Why is it anyone else’s business?

Why is it anyone else’s business?

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To the Editor:

When I was growing up, my dad built a 32-foot sailboat in our backyard. Neighbors complained that it was unsightly, and they tried to pull legal stuff to make our family get rid of it. Their plan didn’t work. The boat got finished. We spent summers sailing around Fire Island, Long Island, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. These were the best summers ever.

One summer, while we were sailing to Martha’s Vineyard and back, our neighbors got together and signed a petition to protest against my dad’s lawn, or what was left of it. When we returned, the mayor, who lived across the street, promptly walked over and presented us with the petition. Dad looked it over, tore up it, and casually tossed the pieces on the ground. Then he picked up his gear, walked into the house, and we followed suit. Coming home from sailing was a downer, and the greeting we received from our neighbors was less than friendly.

According to our neighbors, our family didn’t decorate our house properly or chemically eradicate dandelions and clover patches that grew in the yard. And they sure let us know it. Why was it their business? Why were they casting judgment upon us and the choices my dad made? Why did they try to force us to conform to their aesthetic values? We thought the other houses looked ludicrous with their fluorescent green lawns and flowers standing at attention.

Now that dad is 89-years-old, he can no longer take minimal care of his lawn and has hired a service to do that for him. Would he like chemicals on the lawn? No. Would he like it mowed incessantly? No. Would he like to install an irrigation system? No. I just hope the neighbors don’t mind that my sailboat is being stored in his backyard.

Now, some of the townsfolk on Martha’s Vineyard are gathering. They targeted the Hall family. The angry mob is getting ready to light their torches, drive the Hall family out of town, and take over their property, like a good old-fashioned witch hunt. How wonderfully New England.

I am not defending the Hall family, I don’t even know them. But, you don’t tell people what to do with their time, money, and property. You don’t criticize your neighbors because their choices are not the same ones that you would have made. The exposé on the Hall family was made by nosy people who are intolerant of others. If every Hall property is not impeccably maintained and is not set up to benefit the tourist industry, then so what? It’s their property.

What is considered aesthetically pleasing varies from person to person. The Edgartown historical district, for example, is fun to gawk at and is reminiscent of the days when the Christian conservative class got rich off the whale oil industry. This makes the neighborhood look historical, and it may be interesting, but it does not necessarily make it aesthetically pleasing.

The Hall family is not hurting the Island. While most tourist industries on the Vineyard produce a lot of trash and raw sewage, the quiet Hall properties are not leaving a big footprint at this time. I like the casual look of their buildings and the lack of activity in them. People love coming to the Vineyard because it’s low-key and relaxing. Not every building has to have a Martha Stewart makeover, and not every real estate owner has to pander to the tourist industry.

Karen Columbo



  1. There’s a big difference between keeping a sailboat in the back yard of a house in what I am assuming is a residential neighborhood and allowing very focal points in a downtown commercial area to go to waste. If someone drives through a residential area and see the mess they may only think “I wouldn’t want to live here” however, Tourists coming into the downtown shopping area of a resort community and seeing a lot of run down unsightly unkept buildings are going to think” This place is a mess. I won’t be coming back” So while the Halls properties may be privately owned, the decline of them effects the public in a very negative way.

    1. I agree completely. It is hurting the Island in their situation, when these places could and should be bringing in revenue instead of rotting away from the inside out.

      1. Don’t tell people what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their property. The culprit here is not the Hall family. For whatever reason, the Hall family is not joining the crazy-summer-money-cash-in game at this time. I am glad there will be less congestion in downtown areas, although I do support most businesses downtown and across the Island. That the downtown Hall properties have been left to rest at this time does not take revenue away from anyone. signed, Karen Colombo

        1. Karen, I agree to a point, but neighbors do have a responsibility to each other…and people that live in a community do have a responsibility as well.
          Should I be allowed to have a dump on my property that hurts the property values of my neighbors? Should I be allowed to keep my property in a manner that leads to unsafe conditions, rodents, mosquitoes?
          What if I decide to start a lumberyard in my backyard. Should my neighbors be stuck with the sounds of power saws and banging all day?
          Hey, it’s my property…I hope you don’t mind if I change my car’s oil and dump it into the ground?
          As for the commercial properties. Yes, vacant businesses in prominent locations do hurt their neighbors. Someone wanting to go for dinner and a movie isn’t going to go to Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs are they? Should being open be a requirement? No, but keeping a property in good shape, and safe should be the law.

