The Meaning of “Proceed at your Peril”

“Home razed after neighbors’ 18 year legal-battle” in today’s Boston Globe proves why it’s not always a good strategy to beg forgiveness than ask permission. In the 1990’s Wayne Johnson built a 5,000 square foot house overlooking Marblehead  Harbor.* The house would interfere with a neighbor’s access to sunlight and ocean view–although there’s a question of how much water they actually see from their property. The neighbors challenged whether the house complied with zoning requirements. In 2000 the Land Court ruled against Johnson and ordered the house removed because the lot did not satisfy the town’s lot width requirement. [Marblehead zoning required “that no part of the lot be less than 75% of the lot’s required frontage. The lot has the minimum required frontage (100′), but is only 62.67′ wide at its narrowest – 12.33′ less than required.”) The Land Court judge warned Johnson in open court “that he proceeded at his peril.” When the Land Court issued this ruling construction had not actually started. Ignoring the court’s warning Johnson built the house while he pursued various appeals, to the Massachusetts Appeals Court to overturn the Land Court ruling and with the local zoning authorities, to obtain a special permit or change the applicable zoning.  None was successful. A court ordered Johnson to remove the house by October 4, 2010. He did not. The neighbors then sued Johnson for contempt of the removal order. Last November the Land Court ruled in their favor:

Sixteen years after filing, eleven years after entry of judgment, five years after that judgment was affirmed, and after all other possibilities to change the demolition and removal order have been attempted and rejected, this case has reached an endpoint. In accordance with that judgment and this court’s order dated August 2, 2010, the house at 74 Bubier Road must be demolished and removed, immediately. If Mr. Johnson has not entered into a contract by December 16, 2011 for the prompt demolition and removal of the house and foundation and the re-grading of the lot, he shall be held in contempt of this court, to be enforced by all appropriate remedies. A copy of that contract must be filed with the court and served on counsel by no later than December 19, 2011. If, for whatever reason, Mr. Johnson fails to comply with this order, the Scheys may themselves proceed to have the house demolished and removed and seek appropriate orders from this court for reimbursement of all associated costs.

The house was demolished yesterday.

Johnson’s house is marked “A.” I assume the Schey’s house is immediately to its left, and thus Johnson’s 35′-foot high structure is akin to a wall built in their backyard. Photos of the house and its demolition are here.

*Facts are based on Judge Long’s 18-Nov-11 Land Court opinion, not the Globe article.

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