CHARLESTON – Cabell County commissioners correctly valued the Woodlands Retirement Community at $29,759,000, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decided Nov. 5.
Four of five Justices affirmed Cabell County Circuit Judge John Cummings, who had denied the Foster Foundation's appeal to cut the value by about half.
The nonprofit foundation owns the Woodlands, where about 300 persons live.
The property covers 93 acres. The main building measures 283,693 square feet, and 23 residences measure 2,100 square feet each.
For the 2007 tax year, the assessor at first valued the property at $38,137,000.
The Foster Foundation asked the county commission for a hearing.
On a second look the assessor spotted an error and lowered the value to $31,190,000.
The hearing proceeded, and the commissioners dropped the value to $29,759,000.
The foundation appealed to circuit court for further reduction but received no relief.
Daniel Konrad and Chad Camper, of Huddleston Bolen in Huntington, appealed to the Supreme Court.
They argued that as a nonprofit, the foundation must provide permanent residence regardless of ability to pay.
That requirement reduces the market value of the property, they argued.
They argued that an appeal to a county commission violates due process because commissioners hold a bias in favor of higher values.
They claimed they presented a preponderance of evidence in favor of lower value and that Supreme Court precedent required no more.
William Watson of Huntington, representing Cabell County, cited a different precedent that required the higher standard of clear and convincing evidence.
Chief Justice Spike Maynard, Justices Robin Davis and Larry Starcher, and temporary Justice J.D. Beane sided with the county.
Davis wrote that only one Woodlands resident ever lost the ability to pay.
She found bias among county commissioners unlikely because schools get most of the taxes and commissioners derive no personal benefit from higher values.
She resolved the clash between precedents by adopting the clear and convincing standard and erasing the preponderance of evidence standard.
Beane sat for temporary Justice Thomas McHugh, who disqualified himself. McHugh is substituting for the ailing Justice Joseph Albright.
Justice Brent Benjamin dissented and reserved the right to file an opinion.