Planning for Change – Ward 33 E-Blast May 25th

The announcement of major reforms to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the provincial planning authority we love to hate, sort of passed without much more than a whimper from the media. Sometimes governments make changes that seem minor in the grand scheme of things and it’s only years later that we all look back and say, “That was when EVERYTHING changed.” The proposed OMB reform will likely be such a change.

Toronto, perhaps more than any other Ontario city is ready for the change. The Chief Planner has been reworking the way her planners relate to the OMB ever since she came to the City. There are 2 examples right here in Ward 33; the context planning work being done prior to processing the development application at 1650 Sheppard Ave E. and the massive context study of our Consumers Road business park.

In both cases, city planners acknowledge that Provincial growth policy dictates OMB approvals in areas designated for growth due to transit. The City takes control of that situation however by following the Ontario Planning Act rules that allow us to say, “We, the local City, reserve the right to do a thorough study with broad community input and present a case for imposing strict conditions and guidelines on that growth.” By the time development applications for 1650 Sheppard Ave E. and applications in the Consumers Road business park come forward, the up-front context planning results will be part of the OMB’s decision making process.

All of this is to say, that even before the recently announced reforms, your Toronto planners have been working to reduce the number of times our decisions are dismissed completely by the OMB. More often, on the large applications we see the board ordering the parties to achieve a mutually agreed upon settlement with the City. Interestingly enough, that is the direction the Province’s proposed reforms will take us.

I’m including an executive summary in it’s entirety in ‘Shelley’s Picks’ but the main changes to focus on are those under the heading of ‘Stronger Community Voice’. It is right there in the new name. The OMB will be no more and is replaced by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

Take a look at the first three points:

  • For complex land use planning appeals, the tribunal would only be able to overturn a municipal decision if it does not follow provincial policies or municipal plans. This would depart from the current “standard of review” for land use planning appeals, where the Ontario Municipal Board is permitted to overturn a municipal decision whenever it finds that the municipality did not reach the “best” planning decision.
  • In these cases, the tribunal would be required to return the matter to the municipality with written reasons when it overturns a decision, instead of replacing the municipality’s decision with its own. The municipality would be provided with 90 days to make a new decision on an application under the proposed new law.
  • The tribunal would retain the authority to make a final decision on these matters only when, on a second appeal, the municipality’s subsequent decision still fails to follow provincial policies or municipal plans.

These are major changes in your community. Instead of one adjudicator being able to overturn a Council decision with the ambiguous term of “deemed not to be the best planning”, the new LPAT will have to allow 2 rounds of appeal arguments and can only overturn based on a specific point of policy.

There is another piece to City plans that often goes entirely unnoticed by the general public but radically changes the balance of power. When cities adopt the policies, secondary plans and citywide official plans that will determine every individual building application, these are forwarded to the Province for OMB approval. Then the private sector developers, who have been quiet throughout local process, rush forth to appeal city policies and plans in ways that tie up local Chief Planners, City Solicitors and their respective staffs in legal processes for years. This ability to appeal policies has been removed. When the Province and Toronto come to an agreement as to how growth should be managed in a neighbourhood, that will be the end of it. A developer can still come forward with his formal application for a variance on his owned property but that will be his only avenue of appeal.

On May 31st the long process of setting a context for the Consumers Road Business Park, known as ‘Consumers Next’, will be coming before the Planning and Growth Committee. I am pouring over the report now. If there are any improvements to be made, now is the time. Once adopted the plan may be upheld under the new reforms in a much more meaningful way.