Edgartown residents filled the selectmen’s meeting room at town hall Wednesday to offer strong support for the town’s planned purchase or eminent domain taking of the the Yellow House. Voters will decide the matter during the April 11 town meeting.
Residents at the forum, the first of two to describe the plan and gauge support, clearly favored the town plan and just as clearly disapproved of the way the property owners, the Benjamin Hall family, have kept the property and failed to restore or take care of it. Commonly called the Yellow House, it is located at the corner of Main Street and South Summer Street, adjacent to town hall.
“I’m exasperated with the Halls, and have been for a long time,” said Carol Fligor, a member of Edgartown’s beautification committee. “I’m for taking it through eminent domain.”
Edgartown resident Barbara Phillips had a question for Ben Hall Jr., a lawyer who was at the meeting representing his family.
“I just would like to know why this has to be such a horrible journey,” Ms. Phillips said. “Why can’t you simply sell it to the town?”
Mr. Hall said the town has a history of not being “the best steward of its property.” By the acquisition, he said, the town was “displacing the parking spaces of 13 business owners” in town, and he questioned what would become of the small accessory building that currently houses a tenant.
Town resident Sean Murphy’s displeasure with the situation was evident in the timbre of his voice.
“I find it personally offensive for Mr. Hall to give the town a lecture on finances,” Mr. Murphy said. “It’s a dump … you don’t put any money into it; nothing’s happened in 17 years.”
Selectman Michael Donaroma is a member of the committee that is considering the future of the property, along with Chris Scott, former head of the Preservation Trust, and Edgartown innkeeper Gary Conover. Mr. Donaroma began the meeting with a brief history of the town’s attempts to resolve the long-running dispute about the dilapidated property.
“This isn’t just something we dreamed up,” Mr. Donaroma told those in attendance. “We’ve been in a legal battle since 2003 … the Halls keep walking away from any kind of help we try to offer.”
Town counsel Ron Rappaport explained the process of eminent domain and also the legal history of town entanglements with the Hall family.
“The town can act on taking the property as soon as the next day,” Mr. Rappaport said, when a resident asked how long the process to take over the property would take. But he hesitated to hazard a guess as to how long the matter could be prolonged in the courts. He said voters approving the articles would give the selectmen the power to take the property by eminent domain, paying fair market value. Then the owner would have three years to file an appeal. The town would then be obligated to pay what a jury deems appropriate.
The next public discussion of the Yellow House acquisition is scheduled for 4:30 pm on Monday, April 3.
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck praised the committee working on the matter for the town. “When you have people of that caliber working on this, I think we’re on the road to success. That being said, it’s up to the town. This is the town’s warrant, and they’re responsible to direct all of us on the path that they want,” he said.