EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 8, 2013

Lyons buys land to block developer

By Dustin Luca
dluca@eagletribune.com

---- — ANDOVER — State Rep. Jim Lyons — in the latest chapter of a decade-long saga between him and neighboring developer Bill Johnson — has purchased land with the sole purpose of blocking the developer’s work and keeping Johnson away from both his property and all nearby Lyons land.

In response, Johnson has filed to have probation terms against him — established as part of a criminal harassment case that the Johnson family is appealing — terminated because of how the recent purchase is effectively a taking of his own property, he said.

According to a warranty deed available through the Northern Essex Registry of Deeds, Bernadette Lyons — wife of State Rep. Jim Lyons — purchased 233R Andover St., also known as the “Steir lot,” for $125,000 on Nov. 12.

The small parcel, previously deemed unbuildable, is just over 25,000 square feet in size and was recently assessed at $8,100 in land value only, according to town data. The site is not connected to the Lyons’ property, a single-family home located around the corner on High Vale Lane.

The Steir lot abuts a large chunk of Reynolds Street, where site owners Bill and Gail Johnson have aimed to build a million dollar home since 2003.

In that quest, with a litany of appeals and court challenges behind plans that have earned approval time and time again, neighborhood disputes escalated over the last few years to the Johnsons being found guilty of harassing the Lyons family. While calling the integrity of the original trial into question, both Johnsons have served prison sentences and are currently appealing the decisions in an effort to clear their names.

The Steir lot, now under Lyons ownership, also includes utility infrastructure, such as water and sewer access, for the Reynolds Street property if and when it is built out. That infrastructure was installed by Johnson when he owned the site in 2005, he said.

Because of the site’s location alongside Reynolds Street, Johnson says he can’t access his property without violating his probation conditions, which in part require he stay 20 feet from Lyons’ property. Johnson filed a motion in court Nov. 20 to have those terms terminated so he could access the site. To date, nothing has been scheduled.

Accessing his property “is literally impossible,” Bill Johnson said. “Not only that, but (Lyons) has taken the conclusion that he owns Reynolds Street and, if I go on Reynolds Street, I could be trespassing.”

Lyons said the purpose of purchasing the land “was to protect our home and our family from these convicted criminals who were sent to prison after a jury trial for criminally harassing our family.”

“I don’t think it’s unusual that victims of crimes want to protect their homes and their family,” Lyons said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

While speaking to the Planning Board as it discussed the driveway to Reynolds Street on Nov. 12, the day of the Steir lot purchase, Lyons announced in dramatic fashion that his wife owns the 233R Andover St. property.

“Let me make it perfectly clear tonight,” Lyons said to the board. “Bernadette Lyons owns the Steir lot. The infrastructure under the ground to the Steir lot is owned by Bernadette Lyons. Mr. Johnson has no right to access the sewer connection, the water lines, the roadway, or anything else to do with Reynolds Street through that property.”

Moments later, Lyons further said Johnson no longer has the opportunity to access his own property — period.

“We are entitled to our rights, and he, as he told others before, has no right in that roadway,” Lyons said. “He has no right to use the infrastructure. He has no right to use the water. He has no right to access his lot, because we are denying him those rights.”

The utility infrastructure is an added complication, Bill Johnson said, since they were installed and paid for by him for use with the Reynolds Street development.

“I have to access these utilities and the town has approved me to use them for that lot,” Bill Johnson said. “The town isn’t going to allow another set of utilities since they’re there.”

The inability to walk on his own driveway leading to his own property is the larger issue, Johnson said. That is why he has asked the court to terminate the probation restrictions altogether.

“He’s interfering with my right to make a living,” Johnson said.