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Canadian Publications Agreement No. 40727545

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Ontario Municipal Board expected to be replaced

 

May 26, 2017

 

BY TERRY GILLIS

 

In the coming weeks, legislation will be introduced to create the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which will, if passed, replace the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The new tribunal will be mandated to give greater weight to the decisions of local communities, while ensuring that development and growth occurs in a way that is good for Ontario and its future.

The reforms, officially unveiled on Tuesday, May 16, would strip the OMB of its over arching powers and give local municipal councils much more control over their own planning. Among the changes unveiled by Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro are provisions that would:

- Eliminate the current lengthy court-like hearings by moving the new tribunal to largely written arguments, and imposing strict deadlines;

- Limit the new tribunal to reviewing whether a municipality’s decision conforms with provincial policy and its own plans, with the power to send a decision back to the municipality for reconsideration before the tribunal could make a final decision;

- Allow for panels of multiple tribunal members to hear large cases;

- Set up an office to provide free legal help to citizens challenging developments before the tribunal;

- Disallow challenges of entire municipal official plans and for two years on new neighbourhood secondary plans.

Mauro said the reforms mean an end to the “status quo” planning dispute resolution process that has frustrated communities and city planners for decades.

“The OMB reform is something we’ve been patiently waiting for.  Placing more emphasis on local decisions by the people who live here is only common sense. Someone finally listened,” said Douro-Dummer Mayor, J. Murray Jones.

If the proposed reforms are approved, it would see a remade tribunal that would only be able to overturn council decisions if they do not conform to city plans or are inconsistent with provincial policies.

MPP Jeff Leal said that the proposed reforms are a very positive step forward. “Any time a decision can be made locally, it benefits everyone, said Leal. The structure of the OMB, to this point has been unbalanced, said MPP Leal. “It favoured those with the financial means to hire a lawyer having their case reviewed.”

Coincidentally, on May 18, following two years of extensive consultation, the Government of Ontario released the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2017. The Greater Golden Horseshoe is forecasted to grow by approximately 4 million people over the next 25 years and will be home to more than 13.5 million people, working in 6.3 million jobs by 2041. The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe was reviewed as part of a co-ordinated land use planning review, alongside the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and Niagara Escarpment Plan. The plan is effective as of July 1, 2017.

Selwyn Township Mayor, Mary Smith said that these are both very complex issues, and at this time she didn’t feel she was familiar enough with the new legislation to comment.

The new legislation is not likely to be introduced until the fall session begins.

Trent Lakes Mayor, Bev Matthews is in a position to comment on the changes being enacted and proposed.

Mayor Matthews sits on the AHAC (Affordable Housing Action Committee) and through that position learned that the province was supporting secondary suites. Trent Lakes’ Official Plan and Zoning By-law will need to be updated to cover these changes.

Trent Lakes is in the process of joining the County’s Official Plan “and there are advantages to doing this, said Mayor Matthews. “Number one is that we update our Official Plan every 5 years and by going with the County’s the update will take place every 10 years.”

Mayor Matthews is supportive of the secondary suite/unit changes. “There is a shortage of housing and there are many people living in large homes that could create a secondary suite/unit. This could help the homeowner with expenses and also help those searching for rental units.   There is a shortage of rental units and affordable rental units,” Bev commented.

Trent Lakes is welcoming the new proposed OMB reform. “With the new reform, we should see less overturning of municipal council decisions. Lengthy and costly OMB hearings will be eliminated for both the rate payers and the municipalities. The new reform requires mediation/collaboration to encourage earlier settlements, rather than proceeding right away to a full hearing.  Also there will be exemption for some major land use planning decisions from appeals  (including new official plans and major updates to official plans),” said Mayor Matthews.

Mayor Matthews also added that, “the Province can identify specific matters that are not able to be appealed  (secondary suites). There will be focus on the validity of a decision, rather than the best  planning outcome. Any items surrounding procedures and faster decision making is very positive in my opinion.”

As well, other reforms to the land use planning system include releasing an updated 2014 Provincial Policy Statement and reforming the Planning Act and Development Charges Act through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act.