Nova Scotia

$1 property assessment for N.S. waterfront home overturned

A precedent setting $1 assessment of an Antigonish-area home after Mi'kmaq artifacts were found on the property has been overturned.

Antigonish Harbour property had been devalued after Mi'kmaq artifacts found, now assessed at $293K

The house and property are now assessed at $292,700. (Mike MacDonald/CBC)

A precedent setting $1 assessment of an Antigonish-area home after Mi'kmaq artifacts were found on the property has been overturned.

The owners of the home and Property Valuation Services Corporation — the not-for-profit organization responsible for assessing all property in Nova Scotia — reached a settlement before the disputed valuation went to a hearing this month. 

"I am happy we got a good resolution," says Mike MacDonald, who owns the waterside property in Antigonish Harbour. "We had some questions that needed answers and we have that."

In 2014 MacDonald and his wife Jayne Chisholm had their assessment reduced from $253,000 to $1 by a provincial tribunal on the grounds the discovery of a Mi'kmaq burial site and artifacts severely limited their ability to sell the property.

The $1 assessment meant the owners wouldn't pay any taxes to the municipality. The tribunal's ruling was appealed by the property valuation corporation to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. 

Artifacts have no impact on sales

At a pre-hearing settlement, conference market data was reviewed showing that the presence of historical artifacts, including graves, in similar situations had not affected sales.

"The parties have therefore concluded, and the board agrees, that the presence of artifacts in the present circumstances results in no perceptible stigma with respect to market value," utility and review board member Wayne Cochrane wrote in a July 2015 decision approving the settlement.

The house and property are now assessed at $292,700.

A round and polished green-banded slate celt is a highly prized item used by the Mi'kmaq for ceremonial purposes. (Contributed)

The property valuation corporation told CBC News in a statement it is "pleased with the pre-hearing settlement process and outcome, and would like to thank all parties involved for their time and consideration in this matter."

The case goes back to 2013 when the owners were building a home on a waterside lot on Seabright Road at Antigonish Harbour.

At that time, they discovered a ground and polished green-banded slate celt — a highly prized axe or wood-working tool with a hatchet-like cutting edge — used by the Mi'kmaq for ceremonial purposes. The object was found in a 500-year-old pit lined with woven birchbark.

MacDonald reported the find to the nearby Paq'tnkek First Nation, which conducted archaeological digs that uncovered an even older probable burial site estimated to date back 2,000 to 4,000 years.

Despite the discoveries, the band did not object to construction continuing. The artifacts were re-interred elsewhere.

History of assessment fight

The discovery originally had no impact on the assessed value, which the property valuation corporation set at $365,000 in 2014. After MacDonald contacted assessors it was reduced to $253,000. He subsequently appealed to the Nova Scotia Assessment Tribunal, which reduced the value to $1.

"The location of artifacts severely limits the use of the property and could adversely affect resale value," the tribunal found.

Even though the Paq'tnkek First Nation allowed the home to be built, the tribunal stressed the Mi'kmaq connection meant "the future status of the property is unclear."

The property valuation corporation strongly disagreed and launched its own appeal. In June, its senior commercial manager told CBC News it would be precedent setting to let near-zero valuation stand.

"In that situation, of course, the homeowner would not be paying any taxes to the municipality," Lloyd MacLeod said. "To reduce it to zero is quite significant and below what we feel the market value would be."

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