Charles Hajjar, a Boston-based realtor operating under the name Haven Road Realty Trust, proposes to construct 10 market rate apartments in the existing second floor attic space of the Four Flags Condominium complex, also referred to as Post Office Square, at the Triangle, where traffic from Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven merge to enter downtown Edgartown.
The project is now before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI). Although the Edgartown planning board forwarded the project to the MVC, based on the criteria in the DRI checklist, board members said the town is more than capable of reviewing the project and asked the Island’s regional planning and permitting body not to labor over the details.
Mr. Hajjar proposes to construct one three-bedroom apartment, eight two-bedroom apartments, and one one-bedroom apartment, for a total of 20 bedrooms. The plan also includes a reconfigured parking lot that will add 16 parking spots, plus the addition of an external set of stairs. The business complex, classified as a BII business district on Upper Main Street, abuts the residential Dark Woods neighborhood and the Edgartown Park & Ride lot.
The apartments are intended to be year-round rentals, said Sean Murphy, an Edgartown lawyer who represents Mr. Hajjar.
“This project is to create affordable, year-round rentals,” Mr. Murphy said. “The market, we believe, is for the year-round work force needing housing, early retirees, or someone who may want to sell their house and downsize.”
Mr. Murphy said the apartments will sell furnished.
“If you read the Island plan, if you read the housing assessment plan, these apartments are exactly where they’re supposed to be,” Mr. Murphy said. “One of the reasons this site was chosen for year-round apartments is because it’s located directly on the bus line. It’s very accessible. They anticipate people who can walk to the post office, walk to the bank, the supermarket is across the street, so you don’t have to drive anywhere.”
Edgartown can do it
Under the DRI checklist, the planning board was required to forward the project to the MVC based on the creation of “10 or more dwellings,” and its previous designation as a DRI.
In a letter to the MVC dated June 24, 2013, Edgartown planning board chairman Robert Sparks said that the planning board voted to refer the project per the checklist with a strong recommendation of support.
Mr. Sparks, citing a traffic study completed for another project in 2011, asked the MVC to waive the requirement of a traffic study and attach any conditions for approval in the form recommendations to the planning board.
“The planning board believes the project can be thoroughly reviewed under the Edgartown bylaw for BII Upper Main Street Business District. The project shall also be reviewed by the wastewater department, police and fire departments, as well as the highway department. All these boards are very capable of recommending conditions necessary to preserve and protect their respective jurisdictions.”
In a followup email to The Times Wednesday, in response to a question that asked if the planning board believes that the Edgartown lofts project necessitates MVC review, planning board member Georgiana Greenough said, “Yes, the board feels the project should be reviewed by the MVC, but [it] hoped the commission would not labor over details that the local boards can handle, given the town adopted in 1989 a detailed Upper Main Street Masterplan, which was used to develop the B-II Upper Main Street Business District zoning bylaw.”
In years past, Edgartown officials have been unsparing in their criticism of the MVC and the agency’s proposed revisions to its development of regional impact (DRI) checklist.
The right tenants
At a meeting of the MVC’s land use planning committee (LUPC) on March 17, project architect Charlie Orlando presented commissioners with draft elevations for the project. The height of the structure will remain the same, and the apartments will be separated by “dormers” or wall separators, Mr. Orlando said. The proposal also includes planting ten 14-foot trees to mask two new exterior sets of stairs.
LUPC chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury noted that the applicant is an experienced off-Island developer. She asked how Mr. Hajjar will prevent renting the units to wealthy seasonal tenants who will use the space seasonally as opposed to year-round.
Commissioner Joan Malkin of Chilmark said she wanted to hear more about the screening process Mr. Hajjar plans to use to find prospective tenants.
LUPC agreed the project is ready to go public hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday, April 3.
There are a total of 16 units in the Post Office Square complex. Edgartown Meat & Fish and Granite Hardware own two of the buildings. On December 31, Four Flags LLC sold 236 and 238 Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road to Charles Hajjar and Paul R. Mahoney, a trustee of Haven Road Realty Trust, for $3 million.
Under its enabling legislation, the MVC has wide authority to regulate developments of regional impact, by imposing conditions that cover density, traffic impact, environmental impact, and other factors above and beyond those that may be imposed at the local level.
Depending on the level of review and conditions imposed, the MVC process can be time-consuming and expensive. Once the MVC approves a development proposal, the project returns to local town boards for further review before a development permit is issued.
Signaling a possible thaw in the long-running battle that has clouded the effort to build a new Edgartown Free Public Library, Chris Scott, vice chairman of the library building committee, told The Times late Tuesday that the Edgartown Library Foundation (ELF) had given $110,000 in support of the library construction project.
The foundation’s decision to release part of the $452,365 it raised for the library project, then withheld following a sharp disagreement with town and library building project leaders, came one day after the town officially kicked off the project Monday. The donation took town leaders by surprise.
Reached by telephone late Tuesday afternoon, Margaret Serpa, chairman of the Edgartown selectmen, said she had no knowledge of the release of funds.
“It’s news to me,” she said.
Ms. Serpa said she needed to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the donation before she could comment further.
Mr. Scott said he did not know what precipitated the donation, but he suggested the foundation may have been waiting until the construction began, if only ceremoniously.
“But the question now is, where’s the rest of it?” he said. “I really do not know what’s going on.”
Deanna Ahearn-Laird, co-chairman of the Edgartown Library trustees, was less surprised. In a telephone conversation late Tuesday, Ms. Ahearn-Laird said there have been ongoing discussions with members of the foundation board that lately had helped to ease tensions.
“We met on a friendly basis,” Ms. Ahearn-Laird said. “We only discussed this one check. We never discussed the remaining funds. But now we can get some of the (ELF) promises fulfilled.”
Ms. Ahearn-Laird said the money was given with the express wish that it be used specifically for construction expenses. She said it will go toward “add-on’s” to the library, including wood floors and acoustic tiles.
