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MCKNIGHT SHOPPING CENTER v. BOARD PROPERTY ASSESSMENT (02/25/65)

decided: February 25, 1965.

MCKNIGHT SHOPPING CENTER, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF PROPERTY ASSESSMENT



Appeals from orders of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1959, Nos. 878 and 879, in case of McKnight Shopping Center, Inc. v. Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County.

COUNSEL

T. Robert Brennan, with him Brennan and Brennan, for appellant.

John F. Murphy, Assistant County Solicitor, with him Francis A. Barry, First Assistant County Solicitor, and Maurice Louik, County Solicitor, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen and O'Brien, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Mr. Justice Musmanno joins in this Dissenting Opinion.

Author: Cohen

[ 417 Pa. Page 236]

McKnight Shopping Center, Inc. (appellant) was the owner of a parcel of real estate located in Allegheny County on January 1, 1959, the beginning date of the triennial assessment period 1959-1960-1961. On or about January 23, 1959, it received notice from the Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of the County (Board) that the assessed value of its land had been increased for the triennial period from $50,450 to $240,700.*fn1 This increase in the assessed value of the land resulted in the total assessment of the property*fn2 being increased from $296,720 to $486,970.

[ 417 Pa. Page 237]

Appellant appealed to the Board, alleging that the total assessment was in excess of the market value of its property and that the ratio of assessed value to market value was not uniform with that existing for other properties in the county. The Board refused appellant's appeal, and appellant then appealed to the court below.

In the proceedings below the Board introduced a certified copy of the assessments on appellant's property. This established a prima facie case for the validity of the assessment. Lehigh Valley Coal Company v. Northumberland County Commissioners, 250 Pa. 515, 95 Atl. 712 (1915). Appellant presented the testimony of three witnesses. One, its secretary, described the property and its use and stated that appellant had been asking $550,000 for the property. He also stated that in May, 1960, appellant entered into a lease for the property providing for a return of income and an option to buy based upon a $550,000 value.

Appellant's second witness, a real estate broker, confirmed the prior witness' testimony regarding the lease. Its third witness, also a real estate broker, testified that he had made an appraisal of the property as of January 1, 1959, and determined that its fair market value was $550,000. He pointed out that the assessed value of $486,970 thus represented 88.5% of the market value. This witness then indicated that there were two other shopping centers in the area which he considered comparable to appellant's property. He stated his opinion of the fair market value of each comparable property and pointed out that the ratios of their assessed values to their market values were 57% and 76%.

[ 417 Pa. Page 238]

With this, appellant rested. The Board presented no testimony and also rested. The court below dismissed appellant's appeals, pointing out (1) that appellant's own testimony indicated that the assessed value of its property was not in excess of the market value and (2) that appellant's testimony regarding lack of uniformity was not competent. Although it did not expressly so state with regard to this latter point, it is clear that the court rejected the testimony of appellant's third witness on the theory that it could not be considered credible. The basis for this theory was his testimony that one of the comparable shopping centers -- about one-third in acreage size and about one-half in square footage -- was worth $445,000 -- about 80% of the value of appellant's property. This, the court below indicated, it could not believe. The court also put aside the testimony regarding the other shopping center on the ground that appellant's counsel had admitted it was not comparable.

Appellant appealed to this Court. It, properly, raises only the issue of uniformity since, as pointed out, its own testimony established a market ...


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