Developers want Putnam assessment blocked

This building at Putnam Village used to house an Ames Department Store and, before that, a Hill's Department Store. (Photos by Chris Dickerson)

The building at Putnam Village used to be home to a Big Bear store.

WINFIELD – A development company wants a judge to review the tax assessments on two long-vacant commercial buildings in Teays Valley, arguing that neither has much value.

Four-S Development filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in Putnam Circuit Court March 19 against the county assessor and the county commission.

Four-S says assessor Sherry L. Hayes incorrectly valued the buildings in Liberty Square Plaza formerly occupied by Big Bear and Ames.

The developer said the buildings should each have been valued at near zero because the style of the buildings – big box store "shells" – is not currently economically attractive.

For the 2009 Tax Year, the county valued the Big Bear building at $369,900 and the Ames building at $751,300 using the "cost approach" method. The buildings were assessed at 60 percent of those values.

The developer contested these figures before the county commission's Board of Review and Equalization on Feb. 19. The developer argued that the assessor did not take the "economic obsolescence" of the buildings into account.

Four-S says that is one of the criteria to be considered with assessing using the "cost approach" method.

The developer, at the hearing before the board – made up of the county commissioners – offered testimony from Bob Withers, a real estate appraiser.

According Four-S's petition, Withers testified that the demand for leasing big box shells in the area is "virtually nonexistent." Withers said this is because regional and national retailers are moving away from leasing buildings connected to shopping centers to leasing or building free-standing stores – a business model championed by Wal-Mart and Target.

Withers predicted the only ways the Big Bear and Ames buildings would be attractive for development would be to either turn them into office space or tear them down.

According to the petition, County Commissioner Gary Tillis said Withers' testimony wasn't clear and convincing because he didn't produce a certified appraisal, though Withers said his familiarity with the property and market conditions meant he could present an oral appraisal.

Tillis also asked about offers Four-S may have received three to five years ago for the buildings. The petition says Tillis asked Al Summers, manager of Four-S whether the company would be willing to sell the buildings, but not the land under them.

Commissioner Steve Andes made a motion to overturn the assessment, while Tillis voted against the motion, saying he was not convinced that the buildings were without value or economically obsolete.

"The best evidence is a certified appraisal," Tillis was quoted as saying at the hearing. "I understand you can have oral testimony, but they had plenty of time. The witness stated that he could have done a certified appraisal."

Commissioner Joseph Haynes did not attend the hearing and did not vote, the petition says.

G. Kurt Dettinger is representing the plaintiffs. The case is before Putnam Circuit Judge Phil Stowers.

Putnam Circuit Court case number: 09-C-91

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