“This money has been sitting around since 2006,” Ms. Ahearn-Laird said. “We finally got a check, and we’re very grateful to accept it.”
Ms. Ahearn-Laird said an emergency meeting has been called for today, March 27, at 3 pm at the Edgartown Library to officially accept the funds.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with ELF,” Ms. Ahearn-Laird said. “They have approximately $360,000 that they’re still holding on to. We will continue to wait and see.”
Reached by email, foundation treasurer Susan Cahoon referred all questions to ELF president, co-chairman, and Edgartown lawyer Ellen Kaplan.
Ms. Kaplan, whom, Ms. Ahearn-Laird said, distributed the check, did not respond to repeated telephone messages left at her office or email.
Reached by phone Wednesday, ELF recording secretary Ann Tyra said Ms. Kaplan is the only person on the board authorized to comment on behalf of the foundation.
Speaking for herself and not as a member of the Edgartown Library Foundation, Ms. Tyra said the groundbreaking Monday has been a long time coming.
“I was thrilled that they are finally making progress at the building site,” Ms. Tyra said. “I can’t believe the reality of it, it’s really wonderful. It’s been a long time that I’ve been working on this, so I’m really thrilled.”
At the center of the long-running controversy is a total of $452,365 in contributions that the foundation raised for the library project but had been unwilling until this week to transfer to the town to help with costs of the building project.
In 2006, library supporters created the Edgartown Library Foundation (ELF), a nonprofit organization founded to raise public support and funds to be used for the renovation, expansion, enrichment, maintenance, and benefit of the Edgartown Free Public Library, including the structural preservation and expansion of historic buildings to be used as and in connection with the Edgartown Free Public Library.
As the library project evolved and moved away from the current library site on North Water Street to the former Edgartown School site, ELF members expressed concern that the project would cost more than anticipated and refused to relinquish money for the project until all the funding for the project was in place.
Selectmen and the town’s library building committee clashed repeatedly with the ELF over funds the town believed the foundation had raised in support of the new library.
Tensions came to a head in May 2013, when the Edgartown Library trustees voted unanimously to completely and permanently sever their relationship with the Edgartown Library Foundation, to ask the foundation to stop raising money for the library, and to ask the foundation to transfer to the town all the money it has raised so far, to support the new town library.
Library trustees voted to establish a town account through which donations could be made to the new library building project.
Edgartown selectmen and library officials, golden shovels in hand, kicked off the first official day of construction on the new Edgartown Free Public Library in a ceremony Monday afternoon.
“I would say that today is symbolic,” library director Jill Dugas Hughes said. “It’s symbolic of all of the effort that so many people have put forth to build a really outstanding library for our current and future generations.”
In January, Edgartown selectmen voted to accept a $7.3 million bid from Maron Construction to build the new library where the old town school was.
“We’re here to turn over this land to our construction team to take care of,” Ms. Dugas Hughes said. “We have faith in you. I know that this group is committed to see this project through.”
Celia Imrey, a New York City-based architect in charge of designing the new library, was also present for Monday’s groundbreaking.
“It’s really exciting,” Ms. Imrey said. “I’m excited to be here for this, it’s really a proud moment for everyone involved.”
In 2010, the town hired Imrey Culbert, a design partnership with a focus on museum architecture and gallery design. That partnership has since dissolved, and Ms. Imrey now runs Imrey Studio. Ms. Imrey says she enlisted the help of Jeffrey Hoover from Tappe Associates as her Massachusetts partner.
The entire community will be invited to participate in an official groundbreaking community celebration on Saturday, May 3 at 2pm.
Following a two month hiatus in the public hearing process, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) picked up Thursday where it left off in January in its review of a Stop & Shop proposal to build a new, larger supermarket on the site of its decrepit Vineyard Haven store. In a grueling four hour meeting, the commissioners reviewed the latest set of proposals in detail, one by one. Stop & Shop representatives responded to their comments and the public joined in.
Many of those proposals were unchanged since the MVC concluded the last public hearing on January 23. Stop & Shop had asked that the hearing process be put on hold until Tisbury reached a decision on the design of the municipal parking lot that is adjacent to the market site.
The MVC hearing, held in the Tisbury Senior Center was the seventh installment in the eight month long public review that began in July 2013.
Over the span of more than two hours Thursday, the commissioners reviewed, tailored and tinkered with 12 offers from Stop & Shop. These included a wastewater management plan, open space and landscaping design, traffic and transportation, including truck deliveries and employee parking, a construction management plan, and defining, once and for all, what constitutes a grocery store.
The commissioners declined to review at length several offers that remain contingent on town approval. These include the relocation of a house at 15 Cromwell Lane that the town considers historic, a still to be determined payment for police traffic control at the Five Corners intersection, as well as affordable housing for Stop & Shop employees, and the design of the municipal lot.
The hearing began at 6:30 pm. By the time it ended at 10:15 pm, extended by chairman Brian Smith an extra 15 minutes in order to allow for additional public comment, the commissioners had agreed to hold the eighth and, they said, likely final public hearing, on April 17.
Stop & Shop proposes to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings, including its existing store, in order to construct a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market. The plans also include a parking lot for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level beneath the market.
“I just want to make sure, when you say external sign illumination, you mean lights, shining on a sign, or do you mean an illuminated sign?” West Tisbury commissioner Erik Hammarlund, a lawyer, asked Stop & Shop reps.
As they made their way down the list, Mr. Hammarlund continued to ask Stop & Shop for further clarification and specifics.
“What does shall be controlled by mean?” Mr. Hammarlund asked in reference to an offer to have the store manager control night lighting and noise from trucks backing up.
Mr. Hammarlund, who has expressed concern that Stop & Shop might compete with local businesses by selling a variety of products, also looked for a definition of what it means to be a grocery store.
“I’ve been saying since day one, the concept of saying, ‘we’re going to expand as a grocery store,’” Mr. Hammarlund said. If you want to be a grocery store, sell groceries. I go to Stop & Shop all the time, I buy all sorts of things.”
