• 70°

City loses Supreme Court appeal

The city of Suffolk must repay real estate taxes, with interest, it charged on open space in a local neighborhood after losing an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Saddlebrook Estates Community Association filed the lawsuit in 2014, after the city started proceedings to auction the open space in the subdivision for unpaid real estate taxes.

Open space in subdivisions is not taxed directly; rather, its value is reflected in the assessments of lots benefiting from the open space.

But the city taxed the open space in Saddlebrook Estates, a development off Kings Fork Road, because there is a commercial enterprise — an equestrian center — on the property.

In 2012, the city sent a tax bill to United Property Associates, the association manager, for fiscal years 2009 through 2011. When the group didn’t pay, the city put a lien on its bank accounts and took the money — about $23,000.

After a protest, the city decided David Christiansen, who operates the Indian Point Farm equestrian center, was responsible. It refunded United Property Associates and started trying to collect from Christiansen instead.

When Christiansen didn’t pay, the city started proceedings to auction the property, and that’s when the association sued.

In January 2015, after a trial, a Circuit Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in favor of the city. The association appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Justice William C. Mims wrote the court’s opinion.

“Although the city argues that real property used for commercial enterprises is not within the meaning of ‘open or common space’ as used in the statute, nothing in the statutory definition excludes such real property,” Mims wrote.

City spokeswoman Diana Klink said the court’s final order for the case will be issued on or after June 13 and will contain the amount the city owes in recompense to the plaintiffs. The city has until then to ask the court to reconsider, but Klink wrote in an email, “It is not anticipated that the city would be asking the court to reconsider.”