has been at the center of an ongoing debate between the Hall family and the town since 2003. — File Photo by Michelle Gross

In a tangled series of events beginning Monday afternoon, the Edgartown Community Preservation Committee (CPC) met and voted to allocate $1.4 million toward the acquisition of the Hall family’s long vacant “yellow house” property at 66 Summer Street in Edgartown, the focus of a long-simmering legal dispute.

On Tuesday, the committee was making plans to undo its action.

Asked about the vote Tuesday morning, CPC chairman and Edgartown selectman Margaret Serpa said the town has been discussing the possibility of purchasing the property for some time, possibly by eminent domain.

Ms. Serpa said the CPC planned to hold a public hearing on March 13 to discuss the vote in anticipation of placing an article on the annual town meeting warrant.

“It was an interesting meeting,” Ms. Serpa told The Times early Tuesday. “We’ve been talking about it on and off. All we hear from townspeople is ‘when are we going to do something with the yellow house,’ so we just thought we would discuss it.”

Later that afternoon, the CPC reversed course. Ms. Serpa said there would not be enough time to hold the public hearing and meet the deadline for placing an article on the warrant for the annual meeting on April 8.

Ms. Serpa said a decision had been made to rescind the vote when the CPC committee next meets.

The home, built in 1850, has housed several businesses recently.
The home, built in 1850, has housed several businesses recently.

Asked why the decision to rescind the vote was made after the CPC had already voted, Ms. Serpa said there was a lack of consensus among CPC members after all.

“I don’t want to speak for the other members of the committee, but there was a lot of discussion back and forth,” Ms. Serpa said. “We are going to discuss at Monday’s selectmen meeting what the best step will be moving forward.”

The property in question, owned by a Hall family trust under the name Seagate Inc., is familiarly known as the yellow house, and it sits on a prime piece of real estate.

At Monday’s CPC meeting, Ms. Serpa said much of the conversation was centered around what the best use for the property would be. “There was some mixed discussion at the meeting, but the big thing was trying to figure out what would we do with it, which isn’t clear at this point,” Ms. Serpa said. “A portion of the space could be used as a park, or part of it could be used for parking. What we want is for it to be something better than what it is now.”

The community preservation act (CPA) permits towns to collect up to a 3 percent surcharge on real estate taxes to be used to fund projects in four areas: to preserve open space, historic preservation, affordable housing, and develop and maintain outdoor recreational facilities. The state provides funds from fees collected on real estate transaction fees to match the town’s money. Edgartown will receive matching funds totaling 67 percent for the 2014 fiscal year.

Ms. Serpa said she hoped the town and the Halls could work together moving forward.

“We’d like to work with them to get something done that everyone is happy with,” Ms. Serpa said. “If it’s possible I don’t know, but that would be the ultimate.”

Plans to rebuild

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Benjamin “Buzzy” Hall said he was surprised to learn about the CPC meeting on Monday.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” Mr. Hall told The Times. “It’s as if they want it to be like a stroke of lightning. They certainly move quickly. But we continue to be pilloried by the town because we haven’t spoken out. Maybe now it’s time.”

Mr. Hall said his son, Benjamin Hall, has been working with Edgartown architect Patrick Ahearn on plans to rebuild the yellow house on its existing location. “It’s in the same location, only four feet closer to the sidewalk,” Mr. Hall said. “The roof has been modified. It’s nothing extraordinary, a nice looking colonial-style building.”

Mr. Hall said the town was made aware of plans to rebuild prior to Monday’s CPC meeting. “We have told them about the plans,” he said. “There’s been a slow up in the way we want to fashion things. We want to make sure it’s done the right way to make it viable for prospective tenants’ use.”

Costly option

Eminent domain is a legal process that allows selectmen, subject to a town meeting vote, to take land from private landowners for public benefit, after paying them fairly for the property. An unhappy owner can bring a lawsuit to contest the price. If the value of the land ends up being higher than what was paid, then the town must pay the difference.

