A superior court case revolving around an old Linden tree on Main street Edgartown was dismissed Tuesday. But after the dust had settled, both sides in the case agreed to go to work on the issue that reaches beyond a legal dispute over tree roots — the need to restore the decrepit building known as the Yellow House which sits in the center of the village.
“This ends a phase of a chapter, but I hope it’s time for all of us to try to find a way that’s acceptable to the owners and the town to fix up the Yellow House,” said town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport.
“We’ll see if there is a plan that can be put together that can assuage everybody’s concerns. If it can happen, it would be delightful,” said Benjamin L. Hall, the attorney representing Lucky Seven Realty Trust, the official name of the Hall family trust that owns the Yellow House, on the corner of Summer and Main streets.
The court case dated to 2003 and involved a dispute over whether the trust was entitled to damages from the town, which has declared that a large shade tree on the Main Street side of the property cannot be cut down. The civil jury-waived trial got underway Monday with opening statements, and Mr. Hall argued that the property values were negatively impacted by the decision to retain the tree, which limited renovation options for the house. Mr. Rappaport was assisted by his partner Michael Goldsmith, who in an opening statement countered the claim that the tree was an impediment to redevelopment on the property.
With the trial underway, in a directed finding from the bench on Tuesday morning, the Hon. Cornelius J. Moriarty granted a motion from the town to dismiss the case.
Speaking to the Gazette on Tuesday after the dismissal, Mr. Hall said the family trust would like to tear down and replace the building, which he termed “an eyesore,” but he blamed the town for throwing up roadblocks.
“In 2003, we had a building permit to start construction,” Mr. Hall recalled. “We started the work. We hired contractors. We had money committed. The town said, ‘Oh, by the way you can’t take that tree down, and if you started cutting you’ll be in contempt.’ All the work had to stop.”
He said the original plan was to tear down the existing building and rebuild it as a similar, multiuse building closer to Main street that included a residential apartment, office and retail space and a courtyard between it and another new building that would have been added closer to town hall. Over the years, Mr. Hall said, the town has made it clear that they don’t want that building to come down without a plan to put up something coming immediately in its place.
But he said the tree has been an impediment to doing any work on the building.
In 2003, Edgartown’s tree warden ruled that the tree was a public shade tree, requiring a hearing for removal. The selectmen held a public hearing in April 2003 and voted to deny the request to remove the tree.
Under chapter 87 of the Massachusetts General Laws, public shade trees “shall not be cut, trimmed or removed, in whole or in part, by any person other than the tree warden or his deputy, even if he be the owner of the fee in the land on which such tree is situated.”
Mr. Hall said he had some hope for the future. “We’ve had some recent communications with the town,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to make a plan that works and that is as economically viable as the one we had approved years ago,” he said.