With frustration bubbling over among all parties, Edgartown officials made their case Wednesday for a proposal to acquire the dilapidated Yellow House in the heart of downtown.

About 30 people gathered for a public forum about a plan to spend $3 million to purchase or take by eminent domain the property at 66 Main street, owned in a trust by the Hall family. Town officials and members of the public voiced frustration about years of legal action surrounding the property and what they said was the owner’s lack of action in making repairs, while a Hall family representative criticized the project at length.

The town proposes asking for proposals from businesses to restore the circa-1805 building and operate it as retail space, build a small park and turn a private parking lot into town hall and public parking. A rendering of the property by architect Patrick Ahearn shows the house rotated for more frontage on Main street.

The plan will come before town meeting April 11, with a two-thirds majority required, and also requires approval at the April 13 town election.

Town's design for the Yellow House, located at the corner of Main and Summer streets.

Town officials said the plan follows years of legal wrangling with the owners, and failed efforts to improve the property with the owners’ help.

“This isn’t something we just dreamed up,” selectman Michael Donaroma said.

He added: “The best thing we’re hoping is that in the end, if this all goes through, it will end up paying for itself and this part of town will have a future.”

Mr. Donaroma said benefits to the town include an increase in open space and parking, as well as potentially using the land for an expansion of town hall.

The project would be funded through $1.5 million in community act funding, and the remaining $1.5 million through general appropriation, or a “one time hit on the tax bills,” Mr. Donaroma said. Officials said two independent appraisals have valued the property at about $3 million.

Town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport outlined years of legal action centered on the house, which was most recently a bookstore but has been vacant since the early 2000s. The town and the Hall family have been involved in a lawsuit over a tree next to the property since 2003, with the town contending that the tree cannot be removed because it is a public shade tree and the family arguing that the tree’s roots have interfered with renovation plans. A superior court judge found in favor of the town in 2013; Mr. Rappaport said a third notice of appeal has been filed, with the first two appeals thrown out as untimely.

The town has also been battling to enforce a historic district bylaw passed in 2013 requiring minimum upkeep; the historic district commission found the property in violation and sent the matter to the building department for enforcement. That has been appealed, Mr. Rappaport said, “and we’re two years into that case.”

He said these issues were part of the town’s motivation. “How much do we want to spend in legal fees on an ongoing basis?” he said.

Edgartown attorney Sean Murphy called the house a "dump." — Mark Lovewell

Several questions posed from the audience centered around the details of taking the building through eminent domain if an agreement to buy it could not be reached.

Mr. Rappaport said town meeting would need to vote to authorize the selectmen to take the property, and under state law the town would be required to pay fair market value. If the proposal is approved the town could take the property the next day, Mr. Rappaport said, though the property owner has three years to appeal and can take the town to court to determine whether it paid a fair amount. Mr. Rappaport said it was hard to know how much legal fees would be.

“But in the meantime we own it and we can start the project, we wouldn’t have to wait,” Mr. Donaroma said.

Members of the public had questions and pointed criticism about the state of the property.

“I’m afraid I’m exasperated with the Halls and have been for a long time,” Edgartown resident and former downtown business owner Carol Fligor said. “I for one am for taking it by eminent domain and I hope everybody else thinks that’s a good idea too.”

Resident Barbara Phillips posed a question to the owners. “I just wonder why...why this has to be such a horrible journey? If you really have no interest in making improvements, why can’t you simply sell to the town, why can’t this be harmonious? You obviously don’t want to do anything with it, why can’t you sell it to the town?”

Benjamin L. Hall Jr. represented the Hall family. — Mark Lovewell

During lengthy comments at the meeting, Benjamin L. Hall Jr., representing the property owners, criticized the town’s proposal to take stewardship of what he called “one of the key pieces of property in the B-1 district on Main street” and that businesses in the downtown “are the engine that drive the economy.” He said $3 million was “ very far below what the true cost of the property is to the town,” adding that he thought the town would have to spend $7.5 million and pay attorney’s fees. He argued the town should spend money on other things.

“I know people are upset,” he said. “I’m upset about the look and feel about that place, I’m upset about the entire situation when we started to work in 2003 and started to dig.” He said the family planned to paint and clean up the property, and had a prospective buyer.

“Yes, my family has had its differences with the town government,” he said, adding that it was the nature of a small town not to agree all the time, and it was their right to pursue legal action. “But this is a bad idea and I would urge the public or anyone who hears about this hearing to come out to town meeting to say a firm no.”

Mr. Hall’s comments did not sit well with Edgartown attorney Sean Murphy. “I find it personally offensive for Mr. Hall to give this group and the town a lecture about finances,” he said, noting “the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars [the Halls] have cost the town over a tree.”

“To call it the economic engine, what is wrong with you? It’s a dump. It has always been a dump,” he said, adding that two towns have proposals on town meeting warrants to address properties owned by the Hall family. In Oak Bluffs the town is proposing spending $200,000 on temporary repairs for the Island Theatre, which is in disrepair and has been deemed dangerous.

“The two words you haven’t heard from him are I’m sorry or we will do it . . . because it’s never going to happen,” he said, adding that he thought a lawsuit was likely regardless of how much the town spends. “Take it and move forward and let’s get Main street cleaned up.”

The board will hold another public information session on April 3 at 4:30 p.m. at town hall.