Willowdale v. Board Of Assessors Of Topsfield

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, No. 10-P-605, February 16, 2011: Upholds the denial of a property tax exemption for a historic mansion and 6 surrounding acres, part of a state park leased under the state’s historic curatorship program to a private entity to operate a bed and breakfast and for other specified for-profit purposes. The private lessee argued that the historic building and grounds are “a use, lease or occupancy which is reasonably necessary to the public purpose of a … park, which is available to the use of the general public,” — a category entitled to exemption from taxation under the state law that provides for local property taxation of state-owned real estate operate for profit or leased “for other than public purposes” (Mass. Gen. Laws c. 59, § 2B). The building was leased to the private entity under a state program established to save the state the cost of preserving and maintaining historic properties for the benefit of the general public by leasing them to private curators (MGL c. 85, § 44).  The curatorship statute said nothing about property taxes. Because the mansion was only available for rental and not generally accessible to the public, the Court found that use was too private to be entitled to the exemption. Despite the fact that the state park’s managing agency had written that use of the mansion under the historic curatorship program was reasonably necessary to the public purpose of a park, the Court said that agency’s opinion should not be deferred to on tax matters. A concurring judge disagreed with this last point, opining that while the parks agency “may not be owed deference on matters of taxation, they presumably are owed some deference on subsidiary issues that involve the administration and use of State parks. …  the agency specifically concluded that [the lessee’s] ‘use is reasonably necessary to the public purpose of the park,’ and it explained at some length how it came to that conclusion.”

Decision available at http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?q=WILLOWDALE+LLC.+v.+BOARD+OF+ASSESSORS+OF+TOPSFIELD&hl=en&lr=lang_en&as_sdt=2,22&as_vis=1&case=2806312223754161335&scilh=0.

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