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Belmont officials postpone decision on developer's tax settlement request

May 27, 2009
BELMONT — Because of one selectman's concern that he didn't have enough information to make a decision, a request for a settlement of land use change taxes for about two dozen developed lots in the Sun Lake Village subdivision has been tabled.

Selectman David Morse said at last Wednesday's meeting that he wanted to see files regarding the abatement process that developer Phil Brouillard went through to reach the conclusion that the original current use assessments were more than $1 million higher than they should have been for his "upscale lakefront community" properties, located on Route 3.

"I may not be in agreement with this current use change," Morse said. "I've only got four pages of paperwork here to make a decision."

Current Use is a property tax incentive to all qualifying landowners with more than 10 acres of land who agree to maintain that land in an undeveloped condition. The properties are assessed based on the capacity of the land to produce income in its current use-whether it is managed farm or forest, or unmanaged open space. The Land Use Change Tax is a penalty tax charged when land is removed from Current Use and is 10 percent of the fair market value. Many towns in the state, including Belmont, allow their Conservation Commissions to manage those taxes, as Current Use is the state's attempt to conserve land.

"Through really no one's fault, we ended up with these current use assessments that are really about a million dollars higher (than they should be)," Brouillard said.

Brouillard is arguing that because his current use assessments have been abated, he should be paying a land use change tax based on the revised assessments. He said he filed an abatement application with the town in 2007 and went through the process with the Board of Tax and Land Appeals.

According to Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin, the lots' original assessed values were based on what Brouillard thought he could get for them. Without comparables, though, the original assessments were off their marks, she said.

"They were very aggressive," Beaudin said. "Through the appeal process we made some revisions."

Prior to the revision, the current use assessments came in around $3,353,000. The revised assessments have them totaling closer to $2,280,000.

Brouillard said he would be able to pay the 10-percent land use change tax plus interest, a total of $319,753, before Sept. 15. Beaudin said that if the selectmen agree to this deal, Brouillard will save $102,000 in abated current land use change taxes. If he didn't pay the total amount by Sept. 15, Brouillard would have to pay an 18 percent penalty interest.

"We've been trying to weather the storm, but we would be able to pay that," Brouillard said.

Morse, who had looked over the Multiple Listing Service and said he found that the Sun Lake Village properties were listed at what he thought were more like today's values than 2007's, said was not convinced that the revised values were correct.

"We all had values assessed to us in 2007," Morse said. "Everyone's complaint in town is those values are much greater than they are today. It seems to me these values are today's values, not 2007's Ö I don't know if it's truly reflective of 2007."

Morse wondered how the new values were determined since there had only been two sales at Sun Lake Village and there were still no comparables.

"We've done a lot more work and a lot more research," Brouillard responded. "It's a matter of fairness actually; when you haven't had a sale it makes it very difficult to see what a buyer would pay."

Morse said he was also concerned about setting precedents.

Chairman Ron Cormier pointed out that Brouillard had already gone through the whole abatement process, and the revised figures had been agreed upon by the BTLA and the town.

"Anybody could go through that process," Cormier said.

Selectman Jon Pike said that the fact that all of the lots are completed, which is unusual in that housing developments are often completed gradually, made him more inclined to agree to Brouillard's request.

"I'm leaning toward granting this because the development is done in its entirety," Pike said. "I don't see the precedent setting."

As for Belmont's Conservation Commission, member Ken Knowlton was in attendance to answer Cormier's question about where the commission stood on the issue.

"The Conservation Commission isn't going to be greedy," Knowlton said. "Like David said, my concern would be that this would set precedent."

The selectmen will make a final decision on the project at their meeting June 1.

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