Tariq and Kamran Farid, owners of Edible Arrangements International, have reached a settlement with the town regarding the back taxes the town says they owe on their now abandoned Islamic Academy school property.
The school, ordered closed by the town earlier this year because it was deemed structurally unsafe for human use, lies vacant. It is located at the site of the former Pine Brook/Wightwood Elementary School at 56 Stony Creek Road and is currently for sale.
The settlement was reached last Friday in New Britain Superior Court, pending approval by Board of Selectmen (BOS). This morning the three-member BOS, meeting in First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove’s office at Town Hall, voted unanimously to accept the settlement. On Friday Superior Court Judge George Levine took a pre-trial session scheduled for today off the court calendar. He said it would only be rescheduled “if the Board of Selectmen rejects the settlement.”
The tax assessor maintains the school lost their tax-exempt status when the brothers and their foundation quit-claimed the Branford school property on July 24, 2012, to SKF Stony Creek, LLC, a company they own, with the same address in Wallingford as the corporate headquarters of Edible Arrangements. The town’s position was that SKF Stony Creek has no tax exemption status.
After a 25 minute meeting in executive session, Cosgrove said a stipulated judgment will be entered by the court “in favor of the town on claims relating to tax exemptions from the years 2011 to 2012 to 2013.” He said the Farids will pay back taxes for those years “in an assessed value to be entered by the court in total amount of 55,000.” Click here to read an earlier story.
Town Attorney Bill Aniskovich, who outlined the settlement for the BOS in executive session, told the Eagle afterwards that the properties remained taxable for the contested years and in that sense the town won their part of the case. “They did not get tax-exempt status for those years,” he said in an interview.
However, a check of public records shows the town’s settlement agreement of $55,000 for the three years is not what the Farids actually owed the town on the 56 Stony Creek Road property.
According to tax records, the taxes for 2011, 2012 and 2013 on the school property came to a total of $118,102 and possibly more in interest and liens for those years.
The discrepancy arises out of the fact that the settlement includes an adjusted valuation of the property based on both the price the Farid brothers paid for the property and a “comparable sales” appraisal submitted as part of the tax appeal. This reduced the assessed value of the property and the total amount due in taxes, those familiar with the details said.
The Farids have made it clear over the course of the case that they believed they were entitled to tax-exempt status. Although the school never opened, the building held religious services from time to time.
Asked if their non-profit status has been restored as part of this settlement, Aniskovich said in an interview that the Farids have now “filed an application that will be acted on by the assessor.” He added that there was “no agreement as part of the appeal as it relates to 2014 other than they will file an application and it will be acted on by the assessor.” He added: “If they want to do a school there, they have to file an application and do a school.”
History of School
The brothers purchased the former Pine Brook school in 2010.
The town’s tax collector, Joanne Cleary, submitted an affidavit during the course of the court proceedings saying that her records indicate that neither of the brothers nor the Farid Foundation “ever made any payments for taxes owing for 56 Stony Creek Road.”
The town has valued the 2.76-acre school property at $1.8 million and assessed the property at $1.2 million.
Barbara Neal, the town’s tax assessor, determined that the Farid brothers had to pay taxes on the property because it was not tax-exempt after July 24, 2012 when the quit claim was filed. Branford began levying taxes on the property after that date. The brothers appealed. It is this tax case that landed in court.
Although the Farids did not open an Islamic Academy in Branford, they did open one in Guilford. The Guilford school received non-profit status in 2011.
The school has now fallen into disrepair and is up for sale. In recent years, the school was damaged in two separate broken sprinkler system incidents, one in 2010 and another in February, 2011. Earlier this year, on January 31, 2014, the town declared the building structurally unsafe for human use.
The brothers’ attorney, Jennifer Rignoli of the law firm of Parrett, Porto, Parese & Colwell in Hamden, sought comparative non-profit tax information after Neal denied them tax-exemption status after July 24, 2012. The request was extensive. She wanted to know about every property in Branford that received a full or partial tax exemption over the past five years.
Carolyn Kone, one of the town’s attorneys handling the case, said the plaintiffs (three groups in all, including SKF Stony Creek, LLC, Shoreline Islamic Academy, Inc. and Tariq Farid & Kamran Farid, Trustees of the Farid Foundation) had served “extensive interrogatories (25), many of which have numerous sub-parts (including one that has 10 sub-parts) and requests for production (13) along with 14 instructions.”
Gathering the data for these requests is a costly and time-consuming undertaking, Kone said. If a settlement occurs, “the requests will not be required, thereby saving the municipal defendant time and resources that would otherwise be expended responding to plaintiffs’ discovery requests.”
She noted that if the tax case were resolved, there would be no need for the extensive information requests that would be costly and time-consuming for the town.
And so it was.