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Surrey property assessments reduced more than 50% due to cost of building bridges to access them

North Surrey and the Fraser River are seen in this file photo. North Surrey and the Fraser River are seen in this file photo.
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A Surrey landowner has had the assessed value of two properties in the city's north reduced significantly after the assessor neglected to factor in the cost of building a bridge over a creek that runs across the fronts of the lots.

A panel of the Property Assessment Appeal Board reduced the assessed values of the two adjacent lots on 141A Street by a combined $1,364,000 – a more than 50-per-cent reduction compared to their initial assessment of $2,615,000 for 2023 – in a decision issued last week

Appellant Deyab R. Gamal El Dean had brought his case to the PAAB seeking an even greater reduction, arguing that the two properties – which were previously assessed together as a single lot – should be worth only $397,074 in total.

Panel chair Dave Lee rejected Gamal El Dean's argument that the two properties should still be assessed as one, noting that a home that straddled the property line and was the original reason for the combination was demolished in 2016.

"Since the building has been demolished, I find the assessor has appropriately valued each lot on its own merits," Lee's decision reads.

It goes on to describe the difficulty of building something new on either lot, explaining that the creek running close to the front of each lot prevents any development between the creek and the road.

"There is sufficient land at the rear of the properties to develop, but first access has to be built by either a bridge crossing the creek from the front or a laneway constructed at the rear of the lots connecting with 114 Avenue to the north," the decision reads.

Gamal El Dean did not submit any comparable recent sales to support a reduction in the value of the land, but he did provide a cost estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 for constructing a bridge over the creek that would meet environmental rules and be strong enough to support a fire truck.

"The cost of constructing the laneway is said to be higher than these estimates, but no figures are provided," according to the decision.

The assessor took issue with Gamal El Dean's estimate, arguing that no supporting documentation had been provided to show that bridges would cost that much.

In response, the appellant submitted a cost breakdown based on "a manual used for bridge design by the Washington State Department of Transportation," and settled on a total cost of $682,000 per bridge.

Lee accepted this cost, noting that – though not ideal – the PAAB has relied on manuals from other jurisdictions in past decisions. The panel chair also noted that the assessor submitted no evidence to support an alternative bridge-building cost.

What the assessor did provide was a list of comparable sales in the neighbourhood.

Lee selected the most similar recent sale, which was for $1,551,000, as the value for each property. He then deducted the portion of that property's assessed value dedicated to buildings – $30,000 – from each lot, to arrive at a land value of $1,521,000 for each.

He reduced that total by a further $682,000 for each lot to account for the cost of building a bridge to access the developable part of the land, leaving each lot with a value of $839,000.

Lee rejected the "simple mathematics" Gamal El Dean used to argue his preferred value of $397,074 total, or $198,537 per lot, writing that "there is no foundation in appraisal and assessment practice" to suggest the appellant's calculation method was appropriate. 

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