The Town of Hull has sent notice of a “date of taking” Graves Light away from its owners as it proceeds with its land grab across the county line.
“Dave Waller was shocked when he received a property tax bill from the town of Hull last year seeking to collect taxes on Graves Light, a lighthouse that he bought at federal auction in 2013. He got another surprise in the mail more recently, when the town tax collector sent him a letter saying that a ‘date of taking’ would be announced soon,” the Boston Globe reported.
The Globe‘s local news reporter Emily Sweeney broke the story on May 6. She has followed the Hull annexation attempt since last November.
The Town of Hull watched the Wallers’ seven-year restoration and renovation of Graves Light and waited until the work was almost done before it presented the family with a tax bill to lay claim to the project. Hull attempted to fine the Graves owners $25,000 a day until it stopped renovations and submitted to town authority.
‘Date of Taking’to be followed by ‘Instrument of Taking’
“Since Hull sent that first tax bill last year, Waller has been locked in a legal battle with the town to prove that the lighthouse is not part of Hull. The matter is currently in Land Court,” the Globe reported. “But that didn’t stop the tax collector from sending out the notice about the ‘date of taking.'”
“A ‘Date of Taking’ will be announced, followed by the recording of an ‘Instrument of Taking’ at the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds,” the town of Hull told the Wallers in a letter.
Hull town counsel James B. Lampke, a driving force behind the effort to annex Graves, “said there are no plans for a tax taking, despite what the letter says,” according to the Globe.
“There’s no tax taking at this time,” Lampke said in the Globe. “There is no tax taking and I do not anticipate a tax taking.”
“It’s weird, because [the town is] filing an ‘Instrument of Taking’ in Plymouth County Registry of Deeds,” Dave Waller told the Globe, “but Graves Ledge is in Suffolk County, so I’m not sure how that will work out for them.”
They’re purely the opinions of the people whose usernames are in parentheses, but they show the general flavor of public sentiment:
“Once again my hometown has done an excellent job of shooting itself in the foot. When will the town ever learn?…” (Hull67)
“As a proud resident of Hull, I suggest the town focus limited town recourses on many of our more pressing needs. The MBTA is threatening to cut the ferry service. The tower at Fort Revere is crumbling. Numerous seawalls are in a state of disrepair…. The electricity goes out with startling frequency…. to the average citizen the attempt to claim Graves appears to be frivolous.” (William fly)
“Seems like a pretty blatant cash grab by the town of Hull.” (McCloskey)
“All it takes is one look at the map to know this is nonsense. Shame on Hull, especially going after someone who is helping preserve a piece of the nautical history of our area.” (BostonYurMyHome)
“This is why tax collectors in the days of old would sometimes be tarred and feathered.” (Berkshire Man)
“… if this island is in Hull why isn’t it included in any of the town’s zoning plans, town’s voting districts, or town’s fire or police plans?” (user_1126029)
“Hull doesn’t do most of that [provide public services] with the onshore residents. He is not part of Hull, but if he were he won’t be treated any worse than all the other people of Hull.” (bakeraintgr8…)
“Statehood for Graves Light, it’s only a smidgen smaller than Li’l Rhody.” (Opportunity)
“Next time you’re wondering why some people grow to resent government…” (krstn)
“Huge overreach by Hull. Waller put his time and money into making this something unique, AND he isn’t using any town services.” (Bakes33)
“Sounds like taxation without representation.” (EastCoastLA)
“… Mr. Waller took Graves Light when the U.S. Government didn’t want it any more, renovated it, and assured it will always be a Boston-area landmark. . . . Just plain gross behavior by the Town of Hull, but hardly unexpected.” (user_3961644)
“If Howie Winter had tried this extortion, he would have died behind bars.” (sailrfl)
“My guess is that it’s not the money Hull wants, they’re just mad they don’t have the power to stop the work. Not so much a money grab as a power grab. For little people, the power to say no is very important.” (NCARalph)
“No; it’s the money… It’s Lampke personally that’s on the power trip…” (BalancedChat)
“Foolishness! This man saved a landmark that no one wanted to deal with and now is being punished.” (user_2041298)
“No good deed goes unpunished, especially by a government.” (Obftklkdvsm)
“Waller is no anti-government guy. He did his due diligence prior to the sale and has accepted regulatory oversight throughout the renovation. A clear judgement is needed here, not compromise. Shameless money grab by Hull.” (theimr)
“I live in Hull and this smells rotten! … Hull is attempting to strong arm this gentleman. Anyone agree with the town on this? I’ll wait.” (57anymore)
“He should issue his own cryptocurrency and offer to pay a settlement in Gravescoin so the town would go away.” (aidandad)
“There’s a crater on the moon that looks like it might belong to Hull too.” (user_4350232)
“Why don’t they claim Greenland while they’re at it.” (adriannel)
“The Town of Hull should be publicly shamed by the rest of the Commonwealth for its conduct in this matter.” (rpg-boston)
“Probably the first time I can remember seeing three pages of BG comments in complete agreement. Kudos, Hull, everyone is against you!” (Padraig02169)
The Boston Globe has picked up on the Town of Hull’s attempt to annex, fine, tax, and regulate us without rule of law.