Exasperated, commissioner Doug Sederholm interjected. “He said it 20 times. He has said it 20 times, that it’s going to be a grocery store,” Mr. Sederholm, a lawyer who represents Chilmark, said.
Geoghan Coogan, a former Tisbury selectman representing Stop & Shop explained to commissioners that if the store sells anything other than groceries, it would compromise their application.
“If there’s a cafe proposed, or a pharmacy proposed, I believe that would be a change of use,” Mr. Coogan said.
Traffic and transportation generated considerable discussion among the commissioners.
Mr. Smith said he would like to see more of a commitment between Stop & Shop and the town to resolve the overall traffic issues in Vineyard Haven.
“That’s really what we need to do,” Mr. Smith said. “We don’t need to not develop Vineyard Haven, we need to fix the problems. And that may be part of your effort to get your store up and going.”
Commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs wanted to ensure that the exterior signs for the supermarket will be compatible with Vineyard sign aesthetics.
“Who is designing or determining that? Is it the town? Mass DOT?” Mr. Breckenridge asked. “Mass DOT wants to have big, huge, overpowering signage. I think it’s critical that the signs, while very useful, very purposeful, need to be done to help with the flow of traffic, but they have to be done in a semblance of scale.”
Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans asked Stop & Shop to set a deadline for the relocation of the Cromwell Lane house. “Why don’t they find a place for it to go before they start building,” Mr. Orleans said. “That will keep everybody honest.”
The offers and discussion did little to mollify Mr. Orleans, who made it clear throughout the hearing that he was unhappy with the entire project.
“It seems to me that the main entry point to Martha’s Vineyard through the Steamship Authority should be greeted by something that represents Martha’s Vineyard, not something that represents a grocery chain store from Cape Cod,” Mr. Orleans said. “If we wanted to be on Cape Cod, we would go to Cape Cod, but there’s nothing in the proposal up to this point that really represents, in the location that we’re talking about, anything about Martha’s Vineyard and the character of Martha’s Vineyard and the culture of Martha’s Vineyard.”
In a follow up conversation with The Times Friday morning, Mr. Orleans, asked what design he would prefer, said he did not know, but he does know he does not want to see a larger store. He summed up his position. “I am opposed to Stop & Shop at that location,” Mr. Orleans said.
Public chimed in
Once the commissioners had finished with the Stop & Shop, it was time for public officials and the public at large. Planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson was first.
Mr. Stephenson, who served on the parking lot redesign committee and drew up the conceptual design, said he wanted to ensure that the elements incorporated in the design were not “negotiated away,” including the shared use path, the entrance on Cromwell Lane and the frontage on water street.
“It’s very hard, because you don’t want to take pieces of the design apart and just select one part over the other,” Mr, Stephenson said. “We want to maintain a coherent design, so I’m concerned that the intent of that parking lot design holds together.”
Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angela Grant was tepid in her comments. “I will say that I have met with the applicant, and I feel we had a productive conversation, and I feel like we’ve made some progress. Was it enough progress, I don’t think so,” Ms. Grant said.
Ms. Grant said she wanted Stop & Shop to subsidize more services. “I really feel strongly that an affordable delivery service be conditioned as a part of this project,” Ms. Grant said. “The key element, if this is the location for this project, we need to eliminate trips to that region, and the way to do that is to offer something that’s not there now.”
Ms. Grant said that the VTA received revenue based on their performance. “If our ridership goes up, our funding goes up, if our ridership goes down, our funding goes down, it’s a direct correlation,” Ms. Grant said. “And so I would really hate to feel that we’re losing choice riders based on our performance because they’re sitting in traffic.”
Tisbury selectman John Snyder was optimistic that progress had been made.
“We have been as a board working closely with, and sometimes against, the Stop & Shop representatives,” Mr. Snyder said. “We are I think, very close to an agreement, but of course there’s a lot in the details that are still being nailed down, and I really can’t comment on a lot of that.”
Harold Chapdelaine, chairman of the Tisbury historical commission, acknowledged the difficulty of finding a spot to move the Cromwell Lane house, but he said it needed to be part of the deal.
Members of the high school hockey team, varsity captain Tyson Araujo, along with his teammates Brian Fraser and Alexander Vukota, turned out to support the company proposal.
“Stop & Shop supports us, they’ve been very generous with our program and have made our experience, our four year experience in our hockey program very memorable,” Mr. Araujo said. “Not only with our program, but with the whole community, they are very supportive, and we urge you to approve them.”
Erika Berg, a resident of Oak Bluffs, said it’s time to accept change.
“I think we should just accept the change, realize that as educated adults, Stop & Shop as a corporation is better at ensuring the quality of the building and continue to show compromise and compliance,” Ms. Berg said. “Let’s just end this and approve it, let’s just do it. I think everyone’s afraid of change and that’s what this whole thing is. It’s going to better the situation all around.”
Ms. Berg’s sentiments were supported by Vineyard Haven resident Jennifer Griffiths.
“I strongly endorse the store in Tisbury,” Ms. Griffiths said. “I’m really anxious to see it built as proposed. I think that the downtown area is in desperate need of self revitalization.”
Vineyard Haven resident Nevin Sayre readdressed size. “I would like to commend Stop & Shop and the MVC for getting to a place where some compromise has been made; it’s a step in the right direction,” Mr. Sayre said. “But I think it’s the scale, size matters. And when it’s this big and it has this much impact and the traffic, on construction, on parking, on carbon footprint, on all these things, why do we approve something so massive? I don’t think we need to do that. I think the scale needs to fit with our little village.”
Edgartown selectmen Monday heard a report on a project that will use sand dredged from Edgartown Great Pond to renourish Fuller Street Beach. As part of that effort, selectmen signed off on the use and cost of an additional excavator and operator who will be join the effort. The total cost of the project is $19,450, selectmen learned.
The barrier beach between the Great Pond and the Atlantic Ocean is periodically opened to flush the pond with sea water. This winter, the town dredge was used to deepen the channel on the pond side of the beach to prolong the opening, which closes naturally as weather conditions dictate.
