The opinion of the court was delivered by: Small
The court in this case is called on to determine the proper assessment for block 108.A, Lots 27, 28, 29, and 32.A for the tax years 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994. Based on the evidence presented at trial the Court must address three fundamental issues:
1. Whether three AM radio broadcast towers should be classified as real or personal property under N.J.S.A. 54:4-1, as amended by "The Business Retention Act", L. 1992, c. 24, § 3, and if real property, what is their value;
2. Whether the subject property includes wetlands, and if so, how many acres of wetlands are included in this 22.58 acre property;
3. How should this uniquely zoned land and improvements be valued?
a. What is its highest and best use?
b. Should wetlands and uplands be valued separately?
c. What are comparable properties to the subject?
d. What adjustments need to be made to the comparables in order to value the subject?
e. If the highest and best use is for development beyond its current use, should the value of the improvements be added to the value of the land or should they be disregarded?
For the reasons expressed below, I have determined that:
1. The concrete bases on which the radio towers sit are assessable as real property. The towers are not subject to local property tax.
2. Six and one-third of the 22.58 acre parcel are wetlands.
3. The total fair market value of the subject property on each of the four assessing dates was $6,027,300.
For the years in question the property was assessed as follows:
For 1991 the Chapter 123 ratio (N.J.S.A. 54:51A-6) was 53.97%. For 1992 the Chapter 123 ratio was 66.69%. 1993 was a revaluation year and thus the Chapter 123 ratio does not apply. For 1994 the Director's Chapter 123 ratio exceeded 100%.
The property is 22.58 acres and is located in the Hackensack Meadowlands. It is bordered by the N.J. Turnpike, Rt. 3, Rt. 120 (previously known as Rt. 20), and service roads within the Sports Complex. Specifically, it sits in a corner of the area zoned Sports Complex Zone within the Hackensack Meadowlands. It is the only piece of privately held property that has been so zoned since the creation of the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission. See N.J.A.C 19:4-4.121 to -4.123. It is bordered principally by the N.J. Turnpike and the N.J. Sports and Exposition Authority controlled land which contains Giants Stadium, the Brendan Byrne Arena, and the Meadowlands Racetrack. It is improved by a 4000 square foot brick building which contains various broadcast equipment and three 500 foot AM radio broadcast towers.
The parties have stipulated to the following values for the improvements to the real property:
For each of the four years 1991 to 1994, the building was worth $150,000 and the three towers were worth $1,100,000. Plaintiff maintains that the towers in their entirety are personal property under the applicable law and the municipality maintains that they are real property in their entirety. Nevertheless, should the court find that they may be assessed as partially real property for valuation purposes, the parties have agreed that the three piers, the piles and concrete part of the structures, were worth $440,000 and the three steel structures were worth $660,000. The plaintiff's position is that the value of the land in the Meadowlands decreased during the four years which are the subject of this litigation. The defendant's expert opined that values were stable during that period. Nevertheless, the parties have agreed that the total value of all of the improvements was the same for the four years that are before this court.
The radio towers were described by the engineer of radio station WEVD as sitting on triangular concrete bases which are approximately 45 feet in length on each side. With regard to the concrete bases, Mr. Cheval, the general contractor and the builder of the concrete bases (piers) on which the radio towers were erected testified as to their construction. I find his testimony to be uncontroverted. Accordingly, I make the following findings of fact: Each pier consists of three sets of ten wood piles which are driven approximately 60 to 70 feet into the ground. The wood piles are covered with creosote to retard rotting. The piles have approximately 6 to 8 inch tips and are 14 inches at their head. Thus, each of the three piers consists of thirty piles driven 60-70 feet into the ground. On top of each set of ten piles there is a pile cap made of poured concrete which includes approximately one foot of the pile within it. On top of the pile caps there are grade beams which are made of poured concrete. Within each grade beam there are three inch in ...