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 he had bought at a federal auction in 2013.
Waller got another surprise in the mail more recently, when the town’s tax collector sent him a letter saying that a “date of taking” would be announced soon.
Graves Light sits on a rocky ledge in the middle of Boston Harbor, surrounded by water, and the only way to get there is by boat. When Waller bought it, the Coast Guard said the lighthouse was not in any city or town.
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.
But that didn’t stop the tax collector from sending out the notice about the “date of taking.” The letter Waller received, dated April 22, stated that $3,461 in outstanding taxes must be paid by May 10, or the town would take further action.
“Outstanding taxes due for all fiscal year 2020 accounts will be published in the Hull/Nantasket Times on 5/13/2021,” the letter said. “A ‘Date of Taking’ will be announced, followed by the recording of an ‘Instrument of Taking’ at the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds.”
Town Counsel James B. Lampke has been defending Hull’s claim that the lighthouse is part of the town. He said there are no plans for a tax taking, despite what the letter says.
“Taxes have been assessed to the property as required by law, and certain notices have to be sent from time to time . . . There’s no tax taking at this time,” Lampke said. “There is no tax taking, and I do not anticipate a tax taking.”
Lampke has also argued the lighthouse should be subject to Hull’s building regulations and would need permits and inspections of the work that’s been done so far. In September, Hull asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order for Waller to stop renovating the lighthouse or pay a $25,000-per-day penalty to the town.
Waller, who partnered with philanthropist Bobby Sager to preserve Graves Light, has spent years meticulously restoring the inside and making it into a livable home.
The way Waller sees it, the town’s actions look like “a very costly and meaningless attempt at a land grab.”
“It’s weird, because [the town is] filing an ‘Instrument of Taking’ in Plymouth County Registry of Deeds, but Graves Ledge is in Suffolk County, so I’m not sure how that will work out for them,” Waller said.
From 1903 to 2013, Graves Light was federal property. When Waller bought it at auction in 2013 for $933,888, he received a title examination the Coast Guard commissined that stated the “property is not located within the corporate limits of any municipality.”
Peter A. Biagetti, an attorney who represents Waller and Sager, said the tax collector’s notice was “premature” at best, at worst “incorrect.”
Biagetti said they plan to file a motion for summary judgement in Land Court on June 15.
“We feel as confident in our position as we ever have,” Biagetti said.