In the second phase of this project, sand dredged from the pond and now stockpiled will be moved from Edgartown Great Pond to the right fork State Beach parking lot, then transported to Fuller Street Beach, dredge committee member Les Baynes told selectmen.
“The cost to get the sand there is $5,000,” Mr. Baynes said.
The move will begin as early as this week and should only take a few days, Edgartown highway superintendent Stuart Fuller said.
In January, selectmen approved a request from dredge advisory committee chairman Howell Kelly to begin the permitting process for nourishing of Fuller Street Beach. Earlier, Mr. Kelly told selectmen that his committee has been stockpiling sand in preparation to moving part of it over to Fuller Street Beach.
“I think you’ve done a fabulous job,” selectman Art Smadbeck said of the highway superintendent. “Everybody’s working together. I think we should name the beach after Stuart.”
Under the town’s new protocol for dredging projects, the selectmen and the conservation commission must sign off on all dredging projects.
Parking spots for lease
In other business Monday, town administrator Pamela Dolby told selectmen that along with Mr. Fuller, the town will advertise ten reserved parking spots in the town-owned park and ride lot off Dark Woods Road near the Triangle. The spots will be reserved for Edgartown residents who own businesses.
“What we’re proposing is to take four 60-foot parking spaces and six 20-foot parking spaces that are already in existence and put an ad in the paper and allow people to apply for a parking permit,” Ms. Dolby said
The permit would be valid for one year. The 60-foot spaces would cost $650 per year, and the 20-foot spaces would cost $350 per year, Ms. Dolby said.
“The deadline for applications is April 15, so we’ll see what comes in,” she said. “It’s a trial. We don’t know how much interest there will be, and we may tweak it as we go along.”
Ms. Dolby said that each space will be numbered and there will be signs indicating each individual parking spot. “It gives the police department the teeth to start towing people that are in large commercial vehicles. It will control things better.”
In a follow-up conversation with The Times on Wednesday, selectman Margaret Serpa said the decision to lease the spots will help regulate the lot.
“It’s supposed to be a 24-hour lot, and there’s been an issue in the past with people parking for long periods of time, and also instances of people abandoning vehicles,” Ms. Serpa said. “So we thought we could work something that could accommodate what people need. Hopefully this fills the need and helps maintain that lot.”
Pink & Green, Food & Wine
Also Monday, selectmen approved two separate requests from the Edgartown Board of Trade (EBT). The first is to place a banner on Main Street for the Pink & Green weekend in May, and the second is to add second, smaller tent on Kelly Street during the annual Food & Wine Festival in October.
EBT, will be hosting its third annual “Pink and Green” weekend May 9 to May 11, and the Food and Wine Festival October 16 to 19.
“This will be our third year hosting Pink and Green in town,” EBT member Sydney Mullen told selectmen. “It’s a chance for the board of trade to sort of kick off the summer season a little bit early, and what we’re looking for is similar to what we asked for last year, which is permission to hang the banner where we usually do, on Main Street across the corner of Summer street.”
EBT president Christina Cook asked selectmen’s permission to place a tent in the Maiden Lane parking lot for the Food and Wine Festival, and to add a second, smaller tent on Kelly Street.
“Last year we just did one event in the tent on Saturday. This year we’d like to have one event on Friday afternoon,” Ms. Cook said.
The four-day festival, presented by the EBT in partnership with Boston Magazine, includes wine dinners, tastings, seminars, a Sunday brunch, a dance party, and even an opera dinner. The main Grand Tasting event, featuring samples, demos, and access to celebrated chef and vintners, will take place this year in downtown Edgartown under a huge tent, giving a boost to local businesses.
Finally Monday, selectmen approved two aquaculture licences for Joe and Ryan Smith, to grow oysters on two acres in 15 feet of water in an area known as Middle Flats, just north of Eel Pond in the outer harbor.
Shellfish constable Paul Bagnall gave the Smiths his blessing.
“I think it’s a good sign that these people want to expand,” Mr. Bagnall said. “It’s the way of the future, and we’re lucky to have them both in Edgartown.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the sand would be staged in the Right Fork Diner parking lot. The sand will be stored in the State Beach right fork parking lot prior to being transported to Fuller Street Beach.
Among the latest set of offers, Stop & Shop will guarantee to relocate the historic house at 15 Cromwell Lane, assist with the funding of police officer control at the Five Corners intersection, and continue to work with Tisbury on the design of the town-owned municipal lot adjacent to the store.
In a conversation with The Times Tuesday, Geoghan Coogan, a former Tisbury selectman who has represented Stop & Shop in the protracted public process, said he is ready to see the hearing come to a close once and for all.“I hope the commission wraps up looking at the project on Thursday,” he said. “It would be nice to at least move forward.”
Mr. Coogan said that due to the nature of a tri-party agreement among the town, the MVC, and Stop & Shop, the process has gone on longer than anyone could have anticipated.
“Nobody wants to throw stones, and I think having people understand that it’s not just Stop & Shop or it’s not just the MVC that is causing a delay, it’s just a matter of everyone working together and with the town that makes it complex,” he said.
Over the last eight months, supermarket representatives have worked with the MVC and Tisbury planners, officials, and residents to prepare for the consolidation of three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings on those properties to make room for a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market. The plans also include a parking lot for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level beneath the market.
In January, Stop & Shop representatives said they were ready to see the hearing come to a close, but because of inclement weather, a Tisbury planning and design committee, established to address issues surrounding the town parking lot, was unable to gather to address the applicant’s most recent offers.
When the parking lot committee failed to reach a consensus on a proposal by mid-February, selectman chairman Jeff Kristal suggested they meet a few more times and bring the process to a conclusion.
Stop & Shop representatives in turn asked that the MVC postpone its next public hearing session from February 20 to March 20, to allow the committee more time, because decisions about the lot’s redesign would have a bearing on the company’s offers to the town.
