by Paul Schliesmann The Whig-Standard
A potentially precedent-setting tax assessment hearing began on Wolfe Island on Wednesday for a couple claiming that noise and lights from nearby wind turbines have lowered their property value.
Lawyers from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation and the Township of Frontenac Islands are opposing the claim made by islanders Ed and Gail Kenney.
The hearing, crammed into the tiny municipal township building, attracted opponents of wind farms that are being planned for Amherst Island and Cape Vincent, N.Y.
They believe the Kenneys’ case could change the course of future wind farm developments on both sides of the border.
“MPAC and the township have spent an awful lot of money on this for it not to be a precedent-setting case,” said Janet Grace a real estate agent who leads the Association for the Protection of Amherst Island.
“It’s not so much how much your house is de-valued. It’s that you can’t sell it.”
The Kenneys’ single-family island home, on 237 feet of waterfront property facing Kingston, was assessed at $357,000 in 2008, the same year construction began on the 86 turbines now owned and operated by Alberta-based energy company TransAlta.
Representing themselves at the hearing, the Kenneys will make their case today that the project has devalued their home.
In her opening submission, MPAC lawyer Shawn Douglas acknowledged that while “wind turbines to some extent are controversial,” the hearings scheduled for two days “must focus on (property) value.”
“This is not a test case for properties throughout Ontario,” said Douglas. “It is not a test case in our mind.”
The tribunal heard from four MPAC witnesses yesterday, the first being assessor Emily Hubert.
Hubert testified that she conducted a reassessment of the Kenney property after receiving their appeal in December 2009.
She said she used a variety of properties from across Wolfe Island to determine if the assessment was fair, based on the selling prices of other houses of similar value.
Normally, in urban residential areas, it’s easier to find like properties that have sold nearby to determine market value.
“When you get into rural areas, you have to expand your search further,” said Hubert.
“Most of the (Kenney property) value comes from the water frontage. That’s what most people are looking for.”
Grace said she undertook her own appraisal of the Kenneys’ home and came up with a much lower value, taking into account the presence of the turbines, of between $283,000 and $295,000.
She said people on Amherst Island are already having benchmark assessments done on their properties — in case turbines are ever built there.