TOWN OF NEW HAMPTON
Argued: February 16, 2017
Sulloway & Hollis, P.L.L.C., of Concord (Margaret H.
Nelson and Jay Surdukowski on the brief, and Ms. Nelson
orally), for the plaintiff.
Mitchell Municipal Group, P.A., of Laconia (Judith E.
Whitelaw and Walter L. Mitchell on the brief, and Ms.
Whitelaw orally), for the defendant.
Office of Joshua L. Gordon, of Concord (Joshua L. Gordon on
the brief), for New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters, as
Devine, Millimet & Branch PA, of Manchester (Daniel E.
Will on the brief), for Satellite Broadcasting &
Communications Association, as amicus curiae.
plaintiff, DirecTV, Inc. (DirecTV), appeals the decision of
the Superior Court (O'Neill, J.) denying a
petition for property tax abatement for the tax years 2007,
2008, and 2009. The property at issue is located in New
Hampton and is used by DirecTV as a satellite uplink
facility. On appeal, DirecTV argues that the trial court
erred when it (1) ruled that satellite antennas and batteries
used to provide backup power constitute fixtures, and (2)
determined the value of the property. Because we conclude
that the antennas and batteries are not fixtures - and,
therefore, are not taxable as real estate - we reverse the
decision of the trial court on that issue, vacate its
decision on the valuation of the property, and remand for
further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
trial court found, or the record supports, the following
facts. DirecTV is a national provider of satellite television
service. In 2005, it purchased the property at issue: an
approximately 21 acre parcel, on which is built a 46, 000
square-foot building. Prior to the purchase, the building was
used as a woolen mill facility, and contained a small office,
an area for light manufacturing, a loading dock, and
warehouse space. DirecTV intended to use the property as a
satellite uplink facility, from which it would transmit
television content to its satellites. The satellites, in
turn, would transmit that content to customers'
selecting the property as the site of its new facility,
DirecTV was primarily motivated by the property's
geographic location. In order to transmit content to the
satellites, which revolve in geosynchronous orbit around the
earth, the uplink facility was required to be stationed
somewhere within a designated geographical area in the
Northeast. The designated area included the New Hampton
property, parts of other New England states, as well as
upstate New York. However, neither the land nor the building
in New Hampton possessed any additional characteristics that
were necessary for the operation of the uplink facility. As
Leon Stanger, an engineer and consultant for DirecTV,
testified at the 2011 hearing, it is "relatively easy to
adapt" a building to an uplink facility.
the year following its purchase of the property, DirecTV made
various improvements to the land and to the building. In
addition to using the property as an uplink facility, DirecTV
uses the property for monitoring and operating the
satellites, and for the storage of spare parts and equipment.
Overall, as improved, about one-third of the building is used
for DirecTV's satellite operations, while two-thirds is
used as a warehouse.
for purposes of this appeal are two types of specialized
equipment that DirecTV uses at the property: satellite
antennas and batteries. Because the parties' dispute
turns on the nature of these items, we discuss their
characteristics and the circumstances surrounding their
installation in more detail.
are six antennas at issue in this case, three of which have
13-meter dishes, and three of which have 9-meter dishes. The
13-meter antennas are used to transmit television content to
the satellites, while the 9-meter antennas are used in
monitoring and operating the satellites. Each antenna
consists of, among other components, a stanchion, a dish,
internal tracking mechanisms and electronics, motors, conduit
systems, and "de-icers."
install these antennas, DirecTV poured concrete pads. The
pads are three to four feet deep. Conduits for electrical
wiring were placed in the concrete pads and run underground
from the antennas to the facility. Trucks then transported
the antennas to the property, where they were removed by
crane, assembled, and bolted onto the pads. It took
approximately one week to assemble each antenna structure,
and several additional weeks to configure and install the
wiring running between the antenna and the facility.
process of disassembly is "straightforward": an
antenna can be removed in approximately five days. Removal of
the antennas would not affect the utility of the land or the
building itself. DirecTV has ...