On March 11, Tisbury selectmen voted to approve a conceptual plan for the Water Street municipal parkinglot, next to the supermarket in Vineyard Haven. Selectmen agreed after a discussion with the parking lot committee and representatives from Stop & Shop that the plan will serve as a working template in the development of the final design.
Among the highlights, the committee agreed that Norton Lane should remain open to one-way vehicular traffic from Main Street through the parking lot to Water Street, with foundation plantings and trees added alongside the store building to help screen it from Cromwell Lane to Water Street. The committee also wants the public restrooms building to remain, with its entrance changed to face west toward Main Street rather than toward the parking lot. The number of parking spaces is unchanged from the current arrangement.
Mr. Coogan said he is hopeful that Thursday’s hearing will bring some closure. “It’s definitely not been easy,” he said. “We’re just hoping that people take a step back. It’s important to try and get it right, and we’re going through all the steps we have to go through.”
Standing in the dimly lit projection room on the second floor of the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven, Benjamin “Buzzy” Hall picked up the shell of an old film reel and grinned.
“I’m the only guy on the Island that can play 35 millimeter,” he said.
At 78, Mr. Hall, often referred to as Buzzy, is an avid opera fan, a talented singer, and a music lover with a penchant for collecting and restoring vintage gramophones.
Descendants of a well-known banker and businessman, Mr. Hall and his family have a long-standing history in the real estate business on Martha’s Vineyard. Varying in size and scale, the family, including Buzzy, his two sisters, and his sons Brian and Benjamin, own upwards of $40 million of real estate, including 113 residential, commercial, and retail properties and undeveloped land across the Island.
Many properties are leased to tenants who own their own successful businesses, Mr. Hall said. Others, such as the Capawock Theatre and the “yellow house” in Edgartown, remain vacant and left to depreciate.
“All of the properties are linked together,” Mr. Hall said. “Financially, we have to figure out what we’re going to do. We’re what you call property poor. You should see our real estate tax bill. It would buy a couple projectors at $50,000 a piece. Probably even more than that.”
Mr. Hall said he would like to find a solution for the crumbling theatres.
“I don’t know, it’s hand to mouth,” Mr. Hall said. “I’m trying to work out some financing. You know, we’re not nonprofit. People don’t come down the pike and hand us $100,000 to buy a projector or buy seats. But I would like to keep it open,” he said of the Capawock.
The Times spoke with Mr. Hall about the family’s real estate holdings, what they plan to do about the vacant theaters, and what he says to the critics.
According to assessors records, the Halls own $32,427,100 in commercial and residential property in Edgartown, including the brick Port Hunter building assessed at $1,693,500, the building at 47 Main Street assessed at $2,072,000 and 53 Main Street at $2,087,700.
Perhaps the most notorious property owned by the Hall family is the long vacant “yellow house” on the corner Main street Summer street. Built in 1850, the yellow house is assessed at $2,037,700.
“My wife passed away not too many years ago, and we’re trying to settle her estate, which is critical,” Mr. Hall said. “And we’re selling properties in order to raise the funds to be able to pour into other properties, like the ‘yellow house.'”
The Hall family has been at odds with the town over the state of the decaying house, recently culminating in the Edgartown Community Preservation Committee (CPC) decision to allocate $1.4 million toward the acquisition of the house, a vote that was shortly rescinded. 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 down, have been at the heart of an ongoing tussle between town officials and the Hall family since 2003.
“It’s ridiculous what they’ve been doing with this stupid tree,” Mr. Hall said. “Town counsel has no motivation to keep the board of selectmen out of trouble when there’s a fight.”
Mr. Hall said that his son, Benjamin Hall Jr., has been working with Edgartown architect Patrick Ahearn on plans to rebuild the yellow house on its existing location.
Selectman Margaret Serpa said on Monday that while she personally hasn’t heard from the Halls, she would like to see some action taken. “At this point we haven’t had any contact with them,” she said. “That would be a start.”
“There’s been a lot of questions about our presence in Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Hall said. “There’s two big properties that could probably bring in a lot of capital that we can put into other properties we have. Or if somebody came to us and had a business plan for a particular property and they wanted to lease it for 30 years, that’s a viable process.”
The properties Mr. Hall is referring to are the Island Theatre, assessed at $793,700, and the Strand Theater, assessed at $974,600.
According to a 20-page consultants’ report delivered to Oak Bluffs town officials on January 28 regarding the revitalization of Circuit Avenue and downtown, a group of consultants concluded that the town can be made more “inviting” to visitors, more conducive to business success, and more accommodating to residents through the revitalization of certain business properties.
The report went on to depict both the Island and the Strand theaters as “eyesores that deter foot traffic” that set a decidedly down at the heels air to the entrance of the town. To address this, the report suggested the creation of a redevelopment entity “with adequate financial resources to quickly act to ensure vacant structures do not become a drain on nearby merchants,” and perhaps the addition of a blight ordinance that would penalize owners of buildings left to deteriorate.
When asked in January about the town’s response to The Downtown Inventory Survey, selectman chairman Walter Vail said he hoped to have a minimum maintenance bylaw on the warrant for the April town meeting. “The planning board has to get out there and get some meetings going,” he said at the time.
In an email response to The Times Wednesday, Mr. Vail said the beautification article he had adverted to in January will not be on the town meeting warrant in April because it is “not ready yet.”
In total,the Halls own three commercial properties in Oak bluffs totaling $1,899,390.
What will the family do about the theaters? Mr. Hall said he is more interested in maintaining them to pass them down to future generations.
“The way I look at it is it’s a legacy,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking at. I’ve got four grandchildren, they’re going to have families eventually. It’s a legacy, so our concern is hanging on to the properties and putting them into a viable condition, because these are all old rundown properties.”
Buzzy said he has hopes that the Strand will reopen one day in the near future. The Island Theater is a different story.
“The Island Theater, because it was a theater it kept running as a theatre, but now it’s beyond repair,” Mr. Hall said.
