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06/30/88 Cantigny Trust, v. the Department of Revenue

June 30, 1988





526 N.E.2d 518, 171 Ill. App. 3d 1082, 122 Ill. Dec. 259 1988.IL.1048

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. S. Bruce Scidmore, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE DUNN delivered the opinion of the court. REINHARD, J., concurs. JUSTICE INGLIS, Dissenting.


Defendant, the Department of Revenue (Department), appeals the judgment of the circuit court of Du Page County granting tax-exempt status to five parcels of land owned by the plaintiff, Cantigny Trust. The residences house the director of security and groundskeepers of the park operated by the trust. On appeal, the Department asserts that the residences are not reasonably necessary to the operation of the park.

Plaintiff operates Cantigny Park and Gardens, located on the estate of Colonel Robert R. McCormick in Du Page County. The park contains two museums, gardens, nature areas with trails, camp-grounds and wildlife preserves, and the gardens are open to the public year-round. Boy Scouts often camp on the grounds. The Department does not dispute the general charitable nature of Cantigny Trust. The instant appeal relates only to the five parcels occupied by the residences.

On July 1, 1986, the Department issued its final administrative decision for the tax year 1984, granting tax-exempt status to the entire park except for 200 acres used for farming and the five residences. The Department reached the same result for tax year 1985. Plaintiff filed complaints for administrative review of both decisions in the circuit court of Du Page County, which consolidated the actions. The court affirmed the portion of the Department's decision denying tax-exempt status for the farmed parcels, but reversed the portion of the Department's decision denying exemptions for the residences. The Department appeals the court's order granting exemptions for the five residences. Plaintiff does not appeal the portion of the judgment relating to the farmed parcels, and that issue is not before us.

The following facts regarding the residences were adduced at the administrative hearing. The first of the houses at issue is occupied by J. Knox, the park's director of security, and his wife and child. He keeps a radio in the house, which is activated if an alarm in one of the museums is tripped. He keeps the radio on at all times that scouts are camping in the park.

The second house in question is occupied by Narcisco Felix, the park's head groundskeeper. The house is located near a greenhouse where plants are stored for the winter. Felix watches the greenhouse in winter and is responsible for clearing snow from the roads and paths in the park. He supervises the heating of the greenhouse 24 hours a day during the winter. On past occasions he has been required to activate manually the emergency heating system.

The third house at issue is the residence of the head maintenance man for the museums and other buildings, Mr. Smith. In addition to maintaining the buildings, Smith's duties include opening the museums in the morning, fixing the public restrooms if necessary, assisting Felix with the greenhouse and serving as a backup for Knox. The remaining two residences house assistant groundskeepers.

All five employees are required to live on the grounds as a condition of their employment and are on 24-hour call in case of an emergency, such as a fire or break-in. However, none of the employees performs any of his duties in the houses; they are used strictly as residences. All of the employees have at some time responded to fire or burglar alarms. Plaintiff's brief states, "If Cantigny did not have employees residing on the grounds, it would incur substantial additional expense in hiring more employees."

Both parties correctly recognize that the facts are undisputed. Therefore, the issue of whether the property is exempt is a question of law, the resolution of which depends solely upon the application of the appropriate legal standards to those facts, and this court must decide whether the trial court properly found that the property was exempt from taxation. Evangelical Alliance Mission v. Department of Revenue (1987), 164 Ill. App. 3d 431, 439, 517 N.E.2d 1178; Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart v. Department of Revenue (1987), 155 Ill. App. 3d 325, 328, 508 N.E.2d 470.

All property is subject to taxation unless a statute specifically exempts it. The constitutional provision authorizing the legislature to exempt certain specified ...

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