Appeals panel sides with AuSable Club over town in tax case

The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court’s Third Judicial Department has upheld a ruling that reduced past AuSable Club assessments by millions of dollars.

In a decision dated May 9, the appeals panel backed state Supreme Court Justice Robert Muller’s 2011 ruling that favored Adirondack Mountain Reserve, the corporation that owns 7,328 acres on 19 tax map parcels in the Essex County towns of Keene and North Hudson. It also operates the AuSable Club, according to court documents.

Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said in an email that “the town at this time is making no comment” on the Appellate Division’s decision.

Between 2006 and 2008, the town of Keene assessed about 4,970 acres of the property at between $14,164,300 and $17,917,800. The AuSable Club’s appraiser, Donald Fisher, valued the land at approximately $4.5 million. After hearing testimony from both sides, Muller ruled that the property’s value was actually $7,666,068 each of the disputed years, according to court records.

A second parcel, totaling about 413 acres in North Hudson, was assessed by the town at between $2,314,000 and $2,432,000. Fisher’s appraisal valued the property at $322,000, and the Supreme Court eventually set the assessment at $637,771 for all three tax years.

After reviewing Muller’s decision, which established that the AuSable Club “met its burden of establishing” that the two parcels had been overvalued, the appeals panel unanimously deferred to the lower court’s decision.

In its ruling, the appeals panel noted that Fisher assessed the AuSable Club property by breaking it into three types of land uses: the 370-acre campus property, which includes the main lodge, cottages, a golf course and other recreational facilities; the 6,498-acre wilderness property, which consists mainly of remote forest, 14 seasonal cabins and hiking and camping areas; and the 10.7-acre cottage property, which includes eight seasonal cottages.

“Fisher divided the whole property into these components, based on their features and current uses, then compared them to similar properties transferred in that market area and calculated the land values per acre in those components,” the decision reads.

The towns’ appraiser, Paul Wicker, “disagreed with Fisher’s separate component approach,” the panel noted.

“Wicker appraised all 19 of petitioner’s tax map parcels as one whole single unit,” the ruling says. “In its comprehensive analysis, Supreme Court rejected Wicker’s opinion that petitioner’s property had to be appraised as a single, whole entity.”