The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has long been an issue in Toronto city and development politics, with many residents and politicians calling for a major overhaul of the system they say is unaccountable to the public and built to favour developers.
According to Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts, that major overhaul is on the way.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs announced May 16 that the Ontario government will be introducing new legislation to reform the current land use planning appeals system and Potts is confident that the proposed legislation will pass without issue.
“We do have a majority in the government and we presume passage,” he said. “I’m pretty confident we’ll have it done before Christmas.”
Potts said he plans to hold a town hall at some point in order to gather feedback from the public once people have had a chance to review the legislation more thoroughly.
The legislation “achieves the result we want, which is more local planning decision making,” he said.
One of the neighbourhood groups that has pushed for OMB reform, and was involved in the recent provincial review, is the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association (GBNA). They are cautiously optimistic about the proposal.
“We’re hopeful,” said Uwe Sehmrau, president of the GBNA. “We feel it’s an ambitious process. We encourage the government to go fast on it but we’re waiting for detail to really know whether the local community is benefiting from this.”
Among the proposed changes is to replace the OMB with a newly established Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
Under the new regime, the tribunal’s ability to overturn a municipal decision would be significantly limited in comparison to the OMB. The tribunal would only be allowed to overturn a decision if it does not follow provincial policies or municipal plans. Currently, the OMB is permitted to overturn municipal decisions if they come to the conclusion that the municipality did not choose the “best” planning decision.
The proposed law would also see a number of changes regarding the way in which planning appeals are enacted. Mandatory case management, statutory rules, and an increase in control for elected officials are among the changes being incorporated.
In addition, the province is also proposing to create a Local Planning Appeal Support Centre which would act as an outlet to provide free and independent advice and representation to Ontarians about land use planning appeals.
“One of the main themes you’ll see in there is restoring accountability to the municipality so we know who’s responsible for the decision,” said Jeff Levitt, vice president of the GBNA.
But despite optimism about restored accountability, Levitt said members of the GBNA remain skeptical about the effectiveness of the suggested reforms.
While the proposed changes could be considered ambitious, Potts said he will be focused on making sure the government passes each of the reforms.
Even so, he said he anticipates some resounding issues.
“There will be some issues around applications that are currently in play,” he said. “Unfortunately you have to deal with the laws that were in place when you made the application so there will still be some pushback from the communities who were hoping for retroactive fixes. That might be difficult.”
He said he is also concerned about the way in which interventions are handled when it comes to interactions between developers and the community, and would like to ensure that a “kind of protection exists so that you can’t scare people away from getting involved for fear of repercussions.”