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Vanderminden v. Town of Wells

Supreme Court of Vermont

June 28, 2013

VANDERMINDEN, A Family LTD Partnership
v.
TOWN OF WELLS.

Page 599

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 600

Joseph A. DeBonis of DeBonis, Wright & Carris, P.C., Poultney, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

John C. Thrasher of Ceglowski & Thrasher, LLC, Rupert, for Defendant-Appellee.

Present: REIBER, C.J., DOOLEY, SKOGLUND, BURGESS and ROBINSON, JJ.

DOOLEY, J.

¶ 1. Taxpayer, Vanderminden, a Family Limited Partnership, owns a contiguous piece of property located in the adjoining Towns of Poultney and Wells. This appeal concerns the portion of the property in the Town of Wells. The state appraiser affirmed the Town's valuation of this parcel at $122,000. On appeal, taxpayer argues that the state appraiser erred in: (1) failing to provide a sufficient explanation for the decision and accepting the Town's valuation without sufficient supporting evidence; (2) assessing the Wells and Poultney properties as a single parcel and valuing the Wells portion as if its best use was for a seasonal dwelling; and (3) not accepting taxpayer's evidence that the property is assessed above fair market value. We reverse and remand.

¶ 2. Taxpayer's aggregate property is 1.49 acres with 715 feet of lake frontage on Lake St. Catherine. The property is improved with a seasonal camp, a garage,

Page 601

water, and a sewage system. All of the improvements are located on the Poultney portion. The Wells portion is .09 acres [1] including 125 feet of lake frontage. It is shown on the Town of Wells tax map as a roughly triangular small piece of land that sticks out into the lake. The maximum depth of the land is fifty feet, and it tapers to zero feet on each side as it crosses the town boundary.[2] Apparently, this piece is reachable by land only by proceeding over the Poultney portion of taxpayer's land.[3]

¶ 3. For 2011, the Town of Wells assessed the Wells portion of the property at $130,200. Taxpayer grieved that assessment, and the listers adjusted the value to $122,000 to reflect that the overall property had 715 feet of lake frontage. Apparently, the Town's land schedule assigns a per-foot value for lake frontage that decreases as the amount of overall lake frontage increases. [4] Following taxpayer's appeal, the board of civil authority affirmed the listers' valuation. Taxpayer then appealed to the state appraiser.

¶ 4. At the hearing, three listers represented the Town. They put the listers' card in evidence and explained that the parcel was assessed by using a per-foot value for lake frontage. One of the listers explained that this amount was then adjusted with a neighborhood multiplier of 2.5 and grade adjustment of 0.5. The amount was also adjusted to reflect the depth of the property. The printed part of the card said that that adjustment reflected an " effective depth" of fifty feet, but there is a handwritten addition that says depth " reduced to 30' for value purpose." [5] The Town did not, however, introduce the land schedule, identify the starting per foot land value, or reproduce the calculation that led to its ultimate result.

¶ 5. Taxpayer presented evidence from an expert, who testified that the Wells parcel would not meet state soil or setback requirements for a septic system. In a letter of opinion, the expert also stated that the property would not meet the state's minimum setback requirements for the construction of a building that requires potable water and a wastewater disposal system. Taxpayer also introduced evidence of the ...


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