GILFORD — Arbo Ministries International of Texas filed an application early this month for a religious property tax exemption for one of the two town properties it owns.
The non-denominational ministry owns a developed piece of property on 14 Curtis Road and a 6.59-acre undeveloped lot across nearby Cherry Valley Road but the ministry has only requested the exemption for the Curtis Road property.
Many locals refer to the property as the Guild Farm, after the prominent family that liver there for decades. Others call it the Smiling Hill Farm.
Arbo's application states its primary mission is to "teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ through every means possible — ie books, CDs, radio, Internet and public services."
According to the application, the property is 2.88 acres and 55 percent of its usage is for the continual support of a parsonage, 10 percent of its use is for ministry offices and 35 percent is used for a prayer center.
The ministry initially proposed and filed an application with the Zoning Board of Adjustments for a special exception to zoning regulations to allow for a "church" in an area zoned residential.
As part of a compromise, the Planning Board agree to allow Arbo Ministries instead to operate a permitted "home-based business" with some restrictions in exchange for a withdrawal of its application from the Zoning Board for the special exemption — which it did.
According to Planning Board member Norm Silbur, who made the motion to allow the home business that passed unanimously, the ministry agreed to a number of physical conditions, including that no more than 30 percent of the property would be used for the ministry.
He said yesterday, that he wasn't surprised to learn that the ministry applied for the property tax exemption, but that in his opinion, it should be limited to a base of 30 percent of the assessed value of the home — $590,530 as of 2014.
Property tax records from 2014 indicate the property is still classified as a single-family home.
Ultimately, the Board of Selectmen will have the final say. In smaller communities, there is generally not a separate Board of Assessors and selectmen serve as the official assessors.
Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the application for the tax abatement is being researched by contract Assessor Wil Cocoran who will make his recommendation to the board.