ON APPEAL FROM THE FINAL DETERMINATION OF THE INDIANA BOARD OF TAX REVIEW.
ATTORNEYS FOR PETITIONER: TORREY J. BAUER, BAUER LAW OFFICE, P.C., Warsaw, IN; JEFFREY T. JONES, JONES LAW, PC, Warsaw, IN.
ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA, EVAN W. BARTEL, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, Indianapolis, IN.
The Indiana Board of Tax Review denied Marineland
Gardens Community Association, Inc.'s 2009 and 2010 property tax exemptions
because it failed to make a prima facie case that it was established for
the purpose of retaining and preserving its land and water
for their natural characteristics. The Court affirms the Indiana Board.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Marineland is the homeowners' association for a subdivision located on a lake in Kosciusko County. (Cert. Admin. R. at 469, 506.) Marineland was organized as a domestic, non-profit corporation in 1967. (Cert. Admin. R. at 452.) Marineland owns and maintains ten non-contiguous parcels of land within the subdivision. During the 2009 and 2010 tax years, Marineland applied for a property tax exemption on each parcel claiming that it " maintains these [parcels] for the purpose of retaining and preserving land and water for their natural characteristics[.]" (Cert. Admin. R. at 11, 23.) The Kosciusko County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA) denied the exemption applications. (Cert. Admin. R. at 6-8, 18-20.)
Marineland timely appealed each of the exemption denials to the Indiana Board. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 63-330.) The Indiana Board consolidated the appeals and held a hearing on June 13, 2012. At the hearing, Marineland presented, among other things, the testimony of both its president and a subdivision homeowner. The president testified that although one parcel contains gravel, the other nine parcels are unimproved. (Cert. Admin. R. at 528.) He stated that some parcels had narrow walking paths allowing access to the water and the piers from the road. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 506, 550-56.) (See also Cert. Admin. R. at 460-66.) Moreover, he explained that one of the parcels was a long and narrow (600 feet by 60 feet) strip that separated homes from the water's edge. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 495-96, 537-38.) (See also Cert. Admin. R. at 458-59.) This parcel has a seawall running along its length, interrupted by a boat ramp. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 544, 546.) (See also Cert. Admin. R. at 459.) In addition, the president pointed out that several parcels contained utility poles with lighting and possibly utility service. (Cert. Admin. R. at 555.) (See also Cert. Admin. R. at 456, 458.) He also indicated that Marineland permits the public to access all ten parcels, the piers, and the lake for recreational purposes such as fishing, walking, and picnicking. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 522, 533, 549, 559-61.) He further stated that Marineland does not conduct any business activity or allow outside vendors on the land. (Cert. Admin. R. at 529.) Finally, he explained that Marineland remains one of the few areas on Lake Wawasee where geese and other wildlife can still access the land because it is not fenced. (Cert. Admin. R. at 561-62.)
A homeowner from the subdivision testified that Marineland purchased one of the ten parcels specifically to prevent commercial buildings from being built on it. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 567-70.) He continued that Marineland later improved the parcel by adding gravel so that it could be used as a parking lot for the boat ramp. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 570.) (See also Cert. Admin. R. at 462.)
On September 7, 2012, the Indiana Board issued its final determination affirming all of the PTABOA's exemption denials. The Indiana Board found that Marineland failed to make a prima facie case that it was established for the purpose of retaining and preserving its land and water for their natural characteristics as required by Indiana Code § 6-1.1-10-16(c)(3). (Cert. Admin. R. at 432 ¶ ¶ 24-25.)
On February 13, 2013, Marineland initiated an original tax appeal. The Court conducted oral argument on June 21, 2013. Additional ...