Wayne Johnson’s epic battle to save his house from the wrecking ball appears to have come to an end, after 16 years of litigation involving four different Land Court Judges. In his November, 2011 decision in Schey v. Johnson (pdf), Judge Keith Long ordered the demolition of Johnson’s waterfront residence in Marblehead. To ensure compliance, Judge Long ordered Johnson to enter into a contract to demolish the residence by December 16, 2011, and to file a copy of the contract with the court by December 19, 2011. Should Johnson fail to comply with this order, the plaintiffs themselves may proceed to have the building demolished and seek reimbursement by court order.
Johnson’s tale of woe began in 1995 when he recorded a plan dividing his land into two lots. One lot contained an existing single-family dwelling. The second lot contained a garage. The house lot complied with all dimensional requirements. The garage lot didn’t comply with lot width requirements. After recording the plan, Johnson sold the house lot to the Clarks. The plaintiffs – abutters whose water view would be impaired if a new house were built on the garage lot – wrote to the Building Inspector asking him not to issue a building permit, arguing that the garage lot was not a lawful nonconforming lot. The Building Inspector replied that in his opinion, the garage lot complied with all applicable zoning requirements.
The plaintiffs appealed the Building Inspector’s decision, which was affirmed by the local zoning board. After the building permit issued, the plaintiffs filed an appeal in Land Court and asked for an injunction to prevent construction on the garage lot. In a 1996 ruling, the court refused to grant the injunction, but warned Johnson that proceeding with construction was at his peril. In a decision by another judge in May, 2000, the court ordered the building permit to be revoked. However, the court ruled that the house could remain in place while Johnson attempted to obtain appropriate zoning relief.
Apparently, Johnson was unable to obtain zoning relief. In 2006, the Appeals Court upheld the Land Court’s decision. The Land Court then ordered Johnson to remove the house by October 4, 2010. After Johnson failed to comply with that order, the plaintiffs brought a complaint for contempt, which resulted in Judge Long’s recent decision.
Reports out of Marblehead indicate that Johnson’s house remains intact. We will continue to monitor the situation.