Assessment, zoning explored to lower taxes

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Harriet Street resident won a recommendation Tuesday to have his vacant lot rezoned from commercial to residential so his property tax bill would go down.

Changing the zoning to affect taxes might surprise some people since a widely held view would have property assessed for tax purposes based on the use, but Property Assessor Linda Haislip has explained a vacant lot is viewed differently.

Furthermore, the situation faced by J.D. Langham for his lot along West Commerce Street - where it's also seen as Mooresville Highway - also affects a city councilman and some prominent businessmen who also own land fronting the road in front of Marshall County Plaza.

The circumstances were revealed because Langham approached the Lewisburg Planning and Zoning Commission. The panel met Tuesday when Langham said he bought the land in the 1970s, and has been paying property taxes since 2000 on the land as if it were commercially assessed at 40 percent instead of a residential lot assessed at 25 percent.

The assessment changed, he said, "Ever since they got this wild-eyed idea to have vacant lots [taxed as if they were] commercial" property, Langham said.

Planning commissioners have explained property is taxed based on its use instead of zoning, but Haislip says there's more to it than that.

"Because it's zoned as commercial, its highest and best use is commercial and that's what I've got to assess it at," the property assessor said. "According to state law, it has to be assessed as commercial.

"Anybody could take a commercial lot and mow it and say it's residential," she said. "You don't pay commercial on a vacant lot just because it's vacant."

Because the land is zoned commercial, it's seen as having greater value because of the potential for commercial development, she said. If there was a house on the lot and someone was living there, then it wouldn't be a vacant lot. It would be used for a residence and therefore the assessment would be 25 percent instead of 40 percent."

"It's a vacant lot," Haislip said. "He needs to get it rezoned."

Lewisburg planning commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to recommend to the city council that it approve an ordinance on three readings to rezone the land as a residential lot.

Langham isn't unique.

"There's a commercially zoned lot next to Hershel Davis' home and it's owned by him," Haislip said during a Wednesday telephone interview.

Davis lives at 1819 Mooresville Highway.

Others who own vacant lots zoned for commercial use are David Jent, Scott Bush, David Cook, Olen Morrison, Bryant Boyer, the ETL Familiy partnership, White Properties and Ronal Brown, Haislip said, "Just to let you know we're being fair."