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The Ontario government is looking to replace the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with something called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The OMB is an independent adjudicative tribunal that conducts hearings and makes planning decisions on zoning bylaws, development proposals, subdivision plans, and ward boundaries. It has been around for over 100 years and has been criticized by some for its lengthy and costly process.

Despite these criticisms, the OMB is considered a positive third party officiate between developers and municipalities. The fear is that the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal may not have the same reputation.

One of the biggest challenges with the new tribunal is the elimination of the “de novo” hearings, which allows the OMB to consider municipal land use planning decisions as though no previous decision had been made. This is frustrating for city councils that may have already made a ruling on a development and it lengthens the hearings because all evidence has to be presented anew. It also gives the perception the OMB favours developers, despite this not being the case.

The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is supposed to be independent and at an arms’ length from the government — but removing the “de novo” hearings will ensure the decisions of city councillors and/or provincial representatives are taken into consideration during appeals, effectively giving them more power than before.

Another example is the new appeal process. The tribunal will only be able to overturn a municipal decision if it does not follow provincial policies or municipal plans, unlike the OMB, which has power to overturn a decision if it isn’t considered the best planning decision. Instead of repealing the decision, the tribunal will then give the municipality 90 days to take new action based on that information. The tribunal will have a final say only if on a second appeal the plan still falls short of provincial policies. The idea is to give communities more control in land use planning.

The new legislation will also exempt a range of major land use planning decisions from appeal, including Official Plans to support transit areas like Go Train and subway stations or Official Plans (and their updates) that have been approved by the province, as well as minister’s zoning orders.

All of these changes to the appeal system are meant to try and reduce hearing times and encourage mediation. Since length and cost are the two biggest complaints about the OMB, this makes sense. However, the new tribunal also makes it difficult for developers to get their projects past councillors who may not approve of their blueprints despite it being the best planning option. It also limits hearings to policy rather than encourage innovation and creative thinking.

While the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal does include a number of interesting new policies that would encourage resident and community engagement, it is unclear how it will function as a third-party appeal agency.

The legislation in question, also known as Bill 139, “Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act “, has already passed the first reading in the Legislative Assembly.

What do you think of Bill 139? Will it help or hinder the system? Let us know in the comments below! 

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