Review of powerful appeals body aims to give more consideration to local planning process.
October 5, 2016
The Toronto Star
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, whose department oversees the Ontario Municipal Board, said there is little agreement on how best to reform the land use planning process in the province but that it should centre on “healthy, sustainable and safe” communities. (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
The province is proposing putting new limits on the controversial and powerful appeals body that oversees land use in Ontario.
After launching a review of the Ontario Municipal Board earlier this summer, Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro said Wednesday the review will address criticism that the board often ignores planning decisions made at the local level.
“We are going to try as best we’re able through the proposed changes that we’re putting forward to show more deference for local, municipal decision-making,” Mauro said at a news conference at Queen’s Park.
The quasi-judicial OMB — which hears disputes on everything from monster homes to developers’ proposals for tall buildings that ignore city planning guidelines — has long been the bane of communities and councils.
It is one of the most powerful appeal bodies of its kind in North America, with the ability to hear appeals as if they were new proposals and to overturn council decisions — allowing developers to circumvent the process of community consultation, review by city planning staff and approval by elected city councils.
In the 10 years since the last OMB reforms — changes that asked the board to “have regard” for local councils and communities — politicians of all leanings and residents have called those efforts insincere.
In Toronto, which is experiencing unprecedented growth in urban centres, councillors have long called for meaningful reform and, frequently, abolishing the board altogether.
Mauro made clear the province would not look at scrapping the OMB, but said the province is taking the review “very seriously.”
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, whose department oversees the OMB, said there is little agreement on how best to reform the land use planning process but that it should centre on “healthy, sustainable and safe” communities.
“Communities that provide a high quality of life don’t just happen. They’re carefully thought out and developed. They can support the needs of current and future residents,” he said. “The status quo is not working.”
Toronto councillors representing quickly growing neighbourhoods — in some cases areas that have already surpassed the province’s growth plan — have started ringing alarm bells about the strain on communities.
“It’s about quality of life,” Councillor Josh Matlow, who represents part of the Yonge-Eglinton area, told council in July. “The streetscape, the playgrounds, the parks, the recreation, the child care, the schools — the things that, no matter how big we become, how do we support our communities with the soft and the hard infrastructure that supports building a community rather than just a bunch of condos?”
A consultation paper released Wednesday is meant to guide discussions after initial feedback from cities and other stakeholders.
The province’s proposals for reform include:
- Only allow the OMB to hear appeals on the “validity of the decision” by council, limiting the OMB’s ability to hear appeals and completely overturn decisions.
- Preventing appeals of secondary plans, which are neighbourhood-specific plans, for two years.
- Requiring the OMB to send “significant new information” arising from a hearing back to councils for re-evaluation before rendering a decision.
- More actively promoting mediation to settle disputes, preventing adversarial hearings.
- Better training OMB members, who are appointed by the province.
The province will hold town hall meetings, the dates for which have yet to be announced. Consultation will end Dec. 19. Mauro said the hope is to have new legislation by the spring.
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