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Legionaries Sues New Castle Over Loss Of Tax Exemption

An entrance sign for the Legionaries of Christ site in New Castle.
An entrance sign for the Legionaries of Christ site in New Castle. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

NEW CASTLE, N.Y. -- The Legionaries of Christ is suing the Town of New Castle to overturn the loss of its property tax exemption.

In the lawsuit, dated Oct. 14 and filed with the state Supreme Court in White Plains, the Roman Catholic religious organization argues that the use of the property, which is about 97 acres, has not changed.

“To date, Petitioner continues to use the Property for its religious purposes,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit is called a tax certiorari, a type of litigation used for challenging property assessments.

The non-profit organization’s corporate name, which is Legion of Christ, Incorporated, is listed as the plaintiff. The suit claims that the exemption had been granted every year since the organization bought the property in 1994.

The suit also details the increase in property assessment that was made for the 2014 tentative roll, which was disclosed to the organization in a June 2 letter. It called for an increase from $2 million to a little more than $3.3 million. However, the lawsuit adds that the amount was reduced by the Board of Assessment Review following an appeal. While the board lowered it to around $1.4 million, the suit notes that it denied an attempt to block the exemption loss.

Earlier this year, Assessor Phil Platz was asked why the exemption was revoked. He explained that it was due to a complaint he received about the property not being used “for really any purpose.”

Platz added that in order for an exempt property to retain its exemption, the property must be used for an organization’s exempt purpose.

The assessor recalled that he sent a letter to the organization that requested clarification about what the property was being used for but added they gave “very vague answer,” which did not satisfy him.

The Legionaries’ suit adds that documentation about the property being used was sought and that the assessor sent a letter, dated March 24, requesting “an itemization as to the tax exempt activities undertaken in the past year on the Property, including a specification as to when these have occurred.”

The organization’s suit recalls its response, stating “that Petitioner does not have an itemized list of the use of the Property.”

Sharon Greene, whose property abuts the site, wrote a letter to Platz in March, which was posted on New Castle NOW , calling for revisiting the Legionaries’ tax exemption.

“As I have mentioned to various governmental boards over the years — for close to a decade now — this property has not been in use,” Green wrote.

Reached for comment Thursday, Greene called for the organization to offer proof that they’re using the site. Greene also recalled her anecdote about the site not appearing to be actively used.

New Castle Supervisor Rob Greenstein was unaware of the lawsuit when reached for comment. Referring to the Legionaries, he said it doesn’t appear they’re using the site as a religious institution. However, he deferred to the legal process and did not rule out the possibility of information about its usage being produced.

The organization, in its suit, also notes its contract to sell the property to Soder Real Estate Equities, LLC.

Soder has a redevelopment proposal for the site, which is named Rosehill and calls for building 60 condominiums. The project, which requires a zoning change, is subject to an environmental review

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