Update on OMB Reform

I have been a vocal opponent of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) throughout my tenure as a City Councillor. From the townhouses on Bayview to the towers at Yonge and Eglinton, most of the development applications in Ward 25 have been appealed to and approved by this unelected, unaccountable body. While I would like to see the OMB abolished altogether, I am pleased to see the Province passed new reform legislation, Bill 139, on December 12, 2017.

 Image courtesy of Cheol Joon Baek.

Image courtesy of Cheol Joon Baek.

Bill 139, the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, will amend the Planning Act and enact new legislation aimed at giving communities a stronger voice in the planning process. The OMB will be replaced by the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT). This legislation will also eliminate "de novo" OMB hearings, or hearings started from scratch, wand will only be able to overturn municipal decisions that do not follow provincial policies or Toronto's Official Plan. Bill 139 will also prevent amendments to new Secondary Plans for two years after they are passed, unless supported by City Council. These policies will allow planners to develop long-term and sustainable plans for the City without the looming threat of OMB appeal.   

Under the new system, the timeline for City Council to make a decision on Official Plan amendments will be extended from 180 to 210 days after submission. Zoning by-law amendments will be similarly extended from 120 to 150 days, unless accompanied by an Official Plan amendment, in which case they will also be subject to the 210-day limit.

Bill 139 includes an act to establish Local Planning Appeal Support Centres, which will provide legal and planning assistance to residents in order to level the playing field for all participants in the appeal process. The new legislation will also support clear and efficient decision-making by requiring case management conferences and encouraging mediation.

These reforms are the product of a comprehensive public consultation process. The province received over 1,100 written submissions from the residents of Ontario. You can read more about how this public consultation influenced provincial decision makers here.

In early December, the Province posted their transition plans on the Environmental Registry website here.

The proposed transition plans include the following provisions:

  • Appeals that are already before the OMB as of the date of Royal Assent (December 12, 2017) will be subject to the existing rules and process.
  • Appeals made after the legislation comes into force will be subject to the new rules.
  • Appeals of matters between December 12, 2017 and the date of enforcement:
    • Will be heard by the OMB if the complete application was received by the City before December 12.
    • Will be heard by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal if the application was not received until after December 12.

Ministry of Municipal Affairs officials have advised that they are working to see the new system implemented in Spring 2018, but I believe that this is not soon enough. I am concerned that these provisions will encourage a rush of appeals between December 12 and the date of Proclamation. Approximately 140 applications have already been appealed to the OMB since May 2017, in comparison to just 50 appeals in the same time period in 2016. I am also opposed to the proposition that all application received by the City before December 12 will be subject to the existing OMB process and am concerned that the LPAT will also contain the same members as the current OMB. These reforms are a step in the right direction but, unfortunately, do not go far enough.

Despite my reservations, I am pleased to see the Province moving forward on this issue and am cautiously optimistic that this legislation will give residents and municipalities more power to preserve and protect the beautiful neighbourhoods of Ward 25.