Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County. No. 93MR97. Honorable Ronald C. Dozier, Judge Presiding.
Rule 23 Order Redesignated Opinion and Ordered Published April 10, 1997. As Corrected September 16, 1997.
Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, P.j., Honorable John T. McCullough, J. - Concur, Honorable Robert W. Cook, J. - Concur. Presiding Justice Steigmann delivered the opinion of the court.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steigmann
PRESIDING JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the opinion of the court:
In 1991, the supervisor of assessments of McLean County (Supervisor) reclassified property owned by defendant James D. Elder from farm to residential based upon its use. The property in question (hereafter referred to as the parcel) is approximately 16 acres in size. In 1992, the McLean County Board of Review (Board) affirmed the change in classification. Elder appealed this decision to the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB), which concluded in July 1993 that the Board's decision was incorrect and that the parcel should be classified farmland for property tax purposes.
The Board sought administrative review of the PTAB's decision, and in January 1996, the circuit court affirmed. The Board appeals, and we affirm in part and reverse in part.
When Elder purchased the parcel in May 1986, it was being used as pastureland for cattle. In June 1986, he received occupancy and construction permits changing the parcel's designation from a "vacant" area to a "family recreation" area in order to build a shelter for farm equipment, which also contained toilet and shower facilities. In January 1987, he received another occupancy permit for a building "for the storage of machinery and equipment necessary to maintain a premises, bath and shower." The record is not clear that Elder was in fact required to apply for these permits for the construction on the parcel, which is located in rural McLean County.
Elder built a rustic pavilion-like building containing a picnic table, a charcoal grill, a yard chair, sanitation facilities, and a shower, as well as a small tool storage area. In 1991, the Supervisor changed the parcel's classification from farm to residential "because of use." As a result, the parcel, which previously had a total assessed value of $1,998, now had a total assessed value of $10,088.
Elder appealed the Supervisor's classification to the Board, which agreed with the Supervisor's conclusion that the parcel should be taxed as residential real estate. The Board held that because the parcel was no longer used as pasture, it no longer fell within the definition of "farm," as defined in section 1-60 of the Property Tax Code (Code), which, in pertinent part, reads as follows:
"Farm. When used in connection with valuing land and buildings for an agricultural use, any property used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops; for the feeding, breeding and management of livestock; for dairying or for any other agricultural or horticultural use or combination thereof; including, but not limited to, hay, grain, fruit, truck or vegetable crops, floriculture, mushroom growing, plant or tree nurseries, orchards, forestry, sod farming and greenhouses; the keeping, raising and feeding of livestock or poultry, including dairying, poultry, swine, sheep, beef cattle, ponies or horses, fur farming, bees, fish and wildlife farming. The dwellings and parcels of property on which farm dwellings are immediately situated shall be assessed as a part of the farm. Improvements, other than farm dwellings, shall be assessed as a part of the farm and in addition to the farm dwellings when such buildings contribute in whole or in part to the operation of the [farm]. For purposes of this Code, 'farm' does not include property which is primarily used for residential purposes even though some farm products may be grown or farm animals bred or fed on the property incidental to its primary use." 35 ILCS 200/1-60 (West 1994).
After Elder appealed the Board's decision to the PTAB, a hearing officer for the PTAB conducted a hearing in June 1993. Elder testified, as did his brother, Russ Elder, who also owned an interest in the parcel. The Supervisor, three members of the Board, and the Board's attorney appeared at the hearing, and some of them testified. The hearing was lengthy, and some of the pertinent testimony is described below.
The parcel consists primarily of clay and rock, which is not suitable for row crops. When Elder and his brother purchased the property, they were concerned with conservation and the wildlife habitat in McLean County, in part because of woods being cut down. At Elder's request, the Illinois Department of Conservation (IDOC) developed a wildlife habitat development plan, which it then implemented by plowing the ground and planting seed that had been donated by Pheasants Forever. In 1993, the parcel was enrolled in a United States Forestry Department's program which sought to develop a management plan through "forest recreation enhancement" and "forest improvement for aesthetics."
The building erected on the parcel has gravel floors and is open on three sides, with a closed storage area in the back, which contain a John Deere 400 tractor with a belly mower, a welder, axes, shovels, rakes, and similar items. The building has gravel floors. When Elder and his brother go to the parcel to work, they camp there. However, they only camp there when they are working. Both Elders testified that the building's function is completely incidental to ...