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Time line change would keep OMB appeals in check

People across this province know the Beach as an iconic destination to visit fine restaurants, shop in eclectic stores and soak up the ambience of a vibrant, exciting neighbourhood. Those who have the good fortune to live there struggle to preserve the characteristics that brought them there in the first place.

Recently developers have seized upon the possibility of building structures which will forever alter the landscape of our cherished streetscapes.

The city has listened to residents and has developed a series of guidelines to ensure that development is controlled. The mitigation efforts are commendable but fall apart when developers choose to bypass city planners, lawyers, the committee of adjustment, council and local residents by taking their case straight to the Ontario Municipal Board.

They can do this because the law is prescriptive. Developers can bypass the municipal process if the city fails to make a decision on a registered plan within 180 days, if it fails to amend a bylaw within 120 days or if a committee of adjustment fails to hold a hearing within 30 days after receiving an application.

Because of the volume of construction starts in Toronto and throughout the GTA, many municipalities cannot meet these time frames. It simply takes too long to obtain staff reports, engineering surveys, hold public meetings and conduct negotiations with developers, all within the time frames set out in law.

As a result developers are increasingly choosing the ‘straight to the OMB’ route. We have seen this procedure used on several proposed Queen Street developments.

The effect of this approach is to sideline municipal input and potential ratepayers are forced to attend the OMB at great personal expense, and moreover to do so without a cogent, united argument (if the City is on board).

This is why I have proposed a bill to extend the time frames.  This idea came from discussions I had with local activist Brian Graff. Following our discussion I contacted legal counsel at the Legislature who helped me draft a bill. Bill 144 has now received first reading.  Two more readings are necessary if it is to become law.

Unfortunately the Legislature is now adjourned until mid-February. When we return all available time slots for private members bills are taken until March 20. After that date new slots are made available by lottery.

But I am also hopeful that this idea may be adopted earlier. The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is consulting about changes to the Planning Act. If enough people indicate that time lines need to be altered it may just happen.

For clarity my bill will give municipalities 365 days to finalize development applications. The committee of adjustment process (for minor building applications) will be lengthened from 30 days to 90 days.

These changes will allow the City to gauge public opinion but more importantly allow for essential reports to be filed and considered. In the final analysis, municipal input must never be overlooked.

Availability of schools, adequate water and wastewater, parking spaces, and the dream of community cohesion must all be part of the mix.

These arguments need to be heard. More importantly they need to be considered.

Let me finish by extending wishes for a happy New Year.

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