Update on OMB Reform
A new release from the Provincial government indicates that the oppressive reign of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) over development in the City of Toronto is finally drawing to a close. At the end of February, the Province announced that Bill 139, the planning reform passed by the Legislature in December, will come into effect on April 3, 2018.
As many of you are aware, I have been a vocal opponent of the 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. On that note, I am pleased to report that any application received by the City after December 12, 2017 will be considered by the new Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT), a true appeal body with limited power to overrule municipal decisions. Development applications received before December 12 must be appealed by the April 3 proclamation date to be heard by the OMB in its current form.
Unfortunately, the Province's transition plan also includes a provision stating that all decisions appealed before December 12, 2017 will continue to be heard by the existing OMB. As of December 2017, approximately 140 applications had already been appealed to the OMB since the reforms were first announced in the Spring, while only 50 applications were appealed in the same period in 2016. This exponentially increasing volume of appeals has created a significant backlog in the current OMB system that may take years to work through. While we have made significant progress, Toronto is not yet free from the OMB's oppressive presence in our planning processes. The proclamation of Bill 139 is unfortunately too little, too late for many Ward 25 neighbourhoods.
That being said, 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 new LPAT will only hear appeals of municipal decisions that do not follow provincial policies or Toronto's Official Plan. "De novo" hearings, or hearings started anew without reference to earlier decisions, will be virtually eliminated. Bill 139 will also prevent amendments to new Secondary Plans for two years, 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. This means that Planners will have more time to review applications and report to City Council, which will prevent developers from circumventing the planning process and appealing to the OMB before Council has an opportunity to make a decision.
Bill 139 also 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.
There is still a lot of uncertainty, but I am cautiously optimistic that this legislation will give residents and municipalities more power to protect the beautiful neighbourhoods of Ward 25 in the years to come. If you have any further questions or concerns about the transition from the OMB to the LPAT, you can contact the Provincial Policy Planning Branch directly at OMBReview@ontario.ca.