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Lathrop v. Town of Monkton

Supreme Court of Vermont

January 24, 2014

James Lathrop
v.
Town of Monkton; Peter M. Norris, Sr.
v.
Town of Monkton

Page 379

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On Appeal from Property Valuation and Review Division. Michael Bernhardt, State Appraiser.

James Lathrop, Pro Se, Bristol, Plaintiff-Appellee (13-026).

Adam L. Powers of Powers & Powers P.C., Middlebury, for Plaintiff-Appellee Norris (13-032 & 13-033).

Charles L. Merriman of Tarrant, Gillies, Merriman & Richardson, Montpelier, for Defendant-Appellant.

Present: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson and Crawford, JJ., and Toor, Supr. J., Specially Assigned.

OPINION

Page 380

Crawford, J.

[¶1] The Town of Monkton brings this consolidated appeal from decisions of the state appraiser in three property tax cases challenging the Town's 2011 assessment. The state appraiser ruled that the Town had treated taxpayers inequitably by adding additional " home-site values" to undeveloped parcels that are subject to a permitted and recorded subdivision plan. The Town does not add this additional element of appraised value to other undeveloped parcels that may be eligible for subdivision without a permit due to their history or configuration. The Town argues that it acted fairly in applying different valuation methods to properties with different characteristics. From the Town's perspective, the appraised value of a parcel of land with a permit for more than one home should reflect this additional development value, and land that could be subdivided but is not the subject of a permit is not similarly situated for purposes of tax appraisal. We agree and reverse.

[¶2] At issue is the manner in which the Town assesses land that has the potential for subdivision and further development. At the time relevant to this appeal, a property owner in Monkton could legally subdivide and convey a portion of his or her property if that property was (1) naturally divided by a road; (2) contained multiple contiguous lots created by deed prior to the introduction of zoning in 1978; or (3) had a subdivision permit from the Town's Development Review Board (DRB). Generally, the first two categories of property could be divided and conveyed without a subdivision permit obtained from the DRB.

[¶3] For property tax purposes, property in the first two categories was assessed as having only one house site, with the remainder of the land valued according to the Monkton land schedule. However, if a property owner obtained a DRB permit to subdivide his or her property into multiple residential lots, and recorded a subdivision survey plat with the town clerk, the Town assigned a house site value of $51,500 to each additional permitted lot. Each potential house site was deemed to be two acres. The Town assessed the remaining undeveloped acreage according to the land schedule.

[¶4] In the three appeals consolidated here, taxpayers applied for and received approval from the Monkton DRB to subdivide their parcels into two or more residential lots, and recorded the subdivision plans for the approved developments in the town records. The Town assessed these parcels as containing multiple two-acre house sites and valued the remainder of the land according to the town land schedule. Each additional two-acre house site added ...


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