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New Jersey Tax Court Judge Mark Cimino has just rejected Yeshiva Kol Torah's claims that they deserve a property tax exemption on wooded property they own adjacent to the school because they operate a "wilderness survival, wild and edible plants, wildlife tracking, outdoor leadership and sustainable living skills" program for their students on the land, FAA News has learned.

Curiously, while claiming that this what goes on during recess, Yeshiva officials have refused to allow Township officials to walk on-site to actually see what's really going on there during recess - this is what bothered the judge, who told the yeshiva they need to grant acess and show the Township the goods if they want to continue pursuing their claims.

Yeshiva Kol Torah has been battling Lakewood Township over a years-long property tax bill of wooded and undeveloped property that they own adjacent to the school.

Back in 2019, the Yeshiva owned 4.11 acres of wooded and undeveloped property adjacent to the school. They sought a tax exemption on this property.

On October 12, 2021, the Yeshiva sold 3.49 of the 4.11 acres for $4.4 million to Saul Mizrahi. This property has since been developed as Elroy Street and Halsey Street.

The yeshiva still owns 0.62 acres across 2 lots, Lots 1.07 and 1.09 of Block 1009.

The yeshiva claimed that the students use the lots in question "as a place to walk so as to enjoy the outdoors as well as for daily outdoor activities such as nature walks, physical education classes, and recess."

Township officials rejected this claim, asserting that "the property consists of extensively wooded vacant land that does not show any evidence of a use for an exempt purpose."

The yeshiva, represented by Attorney Michael J. Caccavelli and Grace Chun of Pearlman & Miranda, LLC, appealed this decision to the Tax Court.

In their court petition, the yeshiva's administration asserted they "provide a wilderness program encompassing wilderness survival, wild and edible plants, wildlife tracking, outdoor leadership and sustainable living skills."

In response, the Township, represented by Attorney Dante M. Alfieri of Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs, LLC, provided photographs asserting the property is not suitable nor used for any school activities.

Both parties filed competing motions for Summary Judgement.

Judge Cimino, who was appointed in 2015 by Governor Chris Christie, has just released a written ruling denying both motions. 

To qualify for an exemption from property tax, there is a three prong test commonly known as the “organization,” “use,” and “profit” prongs.

1) the owner has to be organized for an exempt purpose; (2) the owner actually uses the property for an exempt purpose; and (3) the owner’s use and operation of the property is not for profit.

In this case, the first two prongs are undisputably met. However, the parties vigorously contest the use prong.

Curiously, the Yeshiva Administration has been reluctant to permit Township officials to walk on-site to actually see what's really going on there. This issue greatly bothered Judge Cimino.

"With the foregoing in mind, the court is reluctant to grant summary judgment determining that the use prong is satisfied just because Yeshiva officials say so. On the other hand, the court is reluctant to grant summary judgment determining the use prong is not satisfied solely on the thin assertion of the municipality that the property is heavily wooded.

"Here, the Yeshiva asserts that it is conducting a “wilderness program” on the property. These testimonial proofs have yet to be subject to the rigors of cross-examination and an evaluation by the trier of fact.

"The municipality asserts the property is not usable for outdoor activities. The few pictures provided by the municipality do not provide much context except to demonstrate the property is wooded, at least in part. There are woods, and then there are “woods.” It is unknown whether these woods are thick with briars, poison ivy and heavy overgrowth, or low-lying and swampy; or, in the alternative, fairly passable and usable for outdoor activities. Not every section need be trod upon; however, at least some meaningful access through the wooded areas is required.

"For this case to continue, the Yeshiva needs to allow prompt access to the property to dispel any notions that they are simply clearing a path for tax exemption.

"Even if the wooded areas can suitably satisfy the use prong, the further factual question remains whether the wooded areas are actually used. This is a credibility determination for trial," concluded Judge Cimino.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He should just build a big building already and the question over land usage would be moot.