Death comes for the arch-builder: Part 2, three wild speculations
[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]
Yesterday’s post, on the imminent demise of the illegal home at 74 Bubier Road, featured three novel arguments advanced by Wayne Johnson as to why he shouldn’t have to tear down that house, despite 11 years’ worth of litigation saying he did.
Sources for this post include the Marblehead Reporter (Jan 27, 2010), the Marblehead Reporter (Nov 23, 2011), the Marblehead Reporter (Dec 21, 2011), the Salem News (Dec 22, 2011), and CBS Boston (Feb 22, 2012).
All three phantasms were rejected, and Mr. Johnson was ordered to pay for the demolition, at a cost Mr. Johnson claimed was $150,000 but the court found would be $42,000 or less. (Mr. Johnson’s proffered facts never align with anyone else’s.) As reported in the Marblehead Reporter (Dec 21, 2011):
To avoid paying that expense, Long noted that Johnson had made two [actually three – Ed.] last-minute proposals, “neither of which is realistic.”
If you thought yesterday’s arguments were entertaining, wait ’til you a load of these.
Wait’ll they get a load of me
1. “Just scrunch your house a little.”
The first was “that he be allowed an opportunity to approach his neighbor on the other side… and convince [Persuade, your grammatical editor – Ed.] them to dig up their house, put it on risers, move it at least 13 feel uphill to the right, place it on a newly constructed foundation in that location, and sell him enough of the land where the house used to be to make his lot conforming.”
Evidently Mr. Johnson hopes his neighbors are the White Queen, who could believe six impossible things before breakfast.
Explain Mr. Johnson’s plan to me again, my dear
Long added, “Third, it is nearly impossible to believe that [the neighbors] would ever agree to this,” noting that they would incur costs, be greatly inconvenienced and also risk damage to their house, while in the process losing the benefit of what stands to be a vacant lot next door, after Johnson’s house is removed. … This is magical thinking at best and a cynical attempt at further delay at worst.”
I’d say cynical attempt to delay, wouldn’t you?
2. “I’ll sell it to somebody else who will move I so I won’t have to!”
What is it about property that causes normally rational adults to see visions of saviors descending from the heavens, to a fanfare of trumpets, with title deeds in hand strewing benefices like Avignon popes:
You want a miracle?? It’ll cost you big time
Johnson was also denied the opportunity to sell his house “as is, where is” to a prospective buyer who would then absorb the cost of moving it to a new location.
Some years back, I posted about Steve Jobs’ efforts to tear down his house, where his opponents (remember, whatever you want, the neighbors are against it) envisioned someone who would buy Jobs’ white elephant and transport it to a safe and happy new home? Evidently Mr. Johnson had the same vision:
Said the judge, “to further entertain this request… is once again to delay the Scheys the benefit of the judgment they’ve received, and to add additional supervisory burdens to this court. Given the history of this case, it would be unconscionable to do either, and I decline to do so.”
3. “You’ll impoverish me!”
Johnson attempted to argue that removing his house would force him to make withdrawals from his IRA and 401(k)’s [Plural – Ed.], which he said would be an improper invasion into a protected asset.
That’s sacrosanct, isn’t it?
Mr. Johnson intentionally defaulted on his mortgage and shoved money as rapidly as he could into those IRA and 401(k)’s.
In the 11 years since the removal order was first entered, Johnson earned over $1 million, received hundreds of thousands more in retirement distributions and Social Security payments and took an additional $205,000 from the property by refinancing, yet never set aside any money to comply with the removal order, according to the judge.
Despite the mountain of evidence of his affluence, Mr. Johnson now claims he shouldn’t be required to dip into his savings to pay the cost of his loss.
Said Judge Long, “Mr. Johnson has actively used those years to divert as much as possible to his IRA and 401(k)’s with the intent… to assert them as a shield. The law does not permit this … if to do so would reward [Johnson’s] deliberate and continuing efforts to avoid complying with court orders,” Long said.
Finally, after writing so many hundreds of words and listening to so many more thousands of them in court, the judge unburdens himself of his true feelings:
This is especially true, said Long, where Johnson is “clearly willing to access and use those assets when it serves his purposes,” such as his 11th-hour proposal to move his neighbors’ house and buy part of their land.
[The Scheys’ attorney, Frank] McElroy, faulted Johnson for not seeking a special permit allowing him to build without the required frontage “until he lost in court.” He speculated that in the midst of a freewheeling real estate boom, Johnson gambled that once he built the house, no one would dare order it dismantled.
Bet that forgiveness is easier to obtain that permission? That’s as American as apple pie.
Unlike past court rulings, this one will stick because the judge indicated that if the house is not destroyed, “there was going to be jail time for Mr. Johnson,” McElroy said. Only an event like a blizzard would justify delay, he said. “I feel terrible for Mr. Johnson,” he said, but added, “He can find the person to blame in the mirror.”
Johnson, who is living in the house, now needs to find a new home. He hopes to salvage what he can from the structure prior to its destruction. Moving it would be impractical, he said.
Of course, that’s not what he argued, repeatedly, in multiple court filings and testimony. But that was then and this is now.
In fact, Mr. Johnson wasn’t done, as reported in the Marblehead Reporter (Dec 21, 2011)
Part of Wednesday’s hearing involved resolving fears raised by Johnson’s demolition contractor, Dracut-based S&T Frotton Inc., about a possible need to enter the property — and thus gain the consent of — the Clarks, Johnson’s neighbors on the opposite side of his longtime litigation adversaries, the Scheys. But after some discussion, it was determined that S&T Frotton could use a driveway on the Scheys’ side of Johnson’s property.
Nor was Mr. Johnson done appealing for sympathy:
“I need the time for sure. At my age, I have a lot of stuff to throw out…. [The timetable] reduces that anxiety I’ve been dealing with in my head.”
Johnson said he would be moving to Salem, not “by design” or as a result of his lingering dissatisfaction with Marblehead town officials but rather as a result of needing to have someplace to go quickly, not knowing how exactly things would be resolved in Land Court.
Not knowing? He had lost at every stage of the process. He had had a trial for contempt of court. He had been threatened with jail time. Not knowing?
Two months later, the house came down, and it made CBS Boston (February 21, 2012):
The home on Bubier Road was torn down in a matter of minutes just after sunrise Tuesday.
Seeing is believing: here’s the video.
The actual demolition is important because it reveals that everything Mr. Johnson said up to this point, all fifteen years of it, was merely a stall, a shuffle, a cynical device to evade the zoning laws and make a million-dollar profit on an illegal home.
Still, one has to credit Mr. Johnson, he stays on message even while being buried under an avalanche of facts and law:
“I’m happy to be able to get on with my life and not have to be dealing with this miscarriage of justice that has truly been a real burden for 20 years,” Johnson told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 Sunday. “It is sad, for sure, but there’s more to life than a house.”
Nor could Mr. Johnson resist tossing out one last fantasy for the public:
While Johnson hopes to seek a special permit to build something else on the property, McElroy served notice that his clients and other residents would fight that, too.
“It’s not a buildable lot,” he said.
Principle is thus served: Mr. Johnson has demonstrated to the observant herd that building before the permits are locked down means losing one’s money.
Now, sixteen years after it began, the combined lot again holds the single house it was zoned for, just a new one in a different place. And there is one silver lining:
The Scheys no longer have Mr. Johnson as a neighbor.
Before and after: