Given the rapid pace of development taking place in our community, there is good reason to care about the current provincial review of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
The OMB is a provincial tribunal that hears appeals of land use planning decisions (such as changes to zoning by-laws), and has a huge influence on the rules guiding development in Ontario as, in an appeal, the OMB may override decisions made by municipal councils.
Moreover, developers may commence an appeal to the OMB before a municipality has even made a decision on a development application (where the municipality has not made a decision on the application within time frames specified under the provincial Planning Act).
Regrettably, local residents and community groups are, in most cases, shut out from effective participation in OMB appeals because of the significant expenses involved in doing so. These expenses arise from the necessity of engaging legal counsel and expert witnesses to provide opinion evidence. Participation becomes an impossibility when multiple developments are being proposed at the same time or in close proximity.
Developers, by contrast, rarely lack the resources to participate effectively in OMB hearings, and this creates a decidedly uneven playing field.
The mere presence of the OMB can encourage developers to seek exemptions from existing rules — even if those rules were recently established via extensive, inclusive planning processes conducted by professional planners and urban designers; met provincial policies; and were approved by a council that is accountable to local residents.
It is not only my opinion, but also that of the member associations of the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association (GBNA), that this does not constitute good planning, and needs to be addressed in this review.
GBNA has, since its formation in 2012, made the issue of OMB reform one of its key priorities, and is actively participating in the current provincial OMB review.
GBNA attended two town hall meetings during the public consultations, and also
made a written submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
GBNA’s submission highlighted the following issues:
- The OMB’s power to override decisions of municipal councils (or in some cases, to rule on development proposals before a council has even made a decision) can make the OMB, rather than Toronto City Council, the ultimate decision maker in the City’s land development approval process. This, in turn, removes the accountability of our elected City Councillors for its decisions.
- Financial obstacles in most cases preclude local residents and resident associations from effectively participating in OMB appeals.
- The experience in other Canadian jurisdictions demonstrates that land use planning systems can function well without the need for supervisory jurisdiction as extensive as that exercised in Ontario by the OMB.
- In order to restore accountability for decisions on land use planning matters to Toronto city council, the city’s elected representatives must have the ultimate authority to make these decisions, and to determine the appropriate scope of review or appeal of these decisions.
Readers are invited to visit GBNA’s website at www.gbna-toronto.com to view GBNA’s complete submission.
The issue of OMB reform is an important one for our community, as it affects the manner in which our community will be developed over time, and whether it will be our city council, or the OMB, that is the ultimate decision maker in land use planning decisions which will shape our community.
While the public consultation period for the OMB review has ended, we would encourage residents to make their views on OMB reform known to their local MPP and, specifically, to Arthur Potts, MPP for Beaches-East York, who has shown a particular interest in this issue. His office can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 416-690-1032.