The Halls own $1, 646,700 in condos, commercial and retail property in Tisbury and three properties in West Tisbury totaling $1,893,900.
Among the most notable of those in Tisbury are a series of units which are rented as retail space on Main Street, along with the Capawock Theatre.
Currently the total assessed parcel value including the building and the land where the Capawock stands is $1,393,800, according to assessors records.
The Capawock, with its long decaying facade and boarded up windows, has been closed this winter. Plans to reopen the theater on a full-time basis are uncertain.
“We have a current crisis,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s one word, digital. Until we have a DCI (digitally compliant) projector in this building we’re not going to run movies anymore. Basically, I’m not taking my own sons’ advice. I’m in here running a business, and they allow me to do it because they know I love it. But it’s not a viable business.”
Mr. Hall said he has considered selling the property. “The guy that would buy it would have to be of a mindset of my own, because it ain’t gonna make money,” he said. “It’s primary property. My sons are ambivalent at this point about what to do with it, but I’m not taking my own sons’ advice. They know I love it, and they enjoy it, the idea of it.”
In a recent telephone conversation with The Times, Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal said the Capawock, like other seasonal businesses in Tisbury, is not viable as a year-round business.
“The town is in no active talks with the Halls,” Mr. Kristal said. “And I don’t necessarily think that we need to be.” He added that the town has an open-ended relationship with the Hall family, as they do with every other business owner in Tisbury.
“I think the town has worked on trying to make not only the Halls’ but other businesses in town work together toward policy changes that we’ve made over the last several years,” he said. “The Halls have responded with keeping the Capawock open in a very difficult business climate. Going forward, if there’s any concern, we’ll be talking with the Halls, but this town’s always had a great relationship with them.”
In February, Tisbury selectmen approved a public amusement license for the Capawock, so it could be used as a venue for other types of performances in addition to movies.
“I think all of us thought it was a great idea,” Mr. Kristal said. “We’d love to have a year-round theater, but if it doesn’t make financial sense, I’m not going to tell the Halls how to do it.”
A family history of acquisitions
The business of buying properties on the Island began by and large with Buzzy Hall’s father, Alfred.
“My father established several businesses here,” Mr. Hall said. “At the time he was told by the men who lived here that there were only three businesses in town; the telegraph stock exchange business, the drug stores, or the movie theater.”
In 1927, Alfred Hall invested in what was then called the Elm Theatre in Edgartown. “Of all the movie theatres on the Island, it was the nicest,” Mr. Hall said. “After that, my father began investing in adjacent properties to anything that my family owned.”
The family’s real estate investments expanded after Buzzy Hall married his late wife, Theresa.
“I married Scarlett O’Hara,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s in the land. So when we got married in 1958, the first thing she did was take her savings and buy a piece of property out in Katama, off Katama Drive.” He said Theresa paid $700 for the property.
“From there we began to pick up various pieces of property over the years. My wife was very conversant with the local folks. We started doing research in the courthouse, discovering all this property. Some of the property was owned by people who were very beholden to my father.”
Other properties were acquired by attending land and tax auctions. “We bought what nobody else wanted,” Mr. Hall said. “One here, a property there. We did our research and put down bids.”
Mr. Hall said he does not have an account of how many properties are owned by him or his family. He attributes the myriad amount to his and his wife’s early investments. “A lot of the notoriety is because my wife and I picked up so many little pieces,” he said. “So it makes a long list. It was a New England kind of experience. We made our mistakes and so on along the way, but it was all part of the experience.”
Establishing trusts can, in cases where property values are high, lessen the tax burden for those who inherit them. Trusts can also have the additional benefit of helping to rationalize the management of the property, even before it passes to the next generation, by appointing a trustee who oversees care and maintenance.
In the case of the Hall family, several trusts have been established, including Starbuck Hill Trust, Forsythia Trust, Seagate Realty, Wisteria Trust, and Lucky 7 Realty.
Mr. Hall says many of the trusts were established by his father, as part of a generation-skipping transfer, known as a Gallo Trust. “A Gallo Trust skips a generation,” he said. “All of the real estate my father acquired was entrusted in my sons’ names.”
In response to an article published on October 23, Ben Hall Jr., wrote in an email to The Times, “Lucky 7 prides itself on being a preservationist. Most of the mere handful of properties it owns in downtown Edgartown have had extensive repairs and renovations performed over the past few years. My grandparents, who formed Seagate Inc. in an estate planning effort in the mid-1980s, participated in saving a host of extremely important buildings in Edgartown, including the Harbor View, the Dr. Daniel Fisher House, and the North Water Street Corporation property, to name but a few. Lucky 7 likewise continues these efforts.”
Apart from this emailed explanation, Ben Hall Jr. would not comment further on his family’s real estate holdings.
Asked about what he plans to do with their long list of properties, Mr. Hall said, “It’s a matter of time. You have to ask yourself, ‘do you have the time in your life to do it?’” He added that his interest in investing in real estate has waned over the years, long replaced by his love of film, among other interests.
Nonetheless, Mr. Hall said he would like to preserve what he described as his family’s legacy as conservationists on the Island. “A legacy is rewarding,” he said. “Not monetarily, necessarily, but you have the loyalty of your tenants, and if they’re pleased then we’re pleased.”
Mr. Hall said he and his family are looking for ways to manage the various properties, including the theaters. “We’re looking for somebody that has a business plan that could be successful,” he said. “The plan is to sell unproductive property and not commercial property although we’ll listen to anyone who comes by and makes an offer. But we’re not bidding against ourselves. Just the ground alone isn’t cheap.”
A bad rap
“We keep our traps shut,” Mr. Hall said about the negative attention he and his family have endured over the years. “The cocktail crowd out there in West Chop were yip yapping and saying ‘oh, we should take their property for eminent domain,’ and so on and so forth. Or, ‘the whole Main Street is going to pot because the Capawock isn’t operational,’ which wasn’t the case. It was for other reasons. And other people knew better. We have to just put our noses to the grindstone and just keep going. We won’t let it tear us down.”
