Proposed Changes to OMB Format will Empower Local Decision-making

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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).

After a six-month consultation process, changes unveiled by Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro last month are expected to limit appeals of official plans, allow density around transit hubs and support citizen participation in hearings. The new tribunal will be mandated to give greater weight to the decisions of local communities, while ensuring that development and growth occurs in ways that build sustainable communities while increasing the influence of municipalities and local citizens in shaping their communities.

The reforms announced are aimed at preventing urban sprawl and making the review process more accessible by shortening wait times, changing the format of hearings to receiving primarily written arguments instead of hosting court-like proceedings and by providing free legal help to citizens wishing to challenge development proposals. The reach of the new tribunal will also be restricted, as it is intended that it will simply reviewing local planning decisions to ensure they conform to provincial policy and existing official plans. The power to overturn local council decisions will only be available if local decisions conflict with existing policy. In short, the changes appear to give local planning control back to municipalities.

Mauro said the reforms mean an end to the “status quo” planning dispute resolution process that has frustrated communities and city planners for decades and is perceived as one that has favoured developers with high-powered legal teams.

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.”

Two days later, the province published another significant planning document, its 2017 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Projecting a population growth of roughly 4 million people over the next 25 years, the plan expects the total residents in the area to exceed 13.5 million people by 2041. The plan is effective July 1st, but supporting legislation will not be introduced until this fall. The new legislation is not likely to be introduced until the fall session begins, and will establish guidelines for land use, including residential density targets, infrastructure investment, age-friendly community design, and the protection of agricultural land and environmental ecological and hydrologic natural environments and scenic landscapes, including the Oak Ridges Moraine. KG

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