The Globe‘s Emily Sweeney wrote the news item, published on November 18, with a lavish photo display by the paper’s legendary photographer David L. Ryan.
“Graves Light sits on a rocky ledge in the middle of Boston Harbor, surrounded by water,” the article began.
“Since purchasing the lighthouse at a government auction seven years ago, Dave Waller has poured time and money into restoring it. The only way to get out there is by boat; the nearest shoreline is miles away, and when he bought it, the Coast Guard said the lighthouse did not belong to any city or town,” Sweeney reported.
“That’s why Waller was shocked when, out of the blue, he received a property tax bill from the town of Hull last year,” she said. (Read the full article here.)
Hull’s town manager is still in hiding
The article was a straight news piece that told both sides of the story. Keeper Dave Waller and one of his attorneys, Peter A. Biagetti, spoke on behalf of the lighthouse. James B. Lampke, who has been Hull Town Counsel for 42 years, spoke for the Town of Hull. Town Manager Philip Lemnios, who as usual was nowhere to be found.
Dave and Lynn Waller bought Graves Light in 2013 from the federal government for $933,888 after the surplus property was offered to the surrounding towns, including Hull, for free.
Along with the other towns, Hull declined the offer. The money generated from the sale went directly to fund the restoration of Boston Light.
The Graves deed says that the lighthouse and Graves Ledge are unincorporated territory, outside the boundaries or jurisdiction of any town.
Happy to pay taxes, but not shakedowns
“If we were legally within the boundaries, then of course we’d pay taxes” to Hull, Dave told the Globe. “The tax part is secondary to the annexation issue.”
“They claim that it’s not in any jurisdiction,” says Lampke. “We claim that it is.”
But then Lampke didn’t sound so sure. “If it’s not located in Hull, where is it?” he said. “We say that it’s located in Hull, and if it’s not in Hull, it has to be located in some jurisdiction.”
No record of Hull claiming Graves in 376 years
Even though he has been Town Counsel since 1978, Lampke has been unable to produce any official documents to the Wallers to prove that Graves is within Hull’s boundaries.
“The law requires that assessors assess all property within their boundaries, and that’s what the assessors have done here,” Lampke told the Globe. “The fact that it wasn’t done for a couple of years isn’t pertinent.”
A couple of years? Hull hasn’t assessed Graves Ledge since the town was founded 376 years ago.
Hull Town Manager Philip Lemnios’ land grab to annex Graves Light will “probably cost a hundred years’ worth of taxes” that he’s seeking to take from the property.
Dave Waller, who purchased the ledge and lighthouse from the federal government in 2013 after the Town of Hull declined to accept it for free, did so knowing that the stone formation known as The Graves is the last unincorporated piece of property in Massachusetts.
Consequently, The Graves can’t be taxed or regulated by any town.
After receiving Hull’s $3,352.42 tax bill for fiscal year 2020, Dave tried to speak to the Town Manager, who refused to talk to him. So Dave ended up asking the Massachusetts Land Court to decide.
The case is so expensive, and the town’s case is so flimsy, Dave told the Hull Times, the Town Manager’s land grab will “probably cost a hundred years’ worth of taxes” that town is seeking in its annual tax bill.
With roughly 2,800 families in the town, that means that the attempted annexation is likely to cost each Hull family well over $100.
The Town of Hull has asked a state court to force Graves Light to cease its restoration operations or pay a $25,000-a-day fine until it does, the Hull Times reports.
