FALMOUTH — The owner of a sprawling estate on Woodville Road that once belonged to Shaw’s supermarket heiress Mary Alice Davis has asked the town to lower the property’s $1.5 million assessment and $19,835 annual tax bill.

It’s the latest turn for a 17-room house that has captured public attention since it was custom-built in 1993 and later sold to pay off Davis’ debts.

In 2006, the home became the largest gift — valued at $4.2 million — ever made to the University of Maine Foundation.

In October 2010, a New Jersey-based banking and investment company paid $810,000 for the property. Andrew Preston, a partner in the company, now lives in the 10,400-square-foot house with his family, he said.

Preston filed for an abatement in late October, asking that the property’s assessment be reduced to just over $1 million, which would lower the annual tax bill to $14,178.

“When I looked at comparable sales, I felt the assessment was off,” Preston said Wednesday.

Preston is a hedge fund manager who buys and sells distressed real estate across the country. His company, Point Capital Partners of Chatham, N.J., has an office in Portland.

Several properties in Falmouth that are similar to 200 Woodville Road sold recently for about $1 million each, Preston said. Moreover, the latest assessment doesn’t reflect the fact that the house’s lot has been reduced from 6.74 acres to 3.45 acres since a townwide revaluation in 2008, he said.

Town Assessor Anne Gregory has until mid-January to respond to Preston’s abatement request.

“I’m not sure why they’re asking to reduce it to $1 million,” Gregory said, noting that she disputes Preston’s review of recent comparable sales.

She defends her assessment, saying that the assessed value of Preston’s house is solely a means to collect property taxes and spread the cost of running town government fairly among property owners.

The town assessed the property at $1.9 million for several years after a revaluation in 2003, when it included 16 acres. That assessment held even as market values increased through 2008.

Gregory recently dropped the assessment on 200 Woodville Road to $1.5 million, reducing Preston’s annual tax bill by $5,325.

“We had never been allowed inside before, except when it was being built in 1992, so we had to make some adjustments,” Gregory said.

Preston’s abatement application didn’t include a recent appraisal of the property’s market value, Gregory said.

The market value of the six-bedroom, seven-bathroom house has fluctuated greatly through the last decade. The house also has three kitchens, several fireplaces, a sauna, two multi-bay garages and spectacular views of surrounding woods and fields.

To pay off creditors, Davis sold the property in late 2004 to businessman Eric Cianchette. The $4.5 million deal included 160 acres zoned for farm and forest use and a house at 178 Woodville Road, where Cianchette lives today.

Back then, the market value of the house at 200 Woodville Road, including 6.74 acres, was $2.9 million, according to town records.

Cianchette, whose father was a founder of the Cianbro construction company, gave the house to the University of Maine Foundation in late 2006.

At the time, Cianchette said the house was too big for his family and he wanted to support the university. It was valued at $4.2 million for tax write-off purposes.

The foundation initially planned to develop a small meeting and conference center in the house, which has large gathering rooms.

However, zoning regulations made redevelopment difficult, so the foundation put the property up for sale in late 2009 for $2.5 million.

Preston’s company bought the house a little over a year ago, paying one-third the asking price. Since then, Preston has replaced the roof, stained the exterior shingles and done a lot of work to make up for several years of lax maintenance.

Still, he said, the house has much more floor space than a family can put to practical use.

“A lot of the square footage isn’t conducive to being usable living space,” Preston said. “It’s more of an albatross than an asset.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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