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.