“In a counterclaim filed with the court in September, [Hull Town Counsel James B.] Lampke asked Judge Rubin to issue a temporary restraining order on further renovations,” according to the Hull Times, until owner Dave Waller “obtains building permits from Hull, and ‘assess a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per day.'”
The town has been unable to produce records to prove its claim to Graves.
Lampke told the Hull Times that he still can’t find the documents, using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse.
Hull has no say whatsoever in how Graves Light is restored or operated, because the property is not within the jurisdiction of the town and never has been, as Graves explained to the Massachusetts Land Court.
“The Graves,” as the rock ledge is known, is located in Suffolk County and is the last unincorporated territory in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Hull officials showed no interest in Graves Light during six years of demolition, restoration, and reconstruction.
Then last year, with work almost finished, Hull officials presented Graves Light with a tax bill of $3,552.42 for fiscal year 2020.
It was the first time since Hull was founded 346 years ago that the town formally claimed or tried to tax the property.
That shakedown was the first time The Graves ever appeared in the Hull tax assessor’s database.
Hull wants to force compliance where it has no jurisdiction
“Lampke, in an interview and in court filings, framed the issue as ensuring compliance with the law,” according to the Hull Times.
“‘This dispute has nothing to do with wanting to stop someone from saving the lighthouse or improving the lighthouse,” Lampke told the Times, which described the lawyer as “an avid lighthouse historian and memorabilia collector,” among other things.
Lampke has been Town Counsel for 42 years.
It’s all about safety, Hull claims …
It isn’t about the money, Lampke says. “The Town does not object to these efforts and wants to do nothing that would impede them, provided they are done safely and legally, the same as any person or entity who wants to improve property must do,” the Times quoted him as saying.
… and about a Land Grab. And money.
“The Town does also assert that it is within the jurisdiction of Hull and thus subject to local taxation and regulatory and permitting requirements,” Lampke wrote, as quoted in the Hull Times.
Graves Light “essentially asserts that the property is not subject to real estate taxes or regulatory compliance with building codes, public safety requirements and the like. It is instead an ‘island entire to itself’ (with apologies to John Donne),” Lampke claims.
Some Hull residents tell Keeper that certain town officials can’t stand the idea that Graves Ledge is the last unincorporated piece of land in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They think it must be annexed so that it can be regulated, taxed, and fined.
The Hull Times article, published October 22, is not yet available online. We will link to it when it’s posted at www.hulltimes.com.
All of us at the Graves Light family are overwhelmed by the wonderful outpouring of support after public reports that the Town of Hull is trying to annex Graves so that the lighthouse can be regulated, taxed, and fined.
More than 2,000 people an hour saw the story in the first 12 hours after the news appeared on our Facebook page,
Hundreds expressed their support for Graves Light and their criticism of Hull’s town leadership.
More than a hundred in the first afternoon and night offered their comments. Nobody supported Hull leaders. Anyone can read our Facebook page to see the names of the authors.
Hull residents are furious at town leaders
Several Hull residents expressed frustration at how the town is wasting taxpayer funds harassing Graves when the town can’t even provide reliable electricity through its energy monopoly. Here are some of the comments from the first 12 hours, some of which are edited for punctuation:
Frank S, Hull: “We can’t even get electricity during storms that blow at 6 miles an hour. What the hell are we gonna do with an island?”
Laura B, Hull: “I’m so sorry about this as I live in Hull. I have enjoyed seeing the fruits of your labor and marveled at how much you have accomplished against tremendous odds. I wish the power that be would put more time and energy into keeping our electricity up and running than spending money suing you!”
Ron P, Hull: “Please don’t lump all of the Hull residents in with this situation. I guarantee that the residents of Hull are on your side.”
Tim W, Hull: “That is such bull****, I live in Hull and they want their hands in everyone’s pocket …. you guys are doing an amazing job restoring the lighthouse.”
Karen C, Hull: “So sorry this is happening to you from my own town!”
Bill W, Hull: “More evidence of how inept our Town Manager & Board of Selectpeople are. The townspeople of Hull were never informed or given the chance for input on claiming Graves ledge for free, nor has there been any town meeting as to why Hull wants it now.”
Christine W, Hull: “Hull is terrible with money and running so many dirty schemes. They should tax [Town Manager] Phil [Lemnios] on his years living in Natick.”
‘Shame on you, Hull!’