According to online assessors’ records, the yellow house, which was built in 1850, is currently appraised at $2,037,700.

The property, which town officials would like to see improved, and an overgrown linden tree on the property’s Main Street frontage that the family would like to cut, have been at the heart of an ongoing tussle between town officials and Benjamin Hall and the Hall family since 2003.

In an April 2003 public hearing, Edgartown selectmen voted to deny a request by the Halls to remove the tree, despite the owners’ complaints that the tree was impeding their plans to renovate the existing structure and rebuild.

The Halls appealed to Superior Court to have the selectmen’s decision overturned, arguing that the property’s value was being negatively affected by the town’s decision to prohibit removal of the tree. Superior Court ruled in the town’s favor.

According to the town’s assessors records, the property was purchased on March 31, 1946, by Alfred Hall and sold to Seagate Inc., an Edgartown real estate agency owned by grandson Benjamin Hall, in May 1986.

Over the years, the house has been home to several businesses, including the long gone Bickerton and Ripley bookstore, an art gallery, and a jewelry store.


  1. All three down island towns experience blight due to one family. Such a disgrace. If the commission is looking an item of regional impact then they should look at the motive of operation used by this landlord!

    1. Not defending the Halls, but once again this group of selectmen has proven to be incredibly incompetent.

  2. So, interesting that suddenly there are plans to rebuild. Is this building in the historical district? If the town buys it parking is a bad idea for the spot. A building that looks like the same yellow house should remain used for…I don’t know maybe a visitors center and restrooms that people can actually find?

  3. When have the Halls ever rebuilt anything? The building has sat vacant for years with a huge hole in the roof (where the chimney used to be) open to the weather.

  4. Wait, so the town sues the Halls over moving a tree so they could renovate the building, leaving the property in legal limbo for years, then the town tries to use eminent domain to take their property because they haven’t maintained it? WOW!

    If this wasn’t the same group that lost millions on the Captain Warren House debacle they may have a shred of credibility. This group of selectmen may not be as corrupt as others on the island but their incompetence is so astounding that one can confuse if for corruption!

    1. You are so right and this move would of wasted millions more in tax dollars. The Hall’s would of fought this in court for years. Also I am not interested in taken this off the tax rolls. We need all the revenue we can get with the way this town losses money.

  5. I must say that as a recent “wash ashore” I hesitate to provide my tupence.

    An inquisitive creature by nature, shortly after washing ashore and just briefly after arranging my personal belongings I began to ask questions. Will I ever learn?

    I learned that if you meet a poor old chap in cheap lodgings or see a building with the roof around the pavement, the Halls collect rent there. Or they let it rot.

    I have solved the riddle of the stolen wooden shark on these pages. I still await my gift certificate, but understand if it passes through the edgartown post office it likely ended in another box. And not to toot my own trumpet but I do feel I aided the authorities in the accidental right turn that was coverup for shellfishing in the dark without a license. Back to the matter at hand.

    Dear me, it is most unfair to attack the selectmen in this case. One doesn’t fight a Rhino with a sharp stick, as I learned all too well when I lost my fourth husband on safari.

    The Hall’s hide behind trusts and lawyers. In two shakes of a gimlet I found out most of our precious young adults and recent émigrés were living in a shack provided by the Hall’s. As thoughtful adults, let us forget the open roofed yellow houses, the theaters left empty and rotting in the salt air. The impediments to trade and commerce.

    We shall consider first our citizens with no voice. They pay rent. They do not get repairs.

    I suspect old pops Hall would roll over in his grave if he knew what the Goldman Sachs inspired wranglers of legal matters were doing in his name. Or perhaps it began with him.

    It will take a lot more than a few Richie riches annoyed by a yellow house to fix this. Pro bono legal work could help along with a grassroots community organization. And laws in all towns that say you cannot let a property rot.

    I have half a mind to head right on back to dear old England. Where these things are expected.


