John Sewell: “To OMB or not to OMB, that is the question-Movement afoot to keep local planning decisions local”

March 5, 2012 · 2 comments

in Ontario Municipal Board

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Village Post Vol. 21 Issue 7 (March 2012), p. 11.

“With all the confusion about political direction at city hall, one wonders whether less oversight of city council decisions makes sense.

In February city council voted overwhelmingly to ask the province to remove the city from the control of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The OMB is a provincially appointed panel that developers and citizens appeal to when they are unhappy with city planning decisions. It reviews a lot of decisions made by council: last year it heard 121 cases that originated in Toronto. Many times the OMB overruled city council, a few times to the delight of citizens but mostly to the delight of developers.

It seems odd that a body appointed by another level of government is able to so easily overrule locally elected politicians. No body similar to the OMB exists anywhere else in Canada, and city council, administering the sixth largest annual budget in the country, wants change.

Even odder is the way the OMB makes decisions. In the judicial system, the Appeal Court never holds a new hearing but instead confines itself to whether the trial process was fair, adhering to well-established rules about evidence and the right to be heard and to the intepretation of law as it applies to the facts of a specific case. If the process wasn’t fair, the Appeal Court often orders a new trial. Trial decisions can be upset if the Appeal Court comes to a different conclusion than the trial judge about the interpretation of law.

When the OMB hears an appeal, it starts from scratch. It holds its own hearing and then makes a decision about what it thinks is good planning. There’s no agreement about what constitutes good planning and there’s precious little law to guide the OMB on anything it does. In essence, there’s no real way of holding the OMB to account to anything. Most members of the OMB are not lawyers although there’s no reason to think lawyers are capable of making better decisions on city business than anyone else.

Those are all strong arguments about the challenge the OMB poses to city council. But, argue some resident groups, if there is no OMB, how do we challenge city council when it pays no attention to its official plan (the document from Ontario’s Planning Act that council is required to enforce).

Toronto City Council treats its official plan with disdain, amending it eight or 10 times every single council meeting.

Many residents think developers have undue influence on councillors, either because of campaign contributions or because of a penchant to favour growth above intelligent decisions, or the desire to snag free money from a development under Section 37 of the Planning Act, which allows city council to demand money in return for more development density.

Or, say some developers, where do we go when city council turns down a development proposal that’s good for the city but is opposed by a few local residents? The main trade group, the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) argues in favour of the OMB, saying it is an “impartial adjudicative tribunal, further removed from local political pressures.” Fairness seems to be in the eye of the beholder, or rather the victor at the OMB, which is often the developer.

The city’s case for being extracted from OMB oversight would be strengthened if the city engaged in strong land use planning, if it adopted a realistic official plan providing guidance to developers and residents, so everyone knew what to expect.

Appropriate development is something that’s good for the city, but we need a plan that says what’s appropriate where, and that’s something the city does not have and apparently has no desire to create.

We need a plan that won’t be amended more than once or twice a year. Once we have that, oversight by the OMB will not be needed. Until then, it’s unlikely the province will agree to let city council’s land use decisions stand without a review process.”

This article included a photograph of the Four Seasons Hotel with the following caption: “When the Four Season was redeveloped even Queen’s Park had OMB issues.”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendyanne Comer March 31, 2012 at 11:25 am

I just wanted to commend your association for the work they are doing towards changes to City Planning. Both the recommends for CofA (Feb. 18/11) and OMB article (Village Post, March, 2012) echoed the sediment of my neighbours who have just gone through the process.
In our situation, the original application exceeded the so-called “minor variances” permitted by very high percentages. It was revised, but the 44% overage on the gfa was approved. We had also asked CofA to reconsider the building height based on the Official Plan even though the applicant had removed it from the original request, but, of course, our wants were denied. After waiting patiently for seven hours, The Committee of (Mal)Adjustment (as we fondly refer to them) based their decision on the fact that this build would be “…good for the area”. This coming from a committee member who stated that he was very familiar with the area because he had been involved in development here for 35 years.
Because we were the last on the docket, we had the opportunity to sit through this arduous process while opposition after opposition was denied. It was, clearly, all about the developer/applicant.
In our case, we are not stopping there. We are taking our case to the OMB. We’re not hopeful, but, at least, construction will be delayed.
My questions to you are:
What involvement have other ratepayer or residents’ associations in the GTA had in your efforts?
What more can we, as concerned citizens, do to help change the process and stop the desecration of our neighbourhoods?
In our area, the KRPI does not seem to be involved in anything other than traffic/bicycle lane issues and large development issues? And membership to the Thorncrest Homes Association, is a little too steep for most of us.
I look forward to hear from you.

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Mary Campbell November 17, 2014 at 8:56 am

Dear Maryanne, I am the past president of the KPRI. As you are aware we are all working volunteers. The first thing residents can do is to support their local ratepayers group and secondly and most importantly join the Board and participate in these important areas. I can state that in my 17 + years of volunteering with the KPRI it has been the same 5-6 people who do all the work. We watch many issues. However, we do not volunteer on individual cases at the OMB. We do write letters in opposition. Kindest Regards, Mary

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