Here are some of the early comments from around the area:
Jayne W, Tewksbury: “It’s just a grab for property taxes. And with all the improvements you’ve made, they’re imagining a wonderful assessment. Fight this.”
Katherine M, Nantucket: “This is ridiculous and I hope you guys have great lawyers, keep spreading the story. Where is the Boston Globe etc.”
Holly R, Weston: “A land grab is not a good look for you, Hull.”
Sean G: “What service is Hull planing on offering you? Public school? Fire station on island? Police patrol? Have they ever received tax revenue from any owner of graves island since the founding of the town in 1644?”
Ray H, ex-Medford: “Complete waste of time and tax money for the Town of Hull that is nowhere near The Graves.”
Wendy S, Boston: “After all of the beautiful work (and expense). That is outrageous. And you guys were so eager to help the Coast Guard with repairs on Little Brewster. You have been so generous with your time, equipment, expertise, and finances. . . . I don’t think Hull should get a cent . . . .”
Melinda G, Winthrop: “Shame on you, Hull!”
Cassandra C: “When you say, ‘Shame on you, Hull!!’, it seems as though you are addressing the taxpayers, and I doubt any of them are fans of this.”
Boston sought to tax Graves but found no basis
A researcher for the Boston Assessing Department said he tried to find a way to tax the owners of The Graves, but – apparently because Boston recognized that the property is indeed officially unincorporated – found that it wouldn’t be possible. Here’s what he said:
Jim L, Scituate: “In 2014, I researched the Graves Light property and its sale to the Wallers. I worked for the Boston Assessing Department and wanted to determine whether the city could tax it. Initially I thought since Graves Light is in Suffolk County, one of three municipalities in coastal Suffolk County — Winthrop, Revere and Boston — would be able to do so. Bottom line: We determined the city could not tax it. I can’t take issue with anything the Waller family has written in this post.”
The Town Manager of Hull, our neighbor across the county line in Plymouth, has made a unilateral “land grab” to annex Graves Light and force us to pay property taxes, even though we were never part of the town. We’re not even in the same county.
We’re not going to let a town bureaucrat simply steal us, so we pled our case to the Massachusetts Land Court.
Here’s our side of it, as the Hull Times reported:
Dave Waller, who bought Graves Light in 2013, “said this week that his deed from the federal government describes the 10-acre property in terms of latitude and longitude and references Broad Sound Channel, a shipping route in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Documents provided by a US Coast Guard office in Virginia indicated that ‘the property is not located within the corporate limits of any municipality’ a concept that [a lawyer for Hull] disputes . . . .”
“‘When we bought the place, [federal documentation] said it was unincorporated territory in Suffolk County,’ said Waller . . . .”
“Waller said he filed suit when the town refused to rescind a property tax bill in the fall of 2019, after he had completed substantial renovations to the lighthouse. . . . Records at the Hull Assessors’ office value the property at $274,100, resulting in a tax bill of $3,552.42 for fiscal 2000.”
“‘Hull kind of came along about six years afterward [from when Dave Waller bought Graves in 2013], and the town manager just claimed it,’ Waller said, recalling that the assessor’s office initially told him that the bill had been sent in error. ‘But then they called back and they spoke to the town manager and that it was correct.'”
“He said that Graves Light was not included on Hull’s assessing maps until shortly after that phone call.”
“As late as this week [October 22], the maps displayed did not show Graves Light on Map 61, although it is listed in the online property database.”
“‘You can’t just look out the window and decide to add something to the map,’ Waller said. ‘It’s more that it seems like a land grab that ruffled our feathers, and we didn’t think that was fair. It just seemed wrong.'”
There’s a lot more to the story, and we’ll link to the original Hull Times article once it’s online.
Graves Light is a historic landmark. At the outermost entrance to Boston Harbor and the tallest lighthouse in the Boston area, Graves Light is privately owned but continues to serve as a navigation aid run by the US Coast Guard.
The new owners welcome the adventurous public to enjoy the sights of Graves Light, but warn that there are no electrical, water, sanitary, first aid, or other facilities of any kind available to the public at the lighthouse or on Graves Ledge.
Graves Ledge is dangerous. Submerged rocks present a navigation hazard. We insist that visitors enjoy the ledge and lighthouse from the safety of their boat or kayak.
Meanwhile, follow us through this website, Facebook, and on Twitter @GravesLight.