Town administrator Pamela Dolby told Edgartown selectmen Monday about illegal dumping that has become common at various town landings.
“We met this morning with the harbormaster, the chief of police, marine biologist, and health agent to discuss all of the town landings,” Ms. Dolby said. “We started with Sengekontacket.”
Also included were the Katama landing, Wilson’s landing, Eel Pond landing, Crab Creek landing and Collins Beach.
Ms. Dolby said highway superintendent Stewart Fuller had recently cleaned up syringes that had been left at Sengekontacket. Ms. Dolby also said he had discovered an abandoned boat and trailer that needed to be removed. “There’s a boat still there. We’re going to send a letter out to that individual.”
Refuse and abandoned boats have proven problematic at several of the town’s landing areas, Ms. Dolby said. “We decided we need to make a concerted effort to check on the landings more often.”
Ms. Dolby proposed adding signage cautioning against abandoning boats and refuse should help, at least in part, to alleviate the problem.
Abandoned boats have become an increasing headache for harbormaster Charlie Blair over the last few years. “Abandoned boats have been a problem,” he said. “I took them to the depot, and it cost $11,000 to dispose of a three-year supply of boats being left here. I don’t have numbers, and we can’t find the rightful owners, but it’s become a real problem.”
Mr. Blair asked selectmen if the disposal of the abandoned boats could be added into the harbormaster’s budget in the future. “Once somebody starts dumping, it’s very easy for somebody else to start dumping there,” he said. “It’s like a disease.”
Ms. Dolby also pointed to an increase in the number of deer carcasses ending up at the town landings this year.
Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnell said the deer carcasses should be addressed on an Island-wide level. “To be fair to the hunters, there used to be a bury pit, if I remember correctly,” he said. “We used to have a place in the State Forest that was part of the weigh-in process, but I don’t think that Edgartown should just necessarily take on the responsibility for everybody’s deer, because there’s a lot that gets shot across the Island, and it is a real problem.”
Ms. Dolby asked for selectmen’s financial support in maintaining the landings. “We’re going to need some money to do some of this cleanup, because we’re going to need to get dumpsters,” she said. “We’re going to sit down and figure this out, and we’d like your support going to the finance committee to get some money and try and keep track of these people who dump their boats.”
Chappy isn’t happy (with cell service)
In other business Monday, Edgartown selectmen continued their conversation with members of the Chappaquiddick Wireless Committee who continue their struggle to get cell coverage on Chappy.
The committee previously told selectmen that a DAS (distributed antenna system) would dramatically improve mobile phone coverage on Chappaquiddick.
Committee member Georgiana Greenough said over the last week, she was successful in contacting three wireless providers.
“I spent a few hours Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and got these guys on the phone,” Ms.Greenough said. “We got responses and they all said it is way too expensive for them to do a DAS system, but they said they would be interested in discussing a one-on-one relationship with us, if we decided to come up with a partnering type of relationship.”
The town awarded a joint contract in June 2012 to Grain Communications and Broadband Service Group to build and manage the system, which relies on small antennas set on poles, but the developers have been unable to attract any mobile carriers to sign up.
“I did not mention finances,” Ms. Greenough said. “They asked about capital expenditure and asked what we could offer, and I said not at this time but we could look into grants, and we could look into donations and other areas of financing if that would help.”
Ms. Greenough asked selectmen if she could send out a letter to the service providers outlining the committee’s intention to create a partnership between them and the town.
Selectman Margaret Serpa asked the committee how this letter will change what has already been done.
“We’re actually getting information and they’re willing to give us numbers, which we’ve never had before,” Ms. Greenough said.
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck asked for further clarification. “There seems to be two parts to this,” he said. “You have the DAS system, but it’s not going to work unless Verizon and/or AT&T did something with it, so wouldn’t we also want a commitment from one of those companies before we go through the trouble of doing this?”
“I want to know what they would build it for, if they would do it. That’s the commitment I’m looking for from them,” Ms. Greenough said.
Selectmen agreed to continue the conversation on Monday, March 24.
In other business Monday, selectmen approved a request from John Roberts to move a brick oven at Lattanzi’s restaurant to 11 North restaurant.
Mr. Roberts is one of the owners of the buildings occupied by the two restaurants. “We decided it’s kind of an iconic piece, and we want to move it to the 11 North building,” Mr. Roberts said.
The oven weighs about 5,000 pounds and will require a crane to lift it.
Edgartown police chief Tony Bettencourt, also present Monday, said the move should be done quickly and is fairly straight forward.
“It’s not going to take long at all,” Mr. Bettencourt said. The oven will be moved March 19.
In other action, selectmen voted to appoint Scott Ellis as a new interim member of the wastewater commission .
On a brisk and sunny morning last Saturday at the West Tisbury landfill, the under-the-radar up-Island institution known as the Dumptique was alive and bustling with customers old and new.
As half a dozen volunteers began their morning shift sorting through bags of clothes and other items, people of all ages began filtering in and out the Dumptique’s doors.
Oak Bluffs resident Monica Van Horn, a dedicated Dumptique customer who has been “shopping” here for years, said it is an experience unlike any other.
“It’s the best kept secret on the Island,” Ms. Van Horn said. “It’s an Island exchange and you never know what you’re going to find.”
Saturday, Ms. Van Horn said she came by to donate a neck massager and other items upwards of $200 in total. Last week, she said she donated a strand of pearls. “The range of incomes on the Island really varies, so you get a little bit of everything,” she said. “It’s fun and practical treasure hunting, it really satisfies the foraging instinct.”
The Dumptique is open during West Tisbury Landfill hours, Saturday and Tuesday, from 9 am to 3 pm, and Sunday, 9 am to 12 noon.
Everything you can find in the store is free. With as much of the merchandise coming in as going out, someone can find just about anything at the Dumptique.
