A novel legal gambit known as 'Dark Store Theory' threatens to decimate the commercial tax base of Bexar County, and shift more of the property tax burden onto already hard pressed homeowners, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
'Dark Store Theory' was first reported by the investigative web side 'watchdog.org.'
The basis of ad valorem, or 'by value' property taxes is that the value of a property exists independent of its occupant or owner, what is called 'perpetual value.' Your home is worth $200,000 because the assumption is that if you moved out and somebody else moved in, the assets that give that home its value would remain unchanged.
But 'Dark Store Theory' challenges that assumption. Big box retails like Lowe's Corp. are suing the Bexar Appraisal District, arguing that it's property valuation, currently set at $82 per square foot for its 10 stores in Bexar County, should be lowered to as little as $50. The argument? Their stores are so unique and are built to such individual corporate standards that they have no perpetual value, and were Lowe's to abandon a store, it would have no value whatsoever.
Bexar County Chief Appraiser Mike Amezquita told watchdog.org it's a slippery slope.
"If we lose, where does it stop?" he asked. "All big box stores will do the same thing, then it will be apartment buildings, hotels, and offices."
The state's 'equal and uniform' property value laws mandate that similar properties be treated in a similar fashion. Home Depot, for example, according to watchdog.org, recently settled for $65 per square foot, less than what the BAD considers to be its market value.
Dean Stansel, an economist at Southern Methodist University, who studies 'Dark Store Theory' tells News Radio 1200 WOAI that its a bunch of baloney that big box retailers have no value to any owner other than the builder.
"There was one where I used to live in Florida that was turned into an elementary school," he told News Radio 1200 WOAI. "They have been turned into churches. There's one here in Dallas that is being turned into a Cinema Draft House."
He says 'Dark Store Theory' is simply an effort by large retailers to gain an unfair advantage over competitors.
"One of the problems with this Dark Store method is it gives the big corporations an advantage over smaller businesses," he said. "Because the small guys don't have the resources and political influence to get the same tax cuts that the big companies are looking for."
Stansel points out that many of the big box chains which are now asking for steep property tax cuts are regularly provided with tax incentives to move into an area in the first place.
Amezquita told watchdog.org that Dark Store Theory could cost Bexar County up to $39 billion in lost commercial value over five years, amounting to 64% of the total estimated commercial market value.
And guess who will get to pick up the slack if all that commercial valuation vanishes?
READ reporter Kenric Ward's story on Dark Store Theory at watchdog.org: