The Hall house and the linden tree

This tree, designated a public shade tree, has been at the root of an ongoing battle between the town and the Hall family since 2003. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Wrapped in a thin veneer of fading yellow paint and crumbling wooden shingles, the Hall house — or the yellow house, as it’s come to be known — sits in a prime Edgartown location on the corner of Main and Summer streets. The empty building 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.

Under Massachusetts General law, public shade trees cannot be “cut, trimmed or removed, in whole or part, by any person other than the tree warden or his deputy.” The 10-year-long case was dismissed July 2, 2013, on the grounds that the tree is considered a “public shade tree.”

Contacted this week for an update, Mr. Hall, an attorney at Seven Realty, the official name of the Hall family trust that owns the yellow house and dozens of other properties scattered around Edgartown, was reluctant to speak about the house or his family’s long-pending plans to improve the property.

“We have to unravel an issue that has been ongoing with the town,” Mr. Hall told The Times in a conversation in August. “What the town did is bar us from going forward with a construction project that is based on a tree that will not live another 20 years. We have to carefully analyze and discuss what our next move should be.”

Edgartown town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport said the decision to maintain the tree was fair and balanced. “The Superior Court found that the town made the correct decision in that this is a public shade tree and therefore has to remain,” he said.

At their regular meeting on October 7, the Edgartown selectmen were asked for an update on the status of the house and the tree in question.

Selectman Margaret Serpa said there is nothing new to report. “I did ask town counsel, and they had an initial meeting with several of the parties involved and tried to begin something,” she said. “But nothing has transpired since then.”

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.

In addition to the yellow house, the Hall family also owns three movie theaters on the Island, the Island and Strand theaters in Oak Bluffs, and the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven, as well as dozens of other properties, commercial residential, on the Island.