This summer, most people’s vacation plans have been cancelled or changed to options that are closer to home. For those of us in the Northeast, Martha’s Vineyard is a quaint place to relax for a few days. This post is like a mini vacation, focusing on a weekend getaway location instead of our hometown of New York.
Our eminent domain post takes place in the picturesque village of Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. As with most eminent domain cases, this one involves many years, neglect, a lengthy legal process, a public bid, and a successful renovation. Well, some say it’s successful because a derelict building is gone, but others feel it should have maintained more of its historical character. But we will leave that for another day.
The Hall family owns several properties on Matha’s Vineyard; and the subject property that was acquired by eminent domain was previously owned by them. Known as the “Yellow House” the downtown Edgartown building was the result of a unique public-private partnership. This was part of a project to help revive the historic area. It’s a prime piece of real estate that sat in disrepair for years.
In April 2017, town voters approved the acquisition of the building by eminent domain at a town meeting and town election. The 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. In June 2017, Edgartown selectmen signed off on final approval of taking the building.
The town then began the process of putting the renovation of the building out to bid. Not surprisingly, issues arose during the first round of bidding over protecting a large linden tree on the property. Christopher Celeste, operating as Summer & Main LLC of Edgartown, stepped in and put in a bid and secured a 30-year lease with the town to renovate and operate the building, with a commitment that upon renovation the space would be suitable for retail use.
The plan is to create street-level retail, several year-round residential apartments on the second floor, a new plaza, a one-story addition for the retail shop, exterior landscape improvements, and improvements to the parking lot.
Celeste, the new lessee, said his intentions were to do something positive and that the restoration “is not a profit-making exercise.” His stated goal is “the creation of an asset that has long-term value for the town and a show of what can be done.”
Renovating the building has had its difficulties. Celeste said he and others involved in the project have faced legal challenges from Ben Hall Jr., an attorney who is a member of the Hall family. As an FYI, if you look in the comments section of the news reports, you will see that the family is known for several properties in disrepair and endless legal battles.
“I just frankly decided I wasn’t going to let someone’s litigious streak prevent us from doing the right thing,” Celeste said. “People kept putting their neck out to do the right thing, this is a great example — if people are willing to put their self-interest aside — what can be done.”