A Different Type Of Tear-Down: Court Orders Million Dollar Marblehead Manse Demolished For Zoning Violation

One Very Expensive Lesson

This is a human interest story that contains a good reminder for those of us who often believe that when it comes to dealing with certain authorities, it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. In this case, that strategy proved disasterous. I have posted it here courtesy of Attorney Marc Canner’s and Attorney Rich Vestein’s Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog.

marblehead-home-teardownAfter a 16 year long saga, wealthy Marblehead mansion owner Wayne Johnson’s battle to save his house from a court-ordered wrecking ball has come to an end. The underlying legal saga is convoluted and complicated, but the end result was swift and destructive — the million dollar mansion is now rubble.

Johnson’s battle started 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.johnson-tear-down The house lot complied with all zoning dimensional requirements, but the garage lot didn’t comply with lot width requirements. The Building Inspector incorrectly determined that the garage lot complied with all applicable zoning requirements.

Johnson’s neighbors appealed the Building Inspector’s decision, arguing that the new house would greatly diminish their valuable ocean views. The local zoning board allowed the issuance of a building permit. 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. The Land Court judge 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.

Johnson, however, was unable to obtain zoning relief. After several unsuccessful appeals, the Land Court ordered Johnson to remove the house by October 4, 2010. Johnson failed to comply with that order, and the neighbors attempted to hold Johnson in contempt. With the threat of contempt and possible jail looming, Johnson finally threw in the towel.

The Land Court ruling can be read here:
Schey v. Johnson

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Tub/Shower Combo vs. the Walk-in Shower

As with my last post, this question may not be of immediate concern to you, but it is likely to come up sometime in the future if you are a homeowner.

If your bathroom needs remodeling or you are putting in an entirely new bathroom where there wasn’t one before, should you go with a walk-in shower or the tub/shower combination? I think the answer is clear: get rid of the existing tub (in the case of a remodel) and go for the walk-in shower. If you already have a tub somewhere else in your home, this decision is a ‘slam-dunk’. Why would you ever need more than one tub in your home?  In my experience of over 16 years in residential real estate (I actually do talk to people about these things), adults don’t take that many baths. Unless you have several very young children in your home who all need baths at the same time, don’t hesitate to convert one tub/shower combo to a walk-in shower.

The tougher question is what to do if you are renovating the only bathroom in your home and there is not enough space for both a walk-in shower and a tub. Here again, I think the walk-in shower is the answer.  Many people’s biggest concern is about resale. “If I don’t have a tub, won’t that hurt resale?” The answer is ‘no, you will lose some buyers, but you will gain more.’ Those people who just have to have a bathtub won’t buy your place, but the “wow factor” that your walk-in shower creates will substantially help your resale. Even those who thought they had to have a bathtub, may easily change their minds when they see your beautiful walk-in shower.

Why a walk-in shower is just better:

  1. More room in the shower generally.  The sloped walls and thick sides of most tubs make the actual floor space of a tub relatively small compared with a walk-in shower that occupies the same floor space.  With more floor space in the shower it is easier to make room for two!
  2. Tiled walk-ins can be fit into oddly shaped areas or areas too small for a tub.  If you take out your tub, you might be able to make room for a small walk-in shower and a new linen closet.
  3. They are easier and safer to get in and out of – no side wall to step over.
  4. Not as dangerous.  Cast iron, porcelain, and fiberglass tubs are slippery. Most walk-ins have tiled floors which are generally less slippery.  Look for tiles made out of materials that are known to be less slippery.
  5. They can easily be made to look great with glass doors and good tile work.  You can put glass doors on a tub, and nice tile as your tub surround, but it never looks as good as it does without the tub.
  6. Less expensive and a wider choice of great looking fixtures than the tub/shower combination fixtures.  As I noted in my last post, there is a wider choice of fixtures when the fixture doesn’t have to divert the water between the tub and the shower (tub/shower diverters).
  7. No shower curtain.  I know they make pretty ones but there is a big downside.  They are highly susceptible to mold, they don’t stay in place easily, and they just always seem to be in the way.

Tell me what you think!
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More Real Estate Eye Candy

I fully intend to blog on some more serious subjects other than just real estate “eye candy,” but, I couldn’t help but comment on another ultra-high-end property that just hit the market today.  I am speaking, of course, about the Penthouse atop the Albert A. Pope building at 221 Columbus Ave.  This is the building developed by Paul Roiff in the late 1990s. The Penthouse built on the roof, which you have probably seen from the Mass. Pike, is his personal residence. similar sites It is now on the market for the first time (a mere $7.2M).  The restaurant Mistral is on the street level. Check it out:

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A Peek at the Ultra High-End

Hi. Welcome to my new blog. If you are reading this you are also reading the very first entry.

Did you happen to read the Boston Globe on Friday July 8th? You might have caught the front page article entitled “What price luxury.” See the Boston.com article here. In a nut shell, the 6,829 square foot Penthouse at the Mandarin on Boylston Street in the Back Bay just sold for $13.2M (Hey you do get 4 parking spaces for your $10,000+ per month condo fee, and 3000 sqft of deck space). The sellers paid about $13.1M about 3 years ago, and never even moved in. secure server . Interestingly, these same sellers put it on the market for $16.99M and it took 32 months for it to sell.

This appears to me to be the most expensive condominium ever sold in the city of Boston. Second Place goes to another Mandarin unit that recently sold for $12.2M and 3rd place to a Penthouse Unit at 51 Comm. Ave. that sold last year for $10.8M. That unit took 4 years to sell. Currently there two other off-the-charts Penthouses available. One at the new Clarendon for $6.75M and the other at the Four Seasons for $8M. If you’re really interested in the Clarendon unit, ask me about as I saw it a couple of weeks ago.

New York has had $10M+ apartments for a long time so why not Boston? I don’t think it says too much about the real estate market in general. One, it means that Boston is attracting some of the super rich. That is good as it helps maintain Boston’s reputation as a world class city. And two, no matter what the price range, overpricing your property is still a bad strategy.

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