“The other name for it is the ‘free store,’” Michael Colaneri, one of the Dumptique’s volunteers told The Times. “It’s a good deal, probably the best deal in town.”
Edgartown assessors squared off with the Katama Airfield commission over tax issues at Monday’s selectmen’s meeting.
Selectmen agreed last month to the terms of a deal with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) that would allow the town to replace one of two hangars at Katama Airfield with a larger hangar. Now, as the town is in the process of preparing a request for proposals (RFP) for the construction, the commission has asked the assessors to clarify the way the property has been taxed and will be in the future.
“The assessors looked at this property and, following Massachusetts’s law, we sent a tax bill,” assessor Lawrence Mercier said Monday. “We have for a number of years now.”
Selectman Michael Donaroma asked the assessors if different parts of the airport property warrant different tax rates.
“In Edgartown, pursuant to your vote two months ago, we tax commercial, residential, and industrial properties the same,” Mr. Mercier said.
According to assessors, 22 percent of the property at Katama Airfield is considered residential because of a manager’s apartment that exists within the current structure. The rest of the property, including the Right Fork Diner and the biplane and glider plane business, is considered commercial property, Mr. Mercier said.
Airfield commission members Mike Creato, Jim Harrison, former chairman Bob Stone, and current chairman Jamie Craig all attended the meeting.
Mr. Stone explained that the airport is being used as a public use airport. “The town owns that property; are you taxing the Chappaquiddick ferry?” Mr. Stone asked selectmen.
“I think what the assessors just told us is that there’s a statutory requirement to assess certain properties in certain ways,” selectman Art Smadbeck said. “And this property is obviously being used in a way that requires them to assess it.”
Airfield commission member Mike Creato asked assessors for further clarification about how the tax structure works. “There’s some confusion about what part of this land is taxable, especially since we’re replacing the hangar with a new hangar,” he said. “I’m not quite sure how we’re selecting particular pieces of real estate to be taxed.”
Mr. Creato told selectmen the town has always received money from the airport, both from a percentage of the rent generated and from the Right Fork Diner.
“We’ve kind of refined that into one flat fee to make the bookkeeping easier,” Mr. Creato said. “But as a general rule, we’ve asked for $20,000 to run the airport, and the town gets about $10,000 back.”
“The restaurant and the big airport, for as long as I was the assessor in West Tisbury, got its own tax bill and paid its own taxes,” principal assessor Jo-Ann Resendes said. “I assume they’re still doing that.”
“The two taxable things would be the red top hangar and the commercial portion of the restaurant,” town administrator Pam Dolby said. “If they’re going to move the office out to the new hangar once it’s built and that office space becomes a part of the restaurant operation, then that would be added to the tax lot of the person who’s leasing the restaurant.”
The town took no action, but Ms. Dolby said she would work to make an adjustment to the outgoing RFP.
In other business Monday, selectmen heard from members of the Chappaquiddick Wireless Committee who are still struggling to get cell phone coverage on Chappy.
The committee has previously told selectmen that DAS (a distributed antenna system) would dramatically improve mobile phone coverage without a conventional tower on Chappaquiddick.
The town awarded a joint contract in June 2012 to Grain Communications and Broadband Service Group to build and manage the system, which relies on small antennas set on poles, but the developers have been unable to attract any mobile carriers to sign up.
Committee member Georgiana Greenough said she has sent out 30 RFPs to a variety of carriers over the course of several months, all to no avail.
“Our latest proposal, that we want to run by you today, is we’re going to take this list of 30 developers and contact either all of them or the ones that make the most sense,” Ms. Greenough said. “We want to try and get to someone with some power in the company to try and ask a list of questions, the first one being, ‘can you please tell us exactly why you do not want to do anything with Chappaquiddick.’”
Earlier proposals to use town-owned property for a conventional cell tower has met stiff resistance from Chappaquiddick residents.
“It appears what’s been tried is not working,” Selectman Margaret Serpa said. “We’ve written to the senators and representatives, and there’s been nothing.”
Last January, selectmen voted to write then Senator John Kerry and Senator Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Representative Bill Keating, State Senator Dan Wolf, and State Representative Tim Madden.
Echoing Ms. Serpa’s sentiments, Mr. Smadbeck said the DAS system didn’t appear to make financial sense. “It appears we’re not going to get anybody to build a DAS system apparently because it’s not economical,” he said.
Mr. Smadbeck suggested the committee expand the parameters of their RFPs to include cell towers. “I think we’ve given it the good old college try,” he said. “The point is, do you want to just give up because we’re not able to get a DAS system, or do you want to put an RFP out that includes a normal cell tower?”
Committee member Bob Clay said he doesn’t think there’s support for a cell tower on Chappaquiddick. “I’m not saying that there isn’t any support, but speaking for a majority of the committee on Chappy, I think there’s a real problem with where we’d locate it,” he said. “We’re concerned the town is going to get into a protracted battle, which is going to divide the community and divide Chappy from the town if the town is going to push this.”
Other committee members in attendance included Fran Clay, Claire Thatcher, Roger Becker, Margaret Knight, Peter Wells, and Will Geresy.
Mr. Geresy expressed his concerns with the lack of progress in getting better cell reception on Chappy as well as inner-committee collusion practices.
“We’re having meetings without giving proper notice and we’re having secret meetings about what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re excluding certain members from the committee from participating. We have a problem.”
Mr. Geresy said the need for improving cell reception is necessary both for personal as well as public safety reasons. “If we continue on the process of continuous iterations of looking at new technologies and hoping that new technology will come along, were just pushing this thing farther and farther out,” he said. “I think the best thing to do is put an RFP out, don’t restrict it to DAS, see what comes back in, and then we evaluate it.”
Mr. Donaroma suggested that the committee expand the terms of the RFP. “As a contractor myself, when you’re asked to do something that makes economically no sense, you just don’t answer if it’s just not going to work,” he said. “This is a business that gets its money from the useage. What we’re suggesting here is trying to open up the RFP so we can get more input, we’re getting nowhere fast.”