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Ownership and Use of Land on Camino Lejo 3/19/10

Up-date for Santa Fe Meeting from the Future Planning Committee on

Ownership and Use of Land on Camino Lejo 3/19/10

 

History
At the end of December, 2008, the Meeting accepted the gift of approx. 1.534 acres of land on Camino Lejo where it joins Old Pecos Trail. The ownership of 55% of the property at that time was deeded to a Title-Holding Trust representing the Meeting and the designated Trustees were Bob Gaines, Marguerite Kearns and Jennifer Wellington White. The donor retained the other 45% ownership of the land until Jan. 2015 when the Meeting will become the full owner of the property.

Originally the land was given and accepted largely with the hope that it could eventually be the site of a new meetinghouse. However, just before the transfer occurred, it was learned that an original 1959 covenant on the Warranty Deed for the property stated that only a residence could be built on the land (along with other restrictions against selling to specific racial groups). This was counter to the previous understanding of the city zoning regulations, which allowed the land to be used for a church or for a residence without any need to seek special approval.

According to the Meeting’s lawyer, the covenant could only be enforced by the two adjoining neighbors. At this stage, under advisement of the lawyer, the Future Planning Comm. prepared an outline of the Meeting’s basic concepts regarding eventually building a meetinghouse on the land and Bob Gaines called to discuss these with the two neighbors who live directly adjacent to the land. Although one neighbor was welcoming of the idea of the Meeting’s proposed use of the property, the other neighbor was very adamant about traffic and noise and refused to consider the Meeting’s proposal to build a meetinghouse. Since then this neighbor has remained unwilling even to discuss the issue with the donor of the land or the Meeting.

Based on this new situation and the likelihood that we could not build on the land in the near future, the Meeting proceeded to amend legally the original Gift Agreement with the donor last September, 2009. The redrafted agreement removed most of the donor's previous restrictions on how the property was to be maintained and used and stated that the Meeting would be free to use the land, including selling it, as long as this use “improves the life and facilities of the Meeting and furthers its work in support of Quaker values and goals.” In consideration of the donor’s concerns as someone living next to the property, a clause was added stating that if the meeting decides to sell the property after it becomes full owner, and if the donor or his heirs still own the adjoining property, then the “Meeting and the Trust will consult with the Donor or his heirs before selecting a buyer.”

Property Taxes
The Camino Lejo property was appraised at above $300,000 at the time of the gift. Its assessed value for property tax purposes is $182,040 and in 2009, the total taxes on the land were billed at $1768.34. Prior to receiving the gift, our lawyer apparently assumed that as a religious entity, the Meeting would not have to pay taxes on our portion of the property but might have to petition for an exemption from this tax. Both the Meeting and the donor were under this impression. Nevertheless, in the formal Gift Agreement, the donor agreed to pay any taxes that might accrue until the property was completely transferred to the Meeting in 2015. Through information from the County Assessor’s office, the meeting has received a copy of regulations regarding exemptions for church property and has learned that “undeveloped” or vacant land is not exempt from property taxes. Accordingly, the 2009 taxes on the Meeting’s portion of the land were about $972 and the donor has paid that along with the tax for his portion of the property. This means that while the donor will generously cover our tax burden through 2014, the Meeting will be responsible for annual property taxes of about $2000/year beginning in 2015.

Concern has been expressed about the possibility that the taxes might go up sharply due to a reassessment after the transfer of the land becomes permanent or as the title for the Camino Lejo land is reassigned to the Meeting’s Corporation. We think this is not very likely since there was a reassessment of the taxes done in 2003 when the donor originally applied for the lot-split that subdivided the empty parcel of land from his lot with a home. Since then, the taxes have been going up about $60-$100 a year for the lot but, since the value of property has been declining over the past couple of years, it is unlikely that there will be another major jump in assessed value and therefore taxes.

So at this moment, the Meeting (through its Trustees) is the primary owner of the lot on Camino Lejo and will become full owner in 2015. It is the recommendation of the Future Planning Committee that legal title to all property, including the Camino Lejo land, be transferred from the Meeting’s Title-holding Trustees to the Corporation of the Meeting due to liability issues and legal clarity.

Future Options: A “5-Year Plan”
At this time the Meeting has a number of options going forward. We are not incurring taxes until 2015, and we do not have full ownership until then.

1) We can look into what is the minimum amount of development on the land that qualifies for tax exemption.

2) We can wait and hope the objecting neighbor leaves or changes his mind about building a Meeting House on the site by 2015.

3) We can wait and consider selling the property in consultation with the donor at the time the meeting has full ownership in 2015. Selling or donating the land for another use such as open space or a park, may also run into the covenant limits on residential use only.

4) In the hope of invalidating the current covenant on the land, we can explore with the City Zoning Office to see if the covenant is valid since it is in conflict with the City ordinance and at the same time we can discuss the covenant with a Quaker member of both Albuquerque Meeting and the State Legislature who has been active in lifting similar covenants with racial restrictions from properties in Albuquerque.

5) We can hold the property beyond 2015 with the Meeting paying the property tax in order to give due consideration to these options at a future time.


Prepared by Martha Davis and Bettina Raphael with in-put from the Committee

 

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