TORONTO — The Ontario government has announced its intention to overhaul the land use planning appeals system, releasing plans to replace the century-old Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with a new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
The new tribunal will be mandated to give greater weight to the decisions of local communities, notes a media announcement released May 16. Legislation to be introduced in the coming weeks will eliminate "de novo" appeal hearings at the OMB that were time-consuming and costly, indicates the statement, with municipal council decisions revisited in full by the OMB.
Ontario would also make planning appeals more accessible to the public by creating the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre, a new agency that would provide free information and support, which may include representation at the tribunal for citizens who want to participate in the appeal process.
Within hours of the announcement of the reforms, the Ontario Home Builders' Association (OHBA) released a statement indicating it is concerned the new system will make it much more difficult to bring new housing supply onstream.
"If this new tribunal puts local politics ahead of Smart Growth planning, it will only serve to empower NIMBY councils to make planning decisions to get re-elected," said OHBA CEO Joe Vaccaro. "The role of the OMB has always been to take the politics out of local planning and ensure that decisions are made based on evidence, 'good planning,' and conformity to provincial policy."
An independent land use appeals process is essential to ensure the implementation of the Provincial Policy Statement on housing and that intensification targets in the province's Growth Plan are achieved, the OHBA statement said.
"To give more weight to local politics will detract from provincial goals. For more than 10 years, the provincial government has been demanding the increase of density and intensification in existing communities across Ontario. It is difficult to understand how the province hopes to achieve Smart Growth goals by weakening the OMB when councillors are pushing back on intensification," said Vaccaro. "If this new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is simply going to be a rubber stamp for obstructionist councils, then the province's demand to optimize housing supply and provide diverse housing options will fail."
Provincial planning policy directs more growth into existing communities through intensification and higher density targets, the OHBA release noted.
The new legislation would include additional measures to transform Ontario's land use planning appeals system, including:
• exempting a broader range of major land use planning decisions from appeal, including new Official Plans, major Official Plan updates and detailed plans to support growth in major transit areas; and
• establishing a mandatory case conference for complex hearings to encourage early settlements, which would help reduce the time and cost of appeals and create a less adversarial system.
The proposed changes follow public consultations that were launched in October 2016. The government received more than 1,100 written submissions and held 12 town hall meetings as part of the process.
The OMB began in 1906 as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board.