    1. Wow you hit on alot of issues. England is second to The US in debt. The government cannot solve all your problems. Petro is 10 bucks a gallon and Im sure you wont get coffee for .99 like we do at Cumberlands. Our country needs to reverse its course of dependence or we will end up like your country.

      1. Oh, I do so hope that I did not touch a nerve here! Let us find common ground at once. I see from your name you enjoy sports! I admire the Red Sox! They play a fine innings of cricket, very much like the Yankees. Good chaps, all of them.

        Petrol is darned near two quid per gallon already out here, and the coffee at Cumberland (remind me to tell you a brief tale about my great aunt in Cumberland and her slow nephew who mistook a sheep…well, another time) is a very poor replacement for tea, taxes or not.

        I am most happy we agree on the core principal here. Our Island, and my adopted country, can most definitely benefit from greater governance. It will help us to reduce our debt (second is better than first in that race let me tell you) and perhaps one day have a royal family.

        1. Well the Red Sox will be our common ground, the rest I dont think we can meet on. More governance doesnt reduce debt. It creates it. 4 bucks a gallon is alot cheaper than 10. I could never afford to live in Europe its too expensive. Alot of the issues you wrote on can only be solved by throwing money at them and I can only think of one source. The taxpayer.

  6. Hall claims “he’s planning on rebuilding”, thanks Halls, I needed a good belly laugh today. Isn’t this the same family that let a slice of pizza remain stuck to the ceiling in the VH theater for a decade?

  7. The Selectmen never voted to buy the Warren House, that was brought in by a petition signed by voters. the night of the special town meeting some selectmen spoke against it, but it was voted. The Selectmen could not sell the Warren House until they were given the go-ahead because it was tied up in the grant application to the state for the new library. As soon as they could they started to market it.

  8. The Halls plan on rebuilding? I’m assuming they’ll start right after they finish the work on the Strand. As you can see,they are way ahead of schedule on that one….

  9. While this issue seems to be taking it’s toll on many, I find this far more entertaining and relieving than all the crap, lies and frustration coming out of DC.

  10. what happened to the concept of private property ?
    I see some comments by people here that I know hate “big government ”
    yet they want the government to clean this up..
    They want the epa shut down so they can dump used motor oil into the ponds, but oh, no— a yellow house that needs a paint job !!! Send in the paint police…!

    1. The property is in the very center of town. I would hardly call the Town of Edgartown any kind of big government and oh, if only all it needed was a paint job. It’s just not okay to leave it the way they have for the length of time that they have. Because you aren’t allowed to cut down a tree doesnt give you any excuse to stop maintains your property. If only this were the only piece of property owned by these folks that was in this kind of shape.

      1. I just think there are more important things for the town spend time and money on. The town is spending money to keep the owners of the property from cutting a tree,(I am a real tree hugger btw) and they want the owners to do renovations to their specifications… This isn’t about safe building codes.. This is purely esthetic and if that isn’t intrusive I don’t know what is. And intrusive government is big government.

    2. dondondon, where can you take used motor oil on this island without waiting for hazmat day? You usually have to stay in line for hour or so on that day. I usually take mine off island. You might want to make it easier to get rid of or it might end up in the ponds. Use some of that cpa money for something more useful than flowers.

      1. I live in v.h.
        they have a tank that you can put it in at the public works building..
        pretty convenient really— not as convenient as it was when I lived in New Jersey, and the common practice was to just find a sandy spot and drain it on the ground. I think towns should all spend money to make it easy to collect this stuff. To be real, there are just a few things that really require the hazmat suits and all that on hazmat day.. each town transfer station could certainly have a spot for paint, at the very least, and it should be free to take it.. Same with fluorescent light tubes, batteries and household cleaners..
        if you make it difficult, people will just toss it.. I walk along the power lines sometimes, and occasionally find gallon milk jugs filled with oil. I pick it up, I appreciate that the town has a spot for to conveniently take it to at no cost.