Edgartown CPC will rescind yellow house vote

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.

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.