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Twilight Ridge LLC v. Board of County Commissioners of La Plata County

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Sixth Division

July 26, 2018

Twilight Ridge, LLC, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Board of County Commissioners of La Plata County, Colorado; and Board of Equalization of La Plata County, Colorado, Respondents-Appellees, and Board of Assessment Appeals, Appellee.

          Board of Assessment Appeals Case Nos. 69061 & 69723.

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

          Sheryl V. Rogers, County Attorney, Kathleen Lyon, Assistant County Attorney, Durango, Colorado, for Respondents-Appellees.

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, John A. Lizza, First Assistant Attorney General, Katie A. Allison, Second Assistant Attorney General, Emmy A. Langley, Assistant Solicitor General, Denver, Colorado, for Appellee.

          VOGT JUDGE [*]

          OPINION

          ¶ 1 Twilight Ridge, LLC appeals from two orders of the Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA) denying its petitions challenging the classification of its property for the 2014-15 and 2016 tax years. We affirm. I. Background ¶ 2 Elmo and Patricia Robinson are the sole members of Twilight, a Colorado limited liability company. In 2013 Twilight purchased two contiguous platted parcels of land in La Plata County, Colorado. The first parcel has a home on it (Residential Parcel). The second parcel is a 0.763-acre buildable but undeveloped lot (Subject Parcel).

         ¶ 3 The La Plata County Assessor classified the Subject Parcel as vacant land, which is taxed at a higher rate than residential property. Twilight appealed the decision for the 2014-15 tax years to the Board of County Commissioners of La Plata County, and it appealed the decision for the 2016 tax year to the Board of Equalization of La Plata County, arguing to both bodies (collectively, the County) that the Subject Parcel should be reclassified as residential land.[1] Both Boards upheld the County Assessor's classification.

         ¶ 4 Twilight appealed to the BAA, which consolidated the two proceedings for a de novo hearing.[2] At the hearing, Elmo Robinson testified that he and his wife bought the two parcels together, intending that the Subject Parcel would give them privacy and serve as a buffer to help ensure that their views to the north would not be impeded by a house built on the Subject Parcel. He also said that the Subject Parcel was to be a place where his grandchildren could play when they came to visit, as the Residential Parcel had little flat land on which the children could safely play. Although he was currently offering only the Residential Parcel for sale, Robinson intended to sell both parcels together.

         ¶ 5 Twilight also offered testimony by Curt Settle, Deputy Director of the Colorado Division of Property Taxation, who was designated by the Property Tax Administrator (PTA) to testify regarding the Division's policies as embodied in the PTA's Assessors' Reference Library (ARL). Settle testified about how assessors determine the classification of property for tax purposes, the standards applicable to such determinations as set forth in the ARL, and the types of use that can qualify for residential classification.

         ¶ 6 The County provided testimony from its appraiser, Diana Cole, who had visited Twilight's parcels after Twilight requested reclassification and had seen no activity or evidence of use on the Subject Parcel when she visited. Her testimony was followed by that of Craig Larson, the La Plata County Assessor, who had also visited the Twilight parcels. Larson opined that using the Subject Parcel as a place for children to play and to protect a view were simply "incidental" uses and were not the sort of "integral" use of the Subject Parcel in conjunction with the residential improvements that would warrant classifying the Subject Parcel as residential.

          ¶ 7 The BAA upheld the County's classification of the Subject Parcel as vacant land. Crediting Cole's and Larson's testimony over Robinson's, it concluded that Twilight

did not meet its burden of proving that the [Subject Parcel] meets the definition of "residential land" which is defined in Section 39-1-102(14.4), C.R.S. as "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."

(Emphasis added in BAA's order.)[3]

         II. Analysis

         ¶ 8 Twilight contends that, in denying its challenge to the classification of its property, the BAA misconstrued the "used as a unit" element of section 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. 2017, and made clearly erroneous findings of fact. We discern no reason for reversal.

         A. Standard of Review ...


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