Edgartown votes to take Yellow House by eminent domain

With the filing of a signed eminent domain taking in court Tuesday morning, this house is officially owned by the town. - George Brennan

The new owners of the Yellow House, the town, are doing a little sprucing up before thousands of people invade its Edgartown neighborhood for the Fourth of July holiday.

On Tuesday morning, after filing an eminent domain order at Dukes County courthouse, the town officially became the owner of the 1850 house at the corner of Main and South Summer Street, with its boarded-up windows, peeling paint, and weeds poking out from the gutters.

A locksmith was at the scene changing the locks, and the door to the house was open for the first time in a long time. The fence around the house was taken down, benches were brought in, and a bike rack is being installed.

On Monday evening, the board of selectmen voted unanimously to sign the papers to take the dilapidated house after getting a brief update behind closed doors from town counsel Ronald Rappaport.

“The time has come,” selectman Margaret Serpa said as the board began its open meeting after the executive session.

The order had to be signed by selectmen and town administrator Pam Dolby, and the town clerk Wanda Williams was there to notarize the legal document as Mr. Rappaport walked them through the proceedings.

In April, town voters authorized the board of selectmen to use $1.5 million in community preservation funds and $1.5 million in town taxes to take the building.

That price could go up if the previous owners, the Hall family, challenges the price in court. The town based the $3 million on an appraisal.

The building is next door to Edgartown Town Hall, and has been in disrepair for years. The town has attempted to force the Hall family to make improvements, but to no avail. Negotiations to purchase the building have also failed.

So, despite pleas by Hall family attorney Ben Hall Jr. before town meeting in April to give the family one more chance to fix it up and find a tenant, the town voted to take the building by eminent domain.

Mr. Hall managed to delay the taking for about two months. In late April, Mr. Hall sent the town a letter saying the building was an asset in an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding.

“We wanted to make sure our i’s were dotted and our t’s were crossed. You want to do it correctly,” selectmen chairman Arthur Smadbeck said after Monday’s vote. “It took awhile to get there.”

Ms. Dolby said the town will begin advertising for community members to join a committee to review bids to restore and use the building.

The town has not funds to restore the building, but while they wait to put out a request for proposals, a sign will be put in the window thanking voters for the purchase, Ms. Dolby said.

“It would be nice to have something awarded by fall so they can get working on it,” she said.

The building comes with a commodity greatly needed in Edgartown, particularly in the summertime. It comes with parking spots. Those spots will become public spaces, not for town employees, Ms. Dolby said.