Owner of $24.3-million property obtains court order forcing review of City of Vancouver–imposed empty-homes tax

The Belmont Avenue site is reportedly owned by He Yiju, the wife of Chinese billionaire Zheng Jianjiang

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      The owner of a spectacular property overlooking Spanish Banks has partially succeeded in a court fight with the City of Vancouver.

      In a December 22 decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Janet Winteringham quashed the city's decision to refuse a review of a $344,000 empty-homes tax imposed for the 2018 taxation year.

      Winteringham ruled that the owner, Belmont Nominee Ltd., had "established the decisions of the Review Officer and the Review Panel were unreasonable". 

      As a result, the review panel will have to hear Belmont Nominee's appeal.

      Belmont Nominee also sought an order declaring that the property qualified for an exemption under the bylaw, but Winteringham did not go that far.

      Belmont Avenue is one of the poshest areas of Vancouver, boasting five of the 10 most valuable homes in the province in 2021.

      Four of them are in the 4700 block with the fifth in the 4800 block, according to B.C. Assessment figures.

      But a sixth address at 4769 Belmont Avenue didn't make the cut—it fell short by a few million because it was valued at $24.3 million by B.C. Assessment.

      Virtually all of the 2021 assessed value was for the 60,504-square-foot lot; buildings were valued at just $10,000 because the home had been demolished.

      It's the site of a long-running battle between the owner, He Yiju, through Belmont Nominee, and the City of Vancouver. He Yiju is the wife of self-made Chinese billionaire Zheng Jianjiang, according to a 2019 article in the Vancouver Sun.

      The empty-homes tax took effect in 2017 and the corporate owner, Belmont Nominee, paid it that year.

      But the owner objected to the city's decision to refuse a review of the tax for the following year.

      One of the key issues concerned an amendment to the bylaw later in 2017. 

      As a result of the amendment, the bylaw states that an owner can claim an exemption to "carry out either redevelopment or initial development of residential property that is unimproved with any dwelling units, or the rehabilitation and conservation of heritage property".

      Belmont Nominee retained Stuart Howard Architects in 2018 to prepare plans for a house on the property. An application was filed on August 8, 2018 for a development permit.

      Then on January 22, 2019, Belmont Nominee filed a vacancy-tax declaration claiming an exemption for 2018, due to the application.

      The review officer still decided to impose the tax for 2018 on the basis that the full and complete development permit application and fee were not submitted to the city by July 1, 2018. The judge noted that this decision was made even though those words did not appear in the bylaw.

      "In effect, the Review Officer read in the requirement that the Development Permit Application needed to be submitted by July 1, 2018 but did not explain how it was that they arrived at that interpretation," Winteringham wrote.

      Moreover, the review panel majority "did not explain how the purpose of the By-law supported their conclusion", the judge noted.

      Two of the three review panel members disagreed with Belmont's position on the bylaw. The third member agreed.

      Nowhere in the decision did Winteringham suggest that racism played any role in the review officer or the review panel majority acting in an unreasonable manner.