Maine man loses in lawsuit over tiny Peabody lot

This home at 4 Lynn St., built on a tiny lot in Peabody, was torn down in 2011. The man who bought the empty lot for $1,000 has lost his lengthy court bid for permission to build a new house there. (File photo)

PEABODY — A U.S. District Court jury has rejected a Maine man’s claim that the city of Peabody illegally “took” a tiny lot on Lynn Street when it denied him a variance to build a home there seven years ago. 

John S. Barth Jr. told the judge presiding over the civil lawsuit on Wednesday that he intends to appeal, according to the case docket.

The lot in question is located at 4 Lynn St., at the intersection of three of Peabody’s busiest roadways, behind a set of traffic signals. 

At some point during the 19th century, long before the existence of zoning or traffic lights, a house had been built on or moved to that spot. That home, which had fallen into decrepitude, ended up in foreclosure, and was briefly on the market with an asking price of $20,000. But city officials worked with the mortgage holder, Freddie Mac, on an agreement to demolish the structure, according to testimony and documents filed in the case and elsewhere. 

After the home was torn down in 2011, Barth purchased the land that had been underneath it — a .04 acre lot — for $1,000, according to the Registry of Deeds. He told jurors on Tuesday that he wanted to rebuild the house that was there, as a place to rest during potentially long commutes from his home in Springvale, Maine, to a hoped-for job as a software engineer in Massachusetts. Barth told the jury that he suffers from blood clots and has been advised to drive for no more than an hour at a time. 

He also said he needed a Massachusetts address, because he believes having an out-of-state residence is the reason he has been rejected for more than 3,400 jobs.

When his variance was denied, Barth sued, first in state court and then again in federal court, contending that denial of a zoning variance amounted to an unlawful governmental “taking” of his land. He also alleged the city had violated his due process and civil rights, and that the city had engaged in a conspiracy. 

But after a three-day trial, the jurors quickly rejected Barth’s claims, finding that the city of Peabody was not liable for any damages, according to the jury verdict slip (which Barth also objected to, according to the docket). 

Asked for comment, the city’s attorney on the matter, Adam Buckley, said in a statement, “The city of Peabody was confident in the jury process, which in this case took less than an hour’s deliberation to exonerate the city.”

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.