Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County in the case of In Re: Appeal of the Open Door Baptist Church from the Decision of the Board of Assessment Appeals of Lehigh County, No. 80-1035.
Charles E. Craze, with him Michael J. Manuszak, Gibbs & Craze, and Daniel K. McCarthy, Efron, Black, Epstein and McCarthy, for appellant.
Alfred K. Hettinger, Assistant County Solicitor, with him John E. Roberts, County Solicitor, and David G. Welty, for appellee.
Judges Williams, Jr., MacPhail and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.
[ 63 Pa. Commw. Page 293]
Open Door Baptist Church (Church), an independent fundamentalist congregation, in July of 1976 bought 10.879 acres of land in Lower Macungie Township, Lehigh County. The Church paid taxes on its real estate until September of 1978, at which time the entire tract was dedicated to the "Lord Jesus Christ." The Church then appealed its real estate tax assessment to the Board of Assessment Appeals (Board)
[ 63 Pa. Commw. Page 294]
which granted a partial exemption for the land actually used for church purposes. That decision was appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County which affirmed the Board. An appeal to this Court followed.
It appears from the record that the Board exempted 3.3 acres of the total tract. The exempt property includes the building, parking lot, roadway, septic system area and the lawn in front of the Church. The pastor, the only witness who testified, stated that the Church held outdoor services once or twice a year on the side lawns, that part of the land is cultivated and the rest is in lawn. The witness freely admitted that all of the land is not actually used for church purposes but that it is available for such use. He also testified that the Church had plans to expand its facilities some time in the indefinite future.
Of primary relevance is Section 204(a)(1) of The General County Assessment Law, Act of May 22, 1933, P.L. 853, as amended, 72 P.S. § 5020-204(a)(1) which states in pertinent part:
(a) The following property shall be exempt from all county, city, borough, town, township, road, poor and school tax, to wit:
(1) All churches, meeting-houses, or other actual places of regularly stated religious worship, with the ground thereto annexed necessary for the occupancy and enjoyment of the same;
From the evidence presented to the trial court, we have no doubt that the Board and the court reached the correct result when they found that the Church had failed to prove that the land found to be non-exempt was used exclusively as an actual place of regularly stated religious ...