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Van Wingerden v. Lafayette Tp.

July 22, 1997

LEONARD VAN WINGERDEN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, AND ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW JERSEY, INTERVENOR-APPELLANT,
v.
LAFAYETTE TOWNSHIP, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Tax Court of New Jersey, whose decision is reported at 15 N.J. Tax 475.

Approved for Publication July 25, 1997.

Before Judges Pressler, Stern and Humphreys. The opinion of the court was delivered by Humphreys, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Humphreys

The opinion of the court was delivered by

HUMPHREYS, J.A.D.

Plaintiff challenged in the Tax Court the township's 1993 and 1994 tax assessment of plaintiff's greenhouse. After a trial, the Tax Court Judge upheld the assessment. The Judge found in an opinion reported at 15 N.J. Tax 475 (Tax Ct. 1996), that: (1) plaintiff's greenhouse was real, not personal property; (2) a statute, N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.12, rendered the greenhouse exempt from real property taxation; and (3) the exemption statute violated the constitutional requirement that property be taxed under general laws and by uniform rules. See N.J. Const. art. VIII, § 1, P 1(a). The plaintiff and the Attorney General filed a notice of appeal for each of the two years. We hereby consolidate the appeals and render one opinion as to both. The New Jersey Farm Bureau appears as amicus curiae in support of the constitutionality of the statute.

After a thorough review of the record and the arguments presented, we hold that the statutory exemption in N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.12 does not violate the New Jersey Constitution. We reverse and remand for reconsideration as to whether the greenhouse falls within the statutory exemption.

I

The greenhouse is made of glass and covers approximately an acre and a half. It is actually a combination of sixteen smaller greenhouses. The main greenhouse and a shipping house are set upon concrete footings. Both can be disassembled and their concrete footings removed from the land in which they are sunk.

The Tax Court Judge found that a small market exists for used greenhouses and some of their component parts.

Pursuant to the Farmland Assessment Act, N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.1 to -23.23, and paragraph 1(b) of Article VIII, Section 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, eligible farmlands are assessed at a lower standard than other lands within a taxing district. See New Jersey State League of Municipalities v. Kimmelman, 105 N.J. 422, 437, 522 A.2d 430 (1987). Additionally, structures which constitute single use agriculture or horticulture facilities are totally exempt from real property tax. N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.12. Included within the statutory definition of such single use facilities are structures which are "commonly known as seed starting plastic greenhouses, or other readily dismantled silos, [or] greenhouses. . . ." Ibid. The Tax Court Judge held that the Legislature by this statutory exemption, as amended in 1993, was attempting to accomplish indirectly what it could not constitutionally accomplish directly, that is exempt real property from taxation by classifying it as personal property.

A similar issue was presented in General Motors Corp. v. City of Linden, 293 N.J. Super. 99, 104, 679 A.2d 718 (App. Div.), leave to appeal granted, N.J. (1996). In that case, the Tax Court Judge had declared unconstitutional the Business Retention Act, N.J.S.A. 54:4-1.13 to -1.16, on the ground that it also violated Art. VIII, section 1, paragraph 1(a) of the New Jersey State Constitution. That paragraph reads as follows:

Property shall be assessed for taxation under general laws and by uniform rules. All real property assessed and taxed locally or by the State for allotment and payment to taxing districts shall be assessed according to the same standard of value, except as otherwise permitted herein, and such real property shall be taxed at the general tax rate of ...


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