Yellow House developer approved

Decision now in hands of selectmen who will have to consider an 11th hour email from previous owner.


Updated 5 pm

The Yellow House moved a major step toward a renovation that will eliminate its peeling paint, boarded windows, and return the building to grandeur, but an email from the former owner is causing at least a slight delay.

Just before the committee was to meet Monday, Ben Hall Jr., whose family owned the building before it was taken by the town by eminent domain, wrote in an email that a basement proposed by the lone bidder could alter the the historic building and create issues for a linden tree that he says prevented his family from being able to make necessary repairs to the building.

The town used Community Preservation funds to purchase the building by eminent domain, which is allowed under the historic preservation aspect of the law.

In his email, Hall states that his family was prevented from executing a plan to renovate the Yellow House. “The selectmen considered the roots to be a part of the tree the cutting or removal of which could not be done by us, thus making impossible our plan that otherwise full approval then needed by other boards,” he wrote. “That policy should not be altered now that the town owns the property. To permit anyone else to build in this area would demonstrate to all the bad faith nature of the taking, after barring us from a very similar development based on that concern.”

Hall, who attended last week’s hearing but was not present Monday, also questioned in his email the developer’s plan to add a basement.

“Creation of a full basement destroys that historic character,” he wrote. “I would expect the town to comply with that spirit and not permit a mere replica of the upper façades to be recreated as closely as subjectively one sees fit to permit a developer to turn a profit.”

Despite a recommendation by the town’s attorney that the vote be “conditional,” the committee voted 5-0, with one abstention, to recommend selectmen begin lease negotiations with developer Trademark Services LLC — a group that includes builder Marc Nicotera, architect Dudley Cannada, and financial investor Stephen Berger.

“It’s a non-responder commenting on the project in general,” chairman Chris Scott said of Hall’s email. “[Hall] obviously has some history with the site, but I don’t think it, at this point, affects this committee’s ability to evaluate [this bid.]”

Sam Sherman, the planning board’s representative on the committee, said he felt uncomfortable voting based on the suggestion made by attorney Karen Burke representing the town counsel Ronald Rappaport.

Delaying a vote would give time to research the issues brought up by Hall, he said. “I’m hesitant to rush to judgment … another work may clarify greatly,” he said.

Later in the day Monday, the board of selectmen held off making a decision to give Rappaport time to consider the implications of Hall’s email. The board did schedule a meeting for 1 pm Thursday, hoping that gives Rappaport enough time.

Selectmen chairman Arthur Smadbeck thanked the Yellow House Committee for its recommendation. “Thank you, thank you for all of your work,” he said.

Chairman Chris Scott, after making the recommendation, praised the Trademark bid. “It’s a very strong proposal and meets all the objects the town was seeking,” he said.

Just before the vote earlier in the day, Trademark’s price proposal was opened by Scott. Trademark is proposing a 30-year lease with a total of $49,000 in lease payments. Those payments wouldn’t begin until the 21st year of the lease, according to the document.

The board also turned in their independent evaluations of the project, and overwhelmingly found that it was “highly advantageous” for the town to award the bid to Trademark.

Trademark is proposing $1.8 million in renovations to create at least two retail shops and three apartments at the location, which is adjacent to Edgartown Town Hall. Trademark has also suggested $200,000 in upgrades to open space between the two buildings for a park, though that is not part of the bid and would have to be negotiated.

The decision comes one week after a second bid by architect Patrick Ahearn and developer Michael Hegarty was disqualified because it did not meet all of the requirements of the request for proposals. Ahearn and Hegarty actually withdrew their bid based on the suggestion by procurement officer Juliet Mulinare that their proposal was not responsive was requested in the specifications. The proposal included a park as part of the lease space, even though that was off-limits, and proposed an expansion of the footprint that went too far, Mulinare said. Two required forms were also left out of the application.

The Yellow House was taken last spring by eminent domain for $3 million because it had fallen into disrepair from years of neglect. The town’s position in taking the house was that the previous owners, the Hall family, had been given numerous opportunities to fix up the building, but nothing ever materialized.

Updated to reflect a decision by selectmen to wait until Thursday to take a vote.


  1. Karma. The town wouldn’t let the Hall’s cut down a tree on the yellow house property , yet they allowed for major clearing and fill to be brought in when 101 South Water Street was sold. I believe that a selectman made a great deal of money from that landscaping contract. Historic Commission and conservation guidelines tend to bend depending on how influential the property owner and those involved are. Looks like they may have handcuffed themselves.

  2. I can’t blame Mr. Berger for having that ear to ear smile. The last time a deal this good happened was when Manhattan was stolen from the Native Americans for $24 worth of beads.

  3. How is it that property taken by eminent domain can be used for the financial benefit of private parties?

    • The current use of the term is when abandoned property is taken by the state. Comparable to this is how centuries ago, a farmer could forfeit rights to arable land because they didn’t till it that season. It was neglecting the expectation they’d grow food and help the local economy. The Hall’s neglected the property to the presumed detriment of a business district driven largely by tourism.

      • But the Hall family was denied a permit to repair and did not intend to abandon. The tree seems to be the issue. Are trees to be protected at Common Law?

        • The tree was being protected, something possible with zoning laws. I recall it was a combination of the kind of tree and that it provided shade. My impression was Hall was making tree removal required for repairs while the Town felt the house could be repaired without removing the tree.

        • Yes they are protected when they are shade trees. Also, how many years ago were they denied the permit? They could think of no other way to keep the property up in that time?

  4. Wow. If the selectmen allow this plan at the risk of that tree that will reflect quite poorly on them. While I don’t believe the Hall family would have done anything about the Yellow House, the selectmen refused, on several occasions to let them touch the tree. They better do the same for whoever stands to profit from this now.

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