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Chase v. Machiasport part 2

[¶18] While we agree that a fair market valuation may take into consideration the relevant aspects of surrounding properties, that is not what was done here. Mr. Guy testified that he treated the property as shorefront property because the contiguous forest land was, in fact, shorefront. The comparables chosen by the assessor were telling on this point. Each of the comparables were properties that actually contained oceanfront land. The assessor made no comparison to any lots separated from the ocean by other property, even by property in the possession of the subject property owners.{7} Regarding the treatment of the lot as shorefront property, Mr. Guy testified as follows: . . . . [W]hat I am trying to do is establish a reasonable value on the rights to this piece of property. Now, that is complicated by the fact that there is tree growth involved in this. And, it is both complicated and it is made more simple because we know what the value of the tree growth acreage is. That value is set by the State. And I don't think there is any argument over that. The argument is over what is the value of this reserve lot. . . . [To assess the value of this lot,] I used the number of feet of frontage on the shore. . . . . Now I calculated the value of this reserve lot on Long Point - I used 209 feet on the shore, which is essentially one side of a square acre. . . . . But, I think, just to summarize, this one-acre lot enjoys the amenities of having that water-from the shore down there, of which there is only so much in existence for which people are often willing to pay large amounts of money. (emphasis added). We assume, because it was the only evidence presented by the Town, that the Commissioners relied on Mr. Guy's testimony in reaching their decision. The exhibits reviewed by the Commissioners confirm that, rather than increasing the value of the house lot in recognition of its proximity to the shore, the assessor simply used the Town's standard shorefront rate in calculating the value of the lot. From this calculation, it becomes evident that house lot was valued as if a strip of shorefront forest land were a part of the house lot property. [¶19] While the assessor is not required to ignore the access to the shore of the property being assessed, he may not mechanically treat non- shorefront property as synonymous with shorefront. Although we do not lightly dismiss the assessor's concern that taxpayers may avoid paying higher taxes on shorefront property by placing selected portions of their property into forest land status, this concern cannot be dealt with by taxing adjacent property as if it were on the shore. This does not, however, preclude the Town from considering the benefits to the subject parcel provided by the adjacent forest land, including access to the water. The value of a shoreview lot that is surrounded by undeveloped forest land which also provides access to the water may be higher than the value of the same lot without that access, but will not be identical to the value of a shorefront lot. [¶20] Because section 576-A requires the Town of Machiasport to assess the value of the Chases' one-acre lot on the basis of its independent fair market value, the Commissioners erred as a matter of law in their assessment of the Chases' house lot. See 36 M.R.S.A. § 576-A. Although the Town has substantial discretion in its assessment of the fair market value of that land, it may not treat the one-acre house lot as if it were shorefront property. The entry is Judgment of the Superior Court vacated. Remanded to the Superior Court with instructions to remand to the Washington County Commissioners for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Attorney for the Plaintiffs: Edmond J. Bearor, Esq. (orally) Rudman & Winchell 84 Harlow St. Bangor, Maine 04402 Attorneys for the Defendants: Dennis L. Mahar, Esq. (orally) Fletcher & Mahar 68 North St. P.O. Box 402 Calais, Maine 04619 Carletta M. Bassano, Esq. (orally) Assistant District Attorney Washington County 12 Cooper St. P.O. Box 297 Machias, Maine 04654
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . An earlier treatment of the lot as shorefront property in 1989 was reversed by the Board of Assessors upon application by the Chases for abatement that year. {2} . The tax assessed on the house lot rose from $61.76 in 1995 to $710.05 in 1996. {3} . A "public proceeding" is defined to include "the transactions of any functions affecting any or all citizens of the State by . . . [a]ny board, commission, agency or authority of any county, municipality, . . . or any regional or other political or administrative subdivision." 1 M.R.S.A. § 402(2)(C) (Supp. 1997). {4} . The Commissioners, separately represented because they were named incorrectly as parties, submitted affidavits from each Commissioner averring that no private deliberations had been held, without moving for trial pursuant to 80B(d). Although the court should not consider facts that were not in the record before the governmental agency unless it has permitted introduction of evidence pursuant to 80B(d), any error here is harmless given that the burden is on the taxpayer to affirmatively present evidence of the alleged illegal actions of the Commissioners. {5} . Although the Chases also argue that the Commissioners failed to make an independent determination of value of the Chases' one-acre lot, as required by 36 M.R.S.A. § 844(1) (Supp. 1997), see Quoddy, 1998 ME 14, ¶ 4, 704 A.2d at 408 (citing South Portland Assoc. v. South Portland, 550 A.2d at 366), they did not raise this issue in the Superior Court. Accordingly, we will not entertain it on appeal. See Maine Real Estate Comm'n v. Kelby, 360 A.2d 528, 530 (Me. 1976), cited with approval in Smith v. Great Northern Paper, Inc., 636 A.2d 438, 439 n.2 (Me. 1994). {6} . The Tree Growth Tax Law, a system which is based on average annual forest growth rates as determined by the United States Forestry Service or the Maine Forestry Bureau, see 36 M.R.S.A. § 576 (Supp. 1997), is designed to encourage "forest landowners to retain and improve their holdings of forest lands . . . and to promote better forest management . . . in order to protect this unique economic and recreational resource." 36 M.R.S.A. § 572 (1990). {7} . Most of the comparables used had public road access, in contrast to the Chase lot, and most had electricity.

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