GOODSPEED AIRPORT, LLC v. TOWN OF EAST HADDAM, SC 18488

Judicial District of Middlesex

 

Taxation; Open Space Classification; Whether a De Novo Review of a Tax Assessor's Valuation of Certain Property was Required Once it was Established that the Property Qualified as Open Space; Whether Airport that is Located in a Wetlands Area Qualified as Open Space. The plaintiff owns a 57.12 acre parcel of land in East Haddam, which contains a commercial airport that occupies 14.08 acres of the parcel as well as open fields that occupy the remaining 43.04 acres of the property. The plaintiff filed two applications with the defendant town's tax assessor, claiming that the assessor had improperly failed to classify and assess 56.12 acres of the parcel as open space pursuant to General Statutes 12-107e. The tax assessor initially denied the applications, but, based upon a subsequent trial court ruling, the assessor later acknowledged that the 43.04 acre portion of the parcel qualified as open space. On appeal, the trial court determined that, notwithstanding the tax assessor's subsequent concession, the plaintiff was not entitled to a reassessment because it had failed to sustain its burden of proving that the 43.04 acres had been overassessed. The court further rejected the plaintiff's claim that of the remaining 14.08 acres, 13.08 acres should have been classified as open space. On appeal to the Appellate Court, the plaintiff first argued that the trial court improperly required it to demonstrate that the tax assessor had overvalued the 43.04 acre portion of the property. It maintained that, once it was established that 43.04 acres qualified as open space, the court should have conducted a de novo review of the valuation of the property pursuant to General Statutes 12-117a. The Appellate Court (115 Conn. App. 438) disagreed, concluding that a taxpayer does not establish aggrievement merely by proving that an application for open space classification was improperly denied under 12-107e. It opined that, in accordance with 12-117a, the taxpayer must also establish that the denial of the application resulted in an overassessment before the taxpayer will be entitled to a de novo review of the value of the property. It then determined that, because the plaintiff did not sustain its burden of proving an overassessment, it was not entitled to a de novo review. The Appellate Court next rejected the plaintiff's second and final claim, namely, that the trial court improperly concluded that 13.08 acres of the remaining 14.08 acres that are currently used as a commercial airport did not qualify as open space under 12-107e. In doing so, it noted that the airport is located in a wetlands and flood hazard area and that such areas are eligible for open space classifications pursuant to the town's plan of development. It concluded, however, that because the property is being used as a commercial airport pursuant to a special exemption, the preservation of the property as open space would not satisfy the development plan's environmental goals of conserving natural resources and providing outdoor recreation areas. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court's conclusions were proper.