WELLS – Bill Johnson’s commercial property along 600 feet of Route 1 is home to the Johnson Hall Museum – part antiques shop, part collection of baubles of bygone days.

The property includes a main building, which is home to the shop and museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places. There also are several smaller outbuildings, in varying levels of dilapidation. Johnson, who calls himself the “keeper,” has been running the business for 31 years.

So why is the town of Wells telling him that his property no longer complies with its zoning?

“That’s a good question,” he said Friday. “I’d like to know who has an ax to grind.”

It all started recently, when Johnson removed two dead trees that hung over Route 1 in front of his business. It turns out that Wells requires buffers between roads and properties in commercial zones.

It’s a way of preserving aesthetic value, said Mike Livingston, the town planner and engineer. Many towns have similar restrictions, he said.

When the trees came down, the town told Johnson that he would have to plant new ones to stay in compliance. He said no.

“I don’t want them there,” he said, his voice rising to agitated. “Trees will block the line of sight to my business.”

Johnson, 71, looks like Archie Bunker on the 1970s sitcom “All in the Family” – if Bunker wore suspenders and pulled his hair back into a ponytail. Johnson is clearly aware of the resemblance.

He wears a pin that says, “Archie Bunker tells it like it was,” and his antique Buick LaSalle, parked in front of the museum, has a license plate that reads “A Bunker.”

His museum gained some notoriety last year when it was featured on the television show “American Pickers.”

Johnson, taking a break from entertaining visitors Friday, said the problem with the town goes beyond trees. Officials also want him to add parking spaces to comply with his site plan.

Johnson insists that there’s plenty of parking, including a grass field that he uses for overflow.

In less than an hour Friday, more than a dozen visitors stopped at his antiques shop and museum. Sure enough, when the spaces filled up, drivers parked on the grass.

Livingston said the parking problem has more to do with consistency of the site plan. What Johnson wrote on the plan isn’t what’s there, the town argues.

Another problem emerged recently when Johnson began putting up new buildings on his land. He didn’t get a permit first, so the town told him to stop.

Johnson said he thinks the town is arbitrarily cracking down on him. “They’re on me like flies on honey,” he said. “It’s unreasonable.”

Johnson plans to fight. He said he doesn’t see why the town doesn’t just grant him a variance or a waiver. He said he plans to bring that request to the town manager next week.

“I’m going to do anything I can to resolve this,” he said. “I don’t want to have to call a lawyer.”

Livingston, however, said the town can’t pick and choose who gets waivers. Johnson has been told his options. The next move is up to him.

“He an eccentric guy with a unique business,” Livingston said. “But we can’t grant waivers just because someone is a colorful character.”

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]