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Rust v. Board of County Commissioners of Summit County

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Sixth Division

May 17, 2018

Robert W. Rust, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Board of County Commissioners of Summit County, Colorado; and Board of Assessment Appeals, Respondents-Appellees.

          Board of Assessment Appeals Case No. 68924

          Ryley Carlock & Applewhite, F. Clayton, III, Denver, Colorado, for Petitioner-Appellant

          Jeffrey Huntley, County Attorney, Franklin Celico, Assistant County Attorney, Breckenridge, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellee Board of County Commissioners

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Krista Maher, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellee Board of Assessment Appeals

          OPINION

          ASHBY JUDGE.

          ¶ 1 Petitioner, Robert W. Rust, appeals from the order of the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA), which affirmed the decision of the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County, Colorado, denying his request to reclassify land for tax purposes. We affirm.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 Mr. Rust bought a parcel of residential property in Summit County, Colorado. About a year later, he purchased the adjacent, undeveloped parcel (the subject property). He and his family have used the two parcels, primarily as a winter vacation spot, for decades.

         ¶ 3 The county assessor classified the subject property as vacant land for the years 2013-2015, subjecting it to a tax rate that is nearly three times the rate for residential property. Mr. Rust challenged that classification and sought reclassification of the subject property, asserting that both parcels should be classified as residential under section 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. 2017. After a hearing, the BAA denied reclassification.

         II. Discussion

         ¶ 4 Mr. Rust contends that the BAA misconstrued the "used as a unit" element of section 39-1-102(14.4)(a). We disagree.

          ¶ 5 Review of the BAA's decision presents a mixed question of law and fact. Aberdeen Inv'rs, Inc. v. Adams Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 240 P.3d 398, 400 (Colo.App. 2009); Farny v. Bd. of Equalization, 985 P.2d 106, 109 (Colo.App. 1999); see § 24-4-106(7), C.R.S. 2017. Thus, we defer to the BAA's factual findings, but review de novo its legal conclusions. "It is the function of the BAA, not the reviewing court, to weigh the evidence and resolve any conflicts." Bd. of Assessment Appeals v. Sampson, 105 P.3d 198, 208 (Colo. 2005). We will uphold the BAA's property classification "if it (1) has a reasonable basis in law and (2) is supported by substantial evidence in the record." O'Neil v. Conejos Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 2017 COA 30, ¶ 11; see Sampson, 105 P.3d at 208 (We will set aside the BAA's decision "only if it is unsupported by competent evidence or if it reflects a failure to abide by the statutory scheme for calculating property tax assessments.").

         ¶ 6 The interpretation of statutes is a legal question that we review de novo. Lobato v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 105 P.3d 220, 223-24 (Colo. 2005). In so doing, we give deference to, but are not bound by, the agency's interpretation of the statutes it is charged with administering, "provided the interpretation has a reasonable basis in the law and is supported by the record." Marshall v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 2016 COA 156, ¶ 9; see BP Am. Prod. Co. v. Colo. Dep't of Revenue, 2016 CO 23, ¶ 15; Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Colo. Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 157 P.3d 1083, 1088 (Colo. 2007); Aberdeen Inv'rs, 240 P.3d at 403. Our goal is to effectuate the legislative intent, starting with the plain language of the statute. BP Am. Prod., ¶ 15. If the words are unambiguous, we apply them as written. Id. If, however, they are reasonably susceptible of more than one meaning, we may look to extrinsic sources to aid our interpretation. Id.

         ¶ 7 Section 39-1-102(14.4)(a) provides, "'[r]esidential land' means a parcel or contiguous parcels of land under common ownership upon which residential improvements are located and that is used as a unit in conjunction with the residential improvements located thereon." In classifying land under this statute, county assessors use the Assessor's Reference Library (ARL) for guidance. The ARL further defines the "used as a unit" element of the statute as "[p]arcels of land, under common ownership, that are contiguous and used as an integral part of a residence, " and it classifies such parcels as residential property. 2 Div. of Prop. Taxation, Dep't of Local Affairs, Assessor's ...


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