UB Commons owners seek $4.3 million property value reduction in court

Town of Amherst assessor says UB Commons’ property ‘data’ doesn’t support its claim

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UB Commons owners are in State Supreme Court with the Town of Amherst over its 2017 property assessment value of $7.5 million.

The mini-mall’s owners claim its real property value is $3.2 million, or 57%, less than the town's assessment. The reduction would have an effect on the town’s tax revenue, and a town assessor said he hasn’t seen data to back up the reduction claim.

“While I’m not trying to downplay any reduction, we also have increases [in value],” said David Marrano, a Town of Amherst assessor. “It’s all about equity and fairness, I want to be fair and equitable to people but, quite frankly, what [UB Commons Inc.] has given us doesn’t provide us any data to support why our number is wrong.”

The Town of Amherst previously assessed the UB Commons at $5.4 million in the 2014-15 tax year before it went up in fair market value. During the 2015-16 and 2016-17 tax years, the town equalized the assessed value at 97% ($5.5 million fair market value) in its 2015-16 final assessment and 91% ($5.9 million fair market value) in its 2016-17 final assessment.

After the Town of Amherst reassessed all its properties in 2017, its first reassessment since 2009, the value went up to $7.5 million (or roughly 27%).

Peter Allen Weinmann, a tax assessment attorney who represents UB Commons’ owners, said his client has a “strong case” and referenced a property appraisal (valued at $3.2 million) done by Buffalo’s GAR Associates in 2016.

“It’s very unusual that we start off with an appraisal, normally we do our own in-house analysis and in this particular situation, we were very lucky to have one [already],” Weinmann said.

Weinmann said the owner, UB Commons Inc., did not come to his firm until a “few months after” he represented over 90 Amherst owners’ reduction requests in 2017. The Town of Amherst reassessed all its properties in 2017, prior to the 2017-18 tax year. Weinmann said the UB Commons assessment was a “dramatic increase” from its prior value. Weinmann said ownership changed around the time of reassessment, which could have caused the delay in challenging the increase. 

The Obletz family has had stakes in the UB Commons, a property it leases from the UB Foundation, since 1989. Stephen Obletz is listed as an agent for UB Commons Inc. in the town court case.

Marrano said in most cases, the values that petitioners request are “not really reality because the law is very clear that you can’t get any lower than” a municipality’s assessment.

Marrano said when the Town of Amherst decides on its annual budget and it’s subtracted by its revenue, that is a tax levy, something municipalities have to fund operations, he said.

“So the assessor’s job, and my staff, is to make sure that we have fair market value on people’s properties so they only pay their fair share of that tax levy,” Marrano said. “What I like to equate it to is a pie. My job is to fairly split the pie. When they challenge their assessment, what they’re telling me is ‘what you’re telling me my share is, I don’t think it’s worth that.’”

Marrano said the obligation sits with petitioners to bring “appropriate information to argue their case” for a property value reduction. He said cases usually have roughly a year of discussions before going to trial. 

“Normally what happens is while that case is still ongoing, they’ll rechallenge it again this year. It’s more of a formality, but they have to,” Marrano said. “Every year, they have to make those changes.”

Weinmann said the matter is currently “before a judge who has far more legal authority than the Board of Assessment Review.”

Benjamin Blanchet is the editorial editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @BenjaminUBSpec. 

BENJAMIN BLANCHET


 Benjamin Blanchet is a graduate student and student journalist based in Buffalo, New York. Aside from The Spectrum, Blanchet has appeared in Brooklyn’s ARTSY Magazine and New York’s RESPECT. Magazine.