Hall seeks to block Yellow House construction

Zoning board considers appeal; will make decision at next meeting.

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The Yellow House construction continues in Edgartown despite an ongoing appeal before the zoning board. — Rich Saltzberg

Edgartown’s zoning board of appeals is reviewing an appeal, made by Benjamin Hall Jr., operating as Shute Building Realty Trust, of the town’s former building inspector’s decision not to issue a cease and desist order concerning development at the Yellow House.

Hall appeared before the zoning board Wednesday night to make his case for the cease and desist order.

Hall asked for a cease and desist to be issued because the town has failed to place preservation restrictions on the property, which is required because the town used Community Preservation funds to pay for taking the property by eminent domain, according to the notice of appeal. “As of date of this notice, not all restrictions have been filed as required,” Hall wrote. “Accordingly, no activity should have been allowed to proceed without such restrictions having been placed on the property as required.” He also cited the need for Martha’s Vineyard Commission review of the project as a development of regional impact, and an alleged zoning bylaw violation because the new building is within five inches of the side setback.

At the 2017 annual town meeting, Edgartown voters approved $1.5 million in Community Preservation funds and $1.5 million in town taxes to take the building by eminent domain from the Hall family, after repeated attempts to force the family to make repairs to the dilapidated building failed. The building sits on Main Street, next door to town hall.

Rosewater owner Christopher Celeste, operating as Summer & Main LLC, was picked to lease and renovate the property into a retail space with apartments above. Construction is ongoing at the Yellow House.

In an Oct. 21 letter, former building inspector Leonard Jason denied Hall’s request for zoning enforcement, stating that Hall was late in his filing on several issues referenced, and that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission did not need to review the parts Hall said they did.

Jason wrote that the planning board was not required to treat the application as a division of land, and that review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission was not required.

“First, for the reasons I described previously, your request is untimely. Next, a minor lot line adjustment does not trigger MVC review. Finally, to the extent you contend that the lessor’s plan for reconstruction of the so-called ‘Yellow House’ independently triggers MVC review as a ‘mixed-use’ development, you are also incorrect,” Jason wrote. “The developer is not ‘creating’ four or more units, as you contend, because prior structures supported several units.

“Further, since the developer has permanently restricted three dwelling units as rental units with rental terms not less than six months (see DRI checklist number 3.2(b) (Checklist)) — and those units are excluded from any floor area calculation — the project does not trigger any of the criteria identified in Section 3.1 of the checklist, based upon floor area alone.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Hall made his case, but was frequently warned by board chair Martin (“Skip”) Tommassian to stick to issues cited in Jason’s letter.

“With all due respect to Mr. Jason’s long service to this community, in this particular circumstance, if you look at the building permits that were before him, he was not exactly informed as to what was being built and exactly where,” Hall said. “Certain sections of his letter are factually deficient.”

Hall’s brother, Brian Hall, was frank with the board.

“All we’re asking for is an equal playing field, and the playing field that exists in this town, it’s sloped,” Brian Hall said.

Jason, who attended the hearing, told the board and Ben Hall Jr. that he spoke with MVC executive director Adam Turner, who said the lot line change did not need to be referred to the commission.

“The town has always followed its zoning bylaws, a lot more than some of the people in this room, and to suggest that we don’t I thought was a rather cheap shot, Ben,” Jason said.

Hall rebutted by saying Turner never informed him there was no need for review by the commission: “Less than two weeks ago [Turner] told me the matter was still under advisement.”

The board continued the hearing, and said they would render a decision at their next meeting on Feb. 5.

“Obviously we sit in the position as the former owners of the property, and I know that the optics of that don’t look … it looks like sour grapes, and in some ways there are issues,” Hall said.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The only ‘issue’ here is sour grapes. The Halls choose to leave the place vacant and lose potential hundreds of thousand of dollars in rent revenue while allowing the structure to fall into disrepair. One can only guess why that was part of their strategy or motive. I’m sure they ‘earned’ their reputation as property owners who could care less how their properties negatively affect the abutters and public, simply based on the stories published on the ‘yellow house’ and their movie theaters in Oak Bluffs . Are they still holding up the improvements at the Stop and shop as well?

  2. Its a shame that someone so knowledgeable with incredible patience and perseverance does not choose to put those talents to some positive use. Sad, pathetic and a waste of town resources.

  3. The Hall’s reputation as property owners proceeds them. If this was the only property they had on the island that would certainly be a different story. They control properties in the down-island towns that are under the microscope from each individual town. This is an indisputable fact.
    Time for them to walk away and put some money and effort into keeping up the other properties that are in the public view.

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