In Uncategorized on 01/12/2022 at 18:23

I’ll quote Oscar Wilde’s famous jibe about the cynic who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing,” as I’m sure Judge Albert G (“Scholar Al”) Lauber, though himself no cynic, is fully familiar therewith. He shows just how familiar in Hancock County Land Acquisitions, LLC, Southeastern Argive Investments, LLC, Tax Matters Partner, Docket No. 12385-20, filed 1/12/21.

And, dear reader, before you groan “Oh no, not another GA boondockery,” know I said it first. But I have to blog it; you can stop reading now and ignore it.

Anyway, the Hancocks are a MS LLC box-checked as a partnership (natch) with HQ in GA (natch), which wound up with 236.12 acres of strip-mined scrub, which they had syndicated for $18 million to a bunch investors (hi, Judge Holmes) who took a $180 million Section 170 conservation easement write-off. Btw, the 8283 showed original purchase price as $166,551.00.

There’s much argy-bargy about from whom the Hancocks bought (or acquired) the property, whether they bought it or was it a capital contribution, but you can read for yourselves, Order, at pp. 6-7, and Judge Scholar Al wisely ducks the “substantial compliance” issue. Summary J is the game, and reasonable cause for any miscue is fact-driven.

Improvements in-or-out is the lead issue. The paperwork says improvements out; if extinguished, whatever award encompasses the improvements goes to the Hancocks.

Well, what are the improvements? “First, Hancock may maintain, enlarge, or replace the main access road and secondary access roads in ‘Acceptable Development Areas.’ Second, Hancock may construct new fences, and it may maintain, enlarge, and/or replace existing fences , for the purpose of preventing trespassing on the Property. Third, Hancock may maintain, enlarge, or replace certain ‘rustic structures,’ so long as the structures ‘blend with natural surrounding and complement the natural and scenic features of the landscape.” Finally, Hancock may establish and maintain hunting stands and platforms so long as such accessories ‘minimize[] damage to the Property, and so long as these activities preserve the value of the Open Area as wildlife habitat.’” Order, at pp. 2-3.

The Hancocks say the improvements are worthless. OK, cue Oconee and Wisawee. See my blogpost “Preserving the Preservation Easement,” 8/18/20.

But there’s a twist: although the worth or value of the improvements is a question of fact for the trial, the improvements are worthless because rocket science.

“This tract lies within a 125,000-acre ‘acoustical buffer zone’ surrounding the Stennis Space Center,  a rocket propulsion test facility operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Cognizant of the risks surrounding tests of rocket engines, the United States for decades has held a ‘perpetual and assignable easement’ over this buffer zone (NASA easement). The NASA easement grants the United States the right, within the buffer zone, ‘to prohibit human habitation or human occupancy of dwellings and other buildings, and the right to prohibit the construction of dwellings and other buildings susceptible of being used for human habitation or human occupancy.’” Order, at p. 2.

I suppose I shouldn’t revisit the façade cases, where the local laws already preserved the wannabes to a fare-thee-well. On the trial, NASA can sink the Hancocks.

But maybe the land itself has value, well above $180 million. Not for nuthin’, but what would Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, or Ali Khamenei, individually or collectively, pay for some “hunting stands and platforms so long as such accessories ‘minimize[] damage to the Property, and so long as these activities preserve the value of the Open Area as wildlife habitat,” that maybe might could be have a ringside view of the USA’s latest devices for putting a couple dozen kilotons (hi again, Judge Holmes) in their individual or collective hip pockets?


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