Whither the OMB?

Councillor wants her colleagues to ask the province to exempt Toronto from the planning appeals body’s jurisdiction

The Ontario Municipal Board has no place in the planning of Toronto’s neighbourhoods, says Kristyn Wong-Tam.

The rookie Ward 27 councillor has put forth a motion asking Queen’s Park to exempt Toronto from the decisions of the provincial appeals body and replace it with a locally established appeals committee.

Severing ties with the Ontario Municipal Board, which hears zoning and official plan amendment appeals, as well as minor variance appeals, would leave decision-making where it should be — in the hands of city planners and elected officials, says Wong-Tam.

“We go through working groups and process at the local ward level, so by the time an application moves its way through to council, it’s gone through a year of consideration and review from all the different departments,” she said.

If the province isn’t willing to eliminate the board completely, she suggests a large urban centre like Toronto be exempt from its purview.

“If they actually acknowledge that Toronto’s different, then I think Toronto should at least have the option to opt out of the OMB … even if the province deems that the OMB still has valuable to perhaps other jurisdictions,” she said.

Though critics say planning decisions can still end up being costly and time-consuming court matters, Wong-Tam points out that the OMB doesn’t eliminate that possibility, as parties are able to appeal an OMB decision in court.

Federation of North Toronto Ratepayers Associations co-chair Peter Baker says of the 28 ratepayer organizations the association represents, roughly six fight an appeal at board hearings each year. Those are the communities that are able to fundraise.

“Residents associations don’t have the money a developer will have,” he said.

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Kathleen Wynne said establishing local appeals bodies to deal with minor variances is a move in the right direction.

“I think the OMB has been designed to deal with matters of provincial interest,” she said. “Whether my neighbour has a deck or not really isn’t a matter of provincial interest.”

But Wynne, who represents the riding Don Valley West, says the municipal board still plays an important role in planning complex urban centres like Toronto.

“I think that there are many matters that have to do with the broader built form of the province in our urban centres and those decisions need to be made at a different level,” she said.

Echoing that sentiment, Ryerson University urban planning professor Mitchell Kosny says while the rules on what can be appealed or what the board can hear perhaps needs reforming, the board is necessary for bigger-picture planning for the province, Toronto included.

“I’m just not prepared to throw those kinds of decisions in front of (councillors) elected by wards, elected to pretty much represent the ward,” Kosny said. “I think planning is bigger than that.”

Wong-Tam’s motion comes at time when Mississauga recently unanimously voted in favour of a similar call to remove the Ontario Municipal Board.

The Toronto motion, unanimously approved with amendments at a Nov. 8 planning and growth committee meeting, will be debated at a Nov. 29 meeting of city council.

About this article:

Posted: Nov 29 2011 6:02 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto

One thought on “Whither the OMB?

  • December 1, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    It’s when the process is stacked against a community that we need the OMB. All the development issues in my community have been contentious because of political interference, eg. the loss of open space at Yonge and Eglinton. The TO Planning Department is too easily influenced and woefully under-funded for a city with so much development activity. I fear one day we’ll look back and, up and down Yonge Street between Davisville and Lawrence, we’ll wonder, “why didn’t we do an Avenue Study?”

    The Ontario Liberal Party has made changes to the OMB for which they deserve some credit. I disagree with Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam that it is biased. The problems communities encounter at the OMB have been created by local councillors and the Toronto Planning Department who have abused the Official Plan, eg. the NEON development was allowed to infringe on the public realm. Development lawyers will use this precedent at the OMB in future. Those precedents are being referenced in Court and no judge can deny them.

    The heights and densities set by the first Minto project have become the norm and now threaten Yonge and Eglinton. There is a clear and present need for a comprehensive plan for the area but it is being ignored. Community Associations feel downtrodden and are lacking in confidence. They have seen their role in the legally mandated process eroded. There is now a defeatist attitude among those who have not yet been marginalised by the forces brought to bear when big money comes into play.

    Toronto Council and Planning Department should be challenged first to take the politics out of planning before there is any talk of removing the OMB.

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