Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Timber Ridge condo owners seek mediation

by Chris Schultz

February 09, 2012

LYONS TOWNSHIP — Condominium owners at Timber Ridge Lodge have requested mediation of their claim that the town's assessments of their properties are too high.

The mediation request was made last month.

Ben Brantmeier, the attorney representing Lyons in the case, said the town does not object to mediation. He said the mediation before a court-appointed attorney probably won't happen until after March 8. Lyons has hired an expert assessor to review the values of the Timber Ridge condominiums, and his review is not expected to be completed until March 8, Brantmeier said.

At mediation, the town will learn what the plaintiffs will settle for, Brantmeier said. Mediation decisions are not binding.

The room owners at the lodge are challenging the town's most recent assessments of their properties.

The property is on land owned by Marcus Corp. Timber Ridge is a "condo-tel," where individuals and investment groups own the rooms. Marcus Corp., Grand Geneva and Timber Ridge are not involved in the lawsuit.The condominiums are vacation properties the owners may use for a limited time each year, and during the rest of the year, are rented out to Timber Ridge Lodge guests. Owners receive a share of the room rental.

Both sides have said they would prefer settling the claim rather than taking it to court.

The individual owners of the 224 rooms at Timber Ridge Lodge organized last year to file a lawsuit in Walworth County Circuit Court against the town, alleging the town overvalued their properties in the most recent appraisal.

According to the town, the total assessment of the disputed property is about $45.6 million, while the condo owners claim the actual value of the properties is about $25.6 million.

The town assessed the values of the one- and two-bedroom condominiums at $180,000 for the one-bedroom suites and $268,900 for the two-bedroom suites. The one-bedroom suites are about 696 square feet, and the two -bedroom suites are 927 square feet.

An appeal by the owners to the town's Board of Review in October led the board to reaffirm the town's assessments.

The owners claim that, based on their calculations, those condo values should be reduced to $94,000 for the one-bedroom suites and $170,000 for the two-bedroom.

Based on the condo owner's figures, their total property taxes should have been $387,375 in 2010, instead of the $690,422 collected by the town.

Because the owners' claim was unsettled before December, they had to pay their property taxes based on the disputed assessment.

If the assessment is reduced in favor of the condominium owners, the town will owe the condominium owners a refund on their taxes.

Attorney Don Millis, who represents the room owners, has said that a depressed real estate market and difficulty in selling condominium hotel rooms caused a drop in the market and a decrease in the value of the rooms.

Millis could not be reached for comment this week about the owners' decision to go to mediation.

Brantmeier said the town stands by its original valuations.

"We are prepared to defend the town's assessment," he said.

Brantmeier said that Timber Ridge has a water park, which puts it into a unique market within the town. Settling on a value for a unique property is not an easy task, he said.

"These tax assessment questions are very difficult," Brantmeier said.

However, the town faces an equity issue with deciding its property assessments.

The taxing body can't agree to reduce assessments on one property without considering the impacts on other assessments in the town.

If the assessment is cut in one place, that may mean other property owners will have to make up the difference, Brantmeier said.