The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has long served as a battlefront between developers, municipalities and community groups. But the much maligned body may be getting a facelift in the near future, leaving municipalities hopeful and industry members concerned.
Speaking at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s annual conference in Ottawa Aug. 20, Municipal Affairs Minister, Linda Jeffrey, announced the Liberal government is going to review the OMB appeals process, beginning with consultations in the coming months.
“We’ve heard from you and we’ve heard from the public that the rules can sometimes be too complex, and the delays and appeals can be frustrating,” she told conference delegates. “Our government wants to address these concerns, and we’re committed to improving the land use planning and decision-making process. This fall, my ministry will begin a consultation process to enable municipalities, community groups and stakeholders to give us feedback and help us develop solutions.”
Minister Jeffrey added the goal is the make the OMB land use planning appeal process simpler and more effective.
“We want … to foster better co-operation between municipalities, developers and community groups so they can work together to make those tough decisions.”
While the news was welcomed by municipalities – which have long argued the OMB favours developers over the wishes of elected representatives and community groups – some industry members are urging caution.
“(The OMB) is an essential instrument to ensure provincial land use policies and objectives are achieved at the local level,” said Joe Vaccaro, COO of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA), in a statement to Canadian Property Management. “(The) OHBA is concerned that without an independent planning appeals body, NIMBY (“not in my back yard”) resistance to intensification, social housing and special needs housing could limit housing supply throughout the province. This would negatively impact housing affordability, curtail provincial efforts to combat urban sprawl and reduce housing options for Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens.”
The Liberal government’s plan to review the OMB is not the only challenge the board is facing.
In February 2012, Toronto city councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, moved a motion to request that the province remove Toronto from the jurisdiction of the OMB and create an exclusively-Toronto panel for zoning and appeal processes. It passed by a wide margin.
A similar motion has been put forth at the provincial level. NDP MPP Rosario Marchese introduced a private members bill earlier this year, to free Toronto from the oversight of the OMB.
“My bill would allow the City of Toronto to assume authority over zoning bylaws, development approvals and other planning matters within its boundaries,” Marchese wrote in a statement on his website. “Toronto would also have the ability to establish an appeals body of its own.”
The bill, which passed its second reading in March, is now in committee.
In contrast to the elected officials’ arguments that municipalities need greater control, the OHBA’s Vaccaro said the OMB is necessary as politicians base many local planning decisions on short-term, political situations rather than the merit of the development.
“Every application – regardless of the level of research, consultation with municipal staff and elected representatives, number of public meetings, and the planning merits of the project – comes down to a political vote,” he said. “This is why the OMB is so critical to providing the necessary administrative justice function in the development approvals process; ultimately, it serves to de-politicize the application.”
Daniel Viola is the online editor of Canadian Property Management and Building Strategies & Sustainability magazines. He is also the editor of Property Management Report.