They came to abolish OMB, got talk of reform

More than 200 turn up to discuss freeing Toronto from board

At the end of the Free Toronto from the OMB town hall meeting on Jan. 26, a member of the audience asked residents in attendance how many had come because they wanted to see the Ontario Municipal Board abolished.

More than 80 percent of the auditorium’s hands went into the air.

While “abolish” was popular with the more than 200 visitors to the meeting, it was the word “reform” that was most often applied to the board — an unelected body which has final say over every appealed planning decision made in Ontario.

The meeting featured a high-profile panel, including host and Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow, Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP, Toronto Liberal caucus chair Peter Milczyn, city planner Kerri Voumvakis, and FoNTRA co-founder Peter Baker. It was moderated by Toronto Star urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume.

“I didn’t think I was going to come here and hear people talk about ways to work with the OMB,” Trish Wood said. “I think a lot of people in this room are sick of the OMB.”

Another resident, Charles McLeod got some laughs when he said he came to see what might change, and admitted “I don’t feel any better right now.”

None of the residents’ frustration was directed specifically at Matlow, who began his introduction by acknowledging his own bias against the OMB.

“Why are we invited into a democratic process, and then allow for an anti-democratic institution to have the last say?” Matlow said. “Why is Toronto allowed to have an official plan … yet developers are allowed to change that plan virtually every single month based on their interests over the community’s?”

However, Matlow also acknowledged, as did the other panelists, the development process is a complicated one in a city the size of Toronto, and even without the OMB a third party would be needed to mediate development-related disputes.

“If you don’t have this appeal mechanism, what appeal mechanism are you going to have?” Milczyn said. “Because there has to be some.”

FoNTRA’s Baker said solving Toronto’s planning woes would require reforming not only the board, but the entire planning process, which he said should include funding and training for residents’ associations so during OMB hearings they would have equal footing with developers, who can typically afford high-priced legal advice that residents cannot.

Voumvakis said any meaningful change would require amending Ontario’s Planning Act. In particular, she said nobody — developers, residents, the city, nor the OMB — should be allowed to amend development guidelines, such as the city’s Official Plan, or Midtown in Focus, which covers the Yonge and Eglinton area, once all of the parties involved have agreed to them.

While he didn’t outrightly criticize or defend the OMB, Hume began his introduction by reminding the audience that Napoléon III’s famed 19th-century renovation of Paris was forced upon its people despite fierce opposition, and that certain OMB decisions — including, in his opinion, the 37-storey and 54-storey Minto Midtown towers at 2191 Yonge St., south of Eglinton Avenue — could be viewed in a similar way.

The towers’ former site “was kind of a dead space,” with a government building and parking lot, Hume said. “Now it’s full of life…. If we’re trying to get people out of cars in this city, that is exactly the kind of project that we need to build.”

Near the beginning and end of the meeting, Matlow invited residents to sign a petition against the OMB. He also encouraged them to visit his website, where under “issues” visitors can find out who they should write to if they want to free Toronto from the OMB.

He told the Town Crier he plans to submit the petition to both Queen’s Park and Toronto city council.

Before adjourning the meeting, Matlow answered a question from McLeod on whether anyone coming to a similar meeting in five years will feel any better than they do now.

“That’s up to all of us,” Matlow said. “We need you to be active, as a community, across Toronto, because if we don’t raise our voices we’re not going to make any change.”


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Posted: Feb 5 2016 1:06 am
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One thought on “They came to abolish OMB, got talk of reform

  • February 8, 2016 at 11:02 am
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    Councillor Matlow’s drive to abolish the OMB seeks only to satisfy his agenda and is not in the best interest of the common good.

    The OMB is an independent body appointed by our elected government to discharge the law, rules and regulations according to the Planning Act of Toronto and the Toronto Official Plan. It is where we (residents, ratepayers and the general public, including developers) appeal a decision, where there are reasons to do so, and have the matter heard by an adjudicating body/institution/court that is independent of the City of Toronto.

    Independent, fair and impartial hearings where all Parties are treated equally.

    In its stead, those who wish to abolish the OMB would have us go where? Divisional Court? Ombudsman Ontario? Ombudsman City? Attorney General’s Office? Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing? A new City-run appeal body?

    These same abolitionists, encouraged by the City Chief Planner, have already passed bylaws that remove property rights from residents, ratepayers and the general public. Fortunately, these decisions are being appealed by my local community association (ARECA), assisted by the Confederation of Resident and Ratepayer Associations (CORRA).

    Not everybody agrees with these undemocratic decisions. Currently at the OMB there are a large number of Appellants to these City-initiated proposed changes to the Official Plan. These include home owners, community associations, developers and representatives of the development industry in Toronto. Some of these changes were first proposed during the chaotic last two years of the Ford era. The most destabilizing of which are the Eglinton Connects and the Development Permit System proposals. The Harmonizing Zoning Bylaw is also bogged down in numerous appeals and confusion.

    The transit farce during the Ford era is not the only Council decision that needs to be revisited.

    As the saying goes, “It’s the OMB, stupid”. Fix it, restore it to its rightful stature and you fix all that ails the OMB. Any other bright idea would be an unnecessary risk. Think about this; why would you give more control of the planning process to those who already believe it’s a good idea to remove your property rights?

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