Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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Ruling favors Hughes Corp. in Summerlin land valuation dispute

The Howard Hughes Corp. has won a preliminary court victory Friday in its efforts to reduce the taxable valuable on its Summerlin West property in Las Vegas by $50 million.

District Judge Todd Russell ruled the state Board of Equalization did not follow the rules law in setting the value of 5,541 acres of undeveloped land west of the 215 Beltway at an estimated $200 million.

The county assessor originally pegged the taxable value at $249.3 million and that was reduced by the Clark County Board of Equalization to $149.7 million

After listening to arguments for 90 minutes, the judge said it appeared the state board merely split the difference. "They (the state board) didn't do a good job in analyzing this."

He sent the dispute back to the state board to reconsider its decision.

The judge cautioned Hughes attorney Paul Bancroft that the state board could set the taxable higher than the $200 million. Bancroft said he was willing "to take that risk" with a chance to present evidence supporting the $149.7 million valuation.

Deputy Attorney General Dawn Buoncristiani and Clark County Deputy District Attorney Paul Johnson argued that the decision of the state board should stand.

Buoncristiani said the state board "went through quite an analysis and it didn't split the conflicting valuations in half."

The valuation was for the 2011-12 year. She said the state board probably would not take new evidence if the case was returned to the state board. She said the state board looked at both sides of the issue.

Bancroft argued the state board did not follow the law in setting the undeveloped property at $200 million. "There was no evidence to support this," he argued. He complained that "extraneous evidence" was improperly considered by the state board.

The judge ruled the state board "could have done a better job" in explaining and arriving at its decision.

Johnson told the judge the $249.3 million set by the assessor was based on comparable sales. He argued the burden of proof was on the Hughes Corp. to show the valuation was unjust.

The suit challenging the $200 million was filed by the Hughes Corp.

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