Municipal councillors recommend limits to OMB powers

OMB reform reportThe Ontario Municipal Board should only deal with matters of “law and process,” not hear cases simply because someone disagreed with a council vote.

That’s the key recommendation from a group of municipal councillors across the province who formed the Working Group on OMB Reform earlier this year, and hosted a Municipal Summit on OMB Reform in May. The group has now released its report on the summit with recommendations for reforming the OMB.

The recommendations of the summit can be boiled down to one overarching recommendation:

“Limit the jurisdiction of the OMB to questions of law or process.”

Specifically, when considering appeals, require the OMB to uphold any planning decision(s) of Municipal Councils unless said decision(s) is contrary to the processes and rules set out in legislation.

Clearly there does still need to be a degree of flexibility in the decision making processes. It is not the expectation that Official Plans are carved in stone. However, the drivers of community change should be the community itself.

As it stands now, municipalities are required to review application after application, requesting amendment after amendment; considering each in isolation as opposed to the integrated whole. Piecemeal planning negates the utility and functionality of Official Plans. Multiple changes to an Official Plan required by multiple project-specific amendment requests compromises the integrity of the Official Plan and indeed the planning process as a whole.

The working group argues that recent changes to the Planning Act (Bill 73) as they speak to limits on appeals – namely that Official Plans cannot be appealed within the first two years of adoption – are a good first step, but they don’t go far enough. The consensus of attendees at the summit was that appeals should be strictly limited.

Some felt that amendment requests should not be allowed to be put forward at all unless proponents can demonstrate that the proposed changes to the Official Plan or zoning by-law fulfill a changing community need or in some way better the community. The onus should be on the applicant to make that case. If a Council sees that there is a clear benefit to the community then it is within the Council’s authority to grant the amendments. However, if a Council feels that the application does not somehow better the community, then Council should have full authority to deny the application without it being subject to appeal.

Any other decision by a Municipal Council is only subject to appeal through a judicial review, the scope of which is errors in process or law. The question then is – why are planning decisions different? The answer is “They should not be.”

Read the report: Municipal Summit OMB Recommendations

The report was released during the Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual conference in August, and given to the Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing. It will also be emailed out after the Conference to all elected officials across the province,

The province has committed to a review of the OMB in the fall.

Read my earlier articles on this subject:

OMB reform: The time has come

Memo to D&I regarding OMB reform

Resolution on OMB Reform debated, fails 6-1

Province announces review of OMB

My Take: I’m a member of the OMB Reform working group and whole-heartedly support limiting OMB powers. Until  the final word on development rests with local councils, supported by professional planning staff and resident input, we will continue to have an unelected, unaccountable, cumbersome, expensive and unequal decision-making process that favours those with deep pockets and lots of time. Burlington is currently spending millions reviewing and updating our own Official Plan – and we spend millions more defending it. There is a better way – and other provinces have found it. Ontario is the only one with a planning board like the OMB. Watch for your opportunities