          1. Zoning laws and bylaws keep neighborhoods in check and keep a lid on certain activities. Most people get along with their neighbors and support their neighborhood.
            To answer your question, yes, people will come to VH for a movie. The new MV Film Center in VH draws people from all over the Island. And, I look forward to trying out the new bowling alley in Oak Bluffs. Many people continue to go to the downtown areas even though businesses change.On the other hand, businesses in non-downtown areas are on the rise as many visitors and locals prefer less tourism and less congestion.
            I was taken aback at the front page expose on the Hall family in the Times. It seemed mean-spirited. A follow-up letter to the editor further criticized the Hall family and asked the public to look at the Hall private home and compare it to their downtown properties. This was an overreach and was intended to further incited the public against the Hall family. I wrote my letter “why is it anyone else’s business?” to try to slow down the mob mentality and get Townsfolk to be act less puritanical against their neighbors.
            Islanders should be on the same side and be wary of off-Island corporate interests, such as the proposed Stop n Shop development in VH. Will their new building beautify or will it be too invasive? will it make VH look generic like every other town on Cape Cod? Now that’s concerning.

          2. Those laws and bylaws are based on the need for people to care for their property because what they do does effect others. Unfortunately, there are way too many people here who don’t care about their neighbors. Take a walk or ride down many roads and you’ll find many places where people have just dumped trash, cars, boats, gutted deer, etc.

            As for commercial property there is only so many spots in town and if someone owns a major building in an area and doesn’t keep it up it effects the town and all of the neighboring businesses.

            I do agree that singling out one owner isn’t the right thing. If the people in a community want properties kept to a certain level they should pass laws and enforce them equally.

            You’re right Islanders should be “on the same side”. They should look out for one another…but I don’t think it’s just off-island interests that are the problem. Just look at the town meeting and voting turnouts from last week (under 10%). People here need to treat each other better and that includes newer full-time residents and those that come from different countries to live here.

            As for the Stop & Shop. It’s strange to me that you would defend the owner of the theaters and state that they can do what they want with their property, but Stop & Shop isn’t afforded the same rights? Oh, and there’s nothing unique about that area of Vineyard Haven…it’s a dilapidated mess and an example of what happens when people don’t care. What do you think it will look like in 10 years if nothing is done?

          3. You nailed it,.. If there is one valid “should” in this here discussion, it’s that more locals should show up and vote!

    2. the only thing that hurt my Dad’s old neighborhood was the big business and over-development that went on around it. the only thing that will hurt Island business is big business and over-development, I maintain that the Hall properties are not hurting the Island. signed, Karen Colombo

      1. Large commercial structures that are allowed to fall into severe disrepair are not only a visual blight, but are also in danger of rotting apart and injuring passers-by. The rotting trim boards, the flapping tarp on the roof of the theater held down by wood strapping will ultimately blow off. I wouldn’t want to be struck by board full of nails. Rotting wood is a field day for termites and carpenter ants that can infest other neighboring properties. At some point the roof is going to cave in from snow load and the whole structure can come crumbling down onto the next door property, or worse, on people on the sidewalk. The Halls need to be responsible neighbors and fix their properties.

        1. In Oak Bluffs, you have a much greater chance of being struck by a drunk driver than by a piece of strapping.

  2. Karen, I agree with the spirit of your letter. Thank you for pointing out that what appeals to one person is found to be quite unattractive to another, in this case for aesthetic and monetary purposes (tourism.) I think “character,” someone else thinks “eyesore.” I’d say Mr. Hall has some character, too!

  3. Following this logic the Halls should be allowed to buy all of Circuit Ave and just let it rot, because then it’s their property, right? Others have a stake. They have had a lot of time to deal with this. Zoning laws on commercial properties are an excellent thing, and to an extent, so is eminent domain. The comparison of the Halls to an old man who can’t mow his lawn is a really poor one.