Time Running Out for Morton Bender?
Last year, a double whammy of unfavorable rulings by the Board of Zoning Adjustment and Historic Preservation Review Board may have finally tanked the N Street Follies, litigious investor Morton Bender's long-running plan to build a large hotel on the site of six historic Dupont Circle rowhouses. Now, he might be in for a wallop to his wallet too: The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has revoked the tax breaks that had been granted to 1745-1755 N Street NW for 2011, saying a property can only be exempted for three years in a row. All together, that will amount to a property tax bill of $616,000.
Bender has owned the vacant properties since 1988, and usually found ways to avoid high taxation rates, both through appealing to the D.C. Superior Court (in 2007, he won a refund of about $600,000) and the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals. For the last several years, he has claimed exemptions based on the applications pending before the BZA and HPRB. When those processes came to an end, he used the fact that the properties are up for sale as a basis for the exemption–Sotheby's is listing them for $23 million, despite their collective assessed value of about $12.3 million.
That was the understanding under which Bender's attorney, Mark Brodsky, was operating when I called him this afternoon. He says he had not received the letters dated February 21, 2011, breaking the news that DCRA had determined it granted the exemptions in error. "That, of course, will be appealed," he said.
He might have a more difficult time of doing that in the future. At the end of January, the Council passed legislation to reform BRPAA (Burpah, to friends) to make it less of a rubber stamp for tax appeals–but that won't take effect until October, potentially buying him another year unless the current BRPAA takes a harder line.
Of course, this is Morton Bender we're talking about, and he might just take it all the way to Superior Court again–and win.