Hollywood’s “Raging Bull” Takes on a Small Town: De Niro Fights Property Assessment

Approximately 80 miles from New York is Gardiner, a small town of about 5,800 residents in Ulster County. It might seem an unexpected place for Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro to own property, but in 1997 the star of “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver” purchased 78 acres for $1.5 million. And now it is the site of a headline-making legal battle involving a multimillion-dollar tax assessment.

The property is owned for De Niro and his family by a legal entity called the Riverside Trust. In the nearly two decades following the purchase, the trust added an additional 20 acres and two additions for a total of six bedrooms, seven baths, and 2,700 feet of frontage on the river. A barn was turned into a 14,000-square-foot recreation center with a game room, gym, basketball court, swimming pool, steam room, sauna, boxing ring, and small film studio. Another barn was turned into a workshop and one was built as an office. There are two guesthouses, a tennis court, and a small ski slope.

These additions have created jobs for local businesses and helped the town’s economy. But according to locals, that is the extent of De Niro’s involvement. In fact, some state that they only know the actor is visiting the compound when they spot his helicopter flying overhead.

The legal issue between Gardiner and De Niro came when the actor challenged the town’s $6 million dollar property assessment, ultimately raising his taxes. This has turned into a major legal battle and the Trust is not backing down, meaning the town may lose more money than it stands to earn in taxes.

The current property tax bill, based on the $6 million assessment, is $170,000, but the trust could save $57,000 a year if it prevails. The legal bill for Gardiner is over $100,000 and the town only receives 11 percent of the tax revenue. The New Paltz School District has the most to lose; since it collects about $124,000 of the current tax bill. The median income for a household in Gardiner was $54,432, and the median income for a family was $62,750. The per capita income for the town was $25,091. About 4.7 percent of families and 7.4 percent of the population were below the poverty line.

Justice Mary Work of the Supreme Court, Ulster County sided with the town, stating that “the defining characteristics of the subject property are privacy and self-sufficiency, which would appeal to buyers seeking property in a wide range of areas outside New York City.” She concluded that the market was not the county, but any home within 100 miles of Manhattan. The trust has appealed.

It is hard to predict if there will be a winner or loser in this grudge match.

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