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Long overdue! Demise of OMB

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In AWARE News Network
May 16th, 2017
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Toronto city councillors Josh Matlow, right, and Kristyn Wong-Tam, pictured in May 2012, tried to remove Toronto from the jurisdiction of the Ontario Municipal Board -Toronto Star photo

AWARE News Network

The Ontario government has announced it will abolish the pro-sprawl Ontario Municipal Board, replacing it with a new entity called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

It appears the OMB’s practice of arbitrarily reversing a municipal council decisions will be ended and the new body will only review whether a municipality has followed its planning process and land use plans. If it has not, the matter would go back to the municipality for reconsideration.

No appeals are to be permitted of either municipal Official Plans or of approved developments near GO Transit, subway or light-rail stations.

It also appears that there will be a welcome opening up of the process to the public, with the creation of a Local Planning Appeal Support Centre, a new agency that would provide free legal information and support, including possible representation at the tribunal, to citizens who want to participate in the appeal process.

Reaction:

From CBC News 

The OMB has long been criticized as tilted in favour of developers, allowing them to appeal decisions by municipalities and ultimately build something more profitable, such as a taller condo building with more units, than a local council wanted.

The new body would have less scope for overruling city decisions on what can be built where.

“This is so deeply important,” Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow said on Tuesday after the announcement.

“Finally the government is taking substantive steps to tip the balance of power towards communities, locally elected bodies and local planners than developers’ financial interests.”

From Globe and Mail editorial 

The details of the reform aren’t entirely clear, but the theme certainly is: the new body will defer more to local government. Rather than the current OMB, a quasi-court that involves well-paid lawyers and planners, the new body will work based on paper submissions. And it will only overrule municipal decisions if they don’t match existing provincial policy or local plans.

In theory, this is an excellent idea. Local planners should have the freedom to plan a city, a neighbourhood or a block comprehensively. Most growth in Ontario is now “intensification,” or adding to existing built-up areas; planners should be able to apply their vision to this complex work.

But planning is political. Even if planners have all the right answers – and they don’t – they work for local elected officials, who are heavily influenced by local residents’ groups.

From the Toronto Star 

The OMB name and, more importantly, the existing process that has been called “seriously flawed” by residents groups will cease to exist if new legislation to be tabled this month is approved.

The two biggest changes would include making good on a decade-old promise to cities to let them plan their own futures and helping citizens who have said they are “woefully unprepared” to participate on equal ground against developer interests.

From the Daily Commercial News 

Within hours of the announcement of the reforms, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) released a statement indicating it is concerned the new system will make it much more difficult to bring new housing supply onstream.

“If this new tribunal puts local politics ahead of Smart Growth planning, it will only serve to empower NIMBY councils to make planning decisions to get re-elected,” said OHBA CEO Joe Vaccaro. “The role of the OMB has always been to take the politics out of local planning and ensure that decisions are made based on evidence, ‘good planning,’ and conformity to provincial policy.”

From the Ontario government news release

Ontario is taking action to overhaul the province’s land use planning appeals system to give communities a stronger voice and ensure people have access to faster, fairer and more affordable hearings.

In the coming weeks, legislation will be introduced to create the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which would, if passed, replace the Ontario Municipal Board. The new tribunal would be mandated to give greater weight to the decisions of local communities, while ensuring that development and growth occurs in a way that is good for Ontario and its future. This would be achieved by eliminating lengthy and costly “de novo” hearings for the majority of planning appeals. The term “de novo” has been used to describe how the Ontario Municipal Board deals with appeals of municipal land use planning decisions, by considering the same issue that was before the municipality as though no previous decision had been made.

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