Letter to Town Assessor:  Tax exemption for Legionaries should have become invalid years ago

Monday, March 24, 2014
by Sharon Greene

Dear Mr. Platz,

It has come to my attention that the tax-exempt status of the property at 773 Armonk Road is being formally questioned.  As I have mentioned to various governmental boards over the years—for close to a decade now—this property has not been in use.  I, and several other neighbors, are in the position of easily observing lights in the buildings when they are lit, as well as traffic, if and when it occurs, along their access drive.

I have reported this state numerous times to the zoning board, and past planning boards, when the Legionary application was before the ZBA, however nobody said that the assessor should be informed.  I do not know if the assessor was informed by any board members at the time, but apparently nothing was done to investigate and get the property back on the tax rolls.

I’m sure that in excess of several hundred thousand dollars in property and school taxes [* For amounts, see Editor’s Note, below] have been avoided over this time period when the property should have been subject to taxes due to non-usage. I hope that with the current inquiry, this will be corrected, as both New Castle and the Bedford Central School District could greatly use these moneys that should have been paid, according to all that I have read on this topic.

The town knows that the Legionaries had this property up for sale since 2011, and has been in contract since 2012.  The ZBA and almost certainly the Planning Board was made aware, repeatedly, of the non-usage of the property about 10 years ago.  I would like to understand further why we ‘ordinary’ residents must pay our taxes, yet nothing was done (to my knowledge) to pursue the possibility of collecting taxes on this property.  If something other than informing the governmental boards should have been done, I would have thought these boards or their counsel would have said so in response to my repeated statements, yet I was told nothing.

The NYS tax law says that for the exemption, the property must be in use for the religious purposes for which they are receiving the exemption.  Please see:

http://www.tax.ny.gov/pubs_and_bulls/orpts/legal_opinions/v4/22.htm

It explicitly states that vacant property, not vacant because of impending construction or approval of such construction, is taxable:

“Thus, the exemption of vacant (or open) land is conditioned on the construction of buildings or improvements now in progress or those in good faith contemplated to be in progress within a reasonable time. The exemption also applies in those cases where vacant land is willed to a charitable organization with conditions limiting the purposes for which the realty may be used. If the vacant land does not fall into either category of section 421, subdivision 3, the property is taxable, unless the land is in actual, exclusive use by the charitable organization for purposes which are enumerated in section 421, subdivision 1, of the Real Property Tax Law (see, 1 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 16 and 2 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 81).”

In fact, even on the rare occasions in the late ‘90s or early ‘2000s’ when the Legionaries used the site for retreats, they had advertised ‘date nights’ and ‘movie nights’ (for a fee) - neither of which sound much like religious activities.  This information was also brought to the ZBA’s attention at the time.

In 2008 the Legionaries withdrew their SEQRA application, so there was clearly no intention of imminent development.

I hope this situation will be rectified.  Also, just as ordinary residents who do not pay their taxes must pay back taxes, I suggest you look into the possibility of recouping the taxes that should have been collected during this time period.

I would appreciate acknowledgment of this note, and information as to how I can follow up on the outcome of this issue.

Thank you.

Sharon Greene
Resident of New Castle
__________________________

* Editor’s Note:  The Legionaries property currently pays $2,500 per year in taxes.  Without the tax exemption, the owners would be paying around $27,000 to New Castle, $35,000 to the County and $134,000 to Bedford Central School District each year.  Bedford’s tax assessor has no jurisdiction over the property, since it is located within New Castle.  The Town of New Castle would collect the school taxes and pass them on to Bedford CSD.


Comments(13):
We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

I hope this was sent directly to the Assessor and not just printed here. 

Editor’s Note:  This letter was sent to the assessor and copied to NCNOW for publication.

By Pay your share on 03/25/2014 at 1:13 pm

Wondered why Supervisor Greenstein was completely disinterested and dismissive when Dr. Greene asked him about it at the League’s event last week. In fact he dismissed Dr. Greene’s question and told her that ” he sees her strategy.”  It is all on video.  See for yourselves.

Guess he thinks the town does not need the money,OR that this would interfere with his dealings with the Spa developers and we know, Rob wants development, no matter what!

By resident on 03/25/2014 at 1:41 pm

If we need tax revenue so badly, why doesn’t the town collect what it is due?

What is the tax assessor doing now?  When will our Supervisor report back to us what is happening with enforcement and collection of the tax on this property?

By Some answers please on 03/25/2014 at 3:55 pm

I watched this meeting and what I heard was the town supervisor worrying that Mr. Oder wouldn’t have the distinction of being THE ONE to bring the property back onto the tax rolls.  Get the property off the exemption and it will sell more quickly—maybe to someone who will remain IN THE ZONING it has: residential.

By Greenstein's first concern is Oder on 03/25/2014 at 4:11 pm

We have a farm in our neighborhood that has/had a tax exemption based on its farming status (North Place, Chappaqua). The farm was always known as Cogger’s farm, named after the owner. The farm has been vacant for years ( no one lives there) and hasn’t been used as a farm for even more years.
Was wondering if the property is still getting a tax exemption as a farm or who makes that change.

By A. Quish on 03/25/2014 at 5:13 pm

When it comes time to sell my home in New Castle, is it OK if I don’t pay property taxes for a while?  I would happily wait a decade for a sweetheart deal rather than pricing to sell.  Maybe my property value will rise in that time. Shhhh.

By Special Favor to Ask on 03/25/2014 at 8:29 pm

Rob Greenstein implied that a supervisor (he must mean Susan Carpenter) improperly asked Mr. Platz to look into the tax exemption of the Legionaries property.  Why was it improper?  Why wasn’t that a good enough request to get an investigation going? And has he acted on this request by Ms. Greene now?  I don’t care what Ms. Greene’s motives are.  I want the tax dollars.

By What's going on?!?! on 03/25/2014 at 10:03 pm

Please investigate the religious exemption of the 773 Armonk Rd property. We need the bucks.

By Please investigate on 03/25/2014 at 10:04 pm

I would like the tax dollars too. Why hasn’t this issue been in the public eye over the past 10 years and why aren’t people more pissed that Carpenter and friends looked the other way.  Clinton Smith should have known better too. 

I got the impression that fighting for the back tax dollars would not be an easy fight and the outcome was no sure thing so our current supervisor was focused on fixing the problem going forward. I think it is a no-non for a town employee to initiate since it could look like it was personal and the law probably frowns upon that.  Links don’t come up on mobile so maybe the actual law gives more insight.

By Net benefit on 03/26/2014 at 3:27 pm

Net benefit,

It should have been in the public eye.  You are mistaken that a town employee, or elected official going after the taxes would be wrong.  Carpenter did notice Platz.  He did nothing.  She should have followed up.  It is and was completely wrong for Greenstein to say, as he did, that she was outside legal, or ethical bounds to bring this to the assessors notice .  He misses no opportunity to pat himself on the back and to dis others.

Greenstein has also said that he is not interested in abandoned private property, or uncared for commercial property.  He says that the town is not in the real estate business and that we want to be business friendly and not a police state.  Could he be in the business of protecting the blighted Hakim site for the benefit of their counsel Adam Brodsky ?   

By get the facts straight on 03/26/2014 at 5:28 pm

in NYC, owners of properties that are tax exempt (or partially abated) have to file a form each year attesting to their continued appropriate use. perhaps new castle should do something like that?

Editor’s Note:  Such property owners here in New Castle must also do that, Maggie.  Legionaries has done that each year.  For assessors in some towns a change such as having the property up for sale or lease (or involved in a contract-vendee arrangement, such as Legionaries) triggers a return to the tax rolls and the property owner then is welcome to plead his/her case for the exemption to be reinstated.

By maggie christ on 03/26/2014 at 9:00 pm

The best thing that town hall can do, is to move forward with the approval of a Spa. Most in New Castle do not even know where this property is, most would not even know how to find the driveway, and most would not see the development of this property after it is finished. It would have no visual impact on the community, it would not affect the community at large, and it would benefit the community by once again becoming a taxpaying property. This prject should not be held up for the 5 or 7 people that it will impact. All traffic concerns would not even be felt by anyone. This is the project that should go forward, while CC is the project that should be stopped.

By What another form on 03/27/2014 at 11:21 am

Keep in mind that there are a lot of us who could care less about what happens at Chappaqua Crossing- of in the hamlets of Chappaqua or Millwood.  We don’t live there or go there, but we are New Castle residents and pay taxes to New Castle. If all you care about is your own back yard, then stay out of our back yard.

By to what another on 03/28/2014 at 8:46 am


Post a comment:

Display Name*:

Your Display Name will be associated with this comment on NewCastleNOW.org. We encourage commentators to use their real name or initials.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. In other words, be pithy and polite. All comments will be reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.