April 17, 2017

Hartford reverses few property-assessment appeals

HBJ PHOTO | Greg Bordonaro
HBJ PHOTO | Greg Bordonaro
Owners of Hartford’s Stilts building weren’t successful lowering the property’s assessed value.
PHOTOs | HBJ File| HBJ PHOTO | Gregory Seay
CityPlace I, II, above left, lost their assessment appeals, but this vacant property won.

The city of Hartford has wrapped up its hearings of this year's property-assessment appeals, with only 148 properties receiving lower assessed values following an Oct. 2016 revaluation that led to a significant spike in many commercial property values.

Owners of the city's largest taxable properties who lodged an appeal were rebuffed, failing to convince the three-member appeals board to curb their assessments, according to City Assessor John S. Philip.

That means many downtown Hartford landlords — already concerned about the city's exorbitant 74.29 mill rate — are likely to experience a significant property-tax hike, as the value of the city's real estate, personal property and automobiles climbed about 10 percent this year as a result of the revaluation.

Commercial properties and apartment buildings saw the largest property-value increases.

For example, Hartford's Stilts Building on 20 Church St., whose New York owners filed an assessment appeal but were rejected, saw its market value climb 135 percent to $44.6 million from $18.9 million.

Higher taxes could lead to higher office and apartment rents and thwart future capital investment in the city, realty experts have said.

Landlords whose assessment appeals were denied, however, can file suit in state court, to seek redress. It's unclear how many of the rejected appeals will wind up in court, but with the city receiving about 1,200 assessment appeals this year vs. 700 to 800 in 2012, there could be significant activity.

Typically, Philip said, many of the suits are settled and never see trial. Those that do, he said, usually are resolved with the judge splitting the difference between the city's valuation and the appellant's.

Other high-profile office towers whose owners appealed their 2016 valuations but were rejected were: 100 Pearl St.; 100 Constitution Plaza; CityPlace I and CityPlace II; 280 Trumbull St.; and State House Square (10 and 50 State St.), according to Philip.

However, many of the city's largest corporate residents and taxpayers — The Hartford, Aetna and Travelers — didn't appeal their 2016 assessments despite their respective downtown headquarter properties each experiencing double-digit market-value increases.

Meantime, for property owners whose appeals prevailed, the reductions amounted to only a $5.2 million cut to the city's previous $4.07 billion grand-list valuation, Philip said. That will result in about a $383,000 annual trim in the city's property-tax receipts. The grand list grew from $3.7 billion a year ago.

"The workload was astonishing,'' Philip said of the assessment appeals, which were heard in a one-month window Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. "There were so many of them. We really provoke them when we do a revaluation.''

Scarborough Street

Michael T. McGarry, who has sat on the assessment appeals board since 2012, said owners of big, historic dwellings in the city's West End — Scarborough Street, in particular — benefited from challenging the city's valuations of their properties.

As HBJ reported earlier this year, Scarborough Street is the epicenter of a deep lull in home sales in the West End. Houses there, generally, have suffered from a drop in demand for large, historic houses like the ones lining the leafy thoroughfare that links Asylum and Albany avenues, McGarry said.

Scarborough Street drew the spotlight several years ago, when a "blended family,'' known then as the "Scarborough 11'' — some unrelated — took up residence there. Their occupancy was a direct challenge to the city's zoning regulations tied to how many unrelated families can occupy a dwelling designated "single family.''

The city ultimately dropped its zoning suit. However, McGarry says lingering confusion over the area's zoning continues to scare buyers away.

One Scarborough Street homeowner who challenged the city's valuation won out, McGarry said. The city at one time valued the property at $1.3 million, later reduced to $983,000. However, a lender once valued it at $659,000. The owner paid $610,000.

City records show the assessment-appeals board reset the 150 Scarborough St. home's assessed value at $305,954 — $95,954 lower than the 2016 reval assessment, which McGarry says also was way down since the last reval five years ago. The aim, he says, is to stabilize values of those properties, to make them more attractive to buyers, actions that over time should benefit the entire neighborhood.

"In my opinion, everybody on Scarborough Street and other West End properties were treated fairly,'' said McGarry, an ex-Hartford city councilmember who has served on the appeals board the past four years.

Overall, city residential housing values fell slightly as a result of the revaluation.

Another beneficiary of the appeals board's review is the owner of a vacant building for sale on Wethersfield Ave., in the city's South End. According to McGarry, the landlord of the former home of Monro Muffler told the appeals board he's had a tough time landing a buyer, largely because the property taxes are too high.

The owner, McGarry said, persuaded the board to trim $40,950 from the property's assessed value, to $192,500. Though a "modest'' cut, McGarry said a sale of the property could restore it to a new use, contributing to the city's goal for more neighborhood economic development in the corridor.

Another apparent winner was the owner of 29 units in downtown's Bushnell On The Park apartments, 100 Wells St. The appeals board lowered the units' assessed values by $1,031 each, to $4,735, city records show.

Also, Tallar Properties, owner of a commercial building at 441-455 Homestead Ave., received the largest assessment reduction on appeal. The property's assessed value was cut in half, to $224,630 from $510,300, city records show.

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