TOWN OF STRATFORD et al. v. RAPHAEL JACOBELLI et al., SC 19332/19333

Judicial District of New Britain


      Taxation; Whether Privately Owned Hangars Located at Airport in Stratford on Land Leased from Bridgeport are Taxable as Real Property Under General Statutes § 12-64; Whether Hangars are Exempt from Taxation Under § 12-74 Because They are on Land Used as Airport.  The defendants own airplane hangars that are situated at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford on land that they lease from the city of Bridgeport.  The hangars are for the defendants’ private use in storing aircraft.  They are made of steel tubes and sheet metal and have no floors or footings.  The hangars are not permanently affixed to the ground but rather are secured by removable anchors and can be moved.  The town of Stratford sought a declaratory judgment as to whether the hangars are taxable as real property under General Statutes § 12-64 (a) and whether the hangars come within the tax exemption set forth in General Statutes § 12-74 for property owned by a town that is located in another town and used for the purposes of an airport.  The trial court noted that § 12-64 (a) dictates that the following real property is taxable: “Dwelling houses, garages, barns, sheds, stores, shops, mills, buildings used for business, commercial, financial, manufacturing, mercantile and trading purposes, ice houses, warehouses, silos, all other buildings and structures, house lots, all other building lots and improvements thereon. . . .”  The trial court found that the hangars were equivalent to “sheds” and ruled that, under the plain language of § 12-64 (a), they are taxable as real property.  The trial court further ruled that the hangars are not tax exempt under § 12-74.  The court explained that although that statute provides an exemption for Bridgeport as the landowner, the exemption is not available to the defendants because they are being taxed as owners of the hangars, not as Bridgeport’s lessees, and because Bridgeport does not exercise substantial control over the defendants’ activities.  The court also rejected claims that §§ 12-19a and 12-64 (b) and (c) exempt the hangars from taxation, finding those provisions inapplicable to the hangars’ taxable status because they concern state funding, in the form of grants in lieu of taxes, to towns in which municipally owned airports are located and taxation of lessees of state property.  The defendant hangar owners appeal.  They argue that the hangars are not real property under § 12-64 because the statute specifically enumerates the items that are taxable as real property but does not include hangars and because the hangars are readily distinguishable from the items listed in the statute, which are all immobile structures that are permanently affixed to the ground.  The defendants also claim error in the trial court’s ruling that the hangars are not tax exempt under § 12-74.  Finally, the defendants claim that our state’s legislative framework does not support taxation for the hangars because they are used for aviation purposes at a municipal airport that is regulated by the state in a town that receives state grants, in lieu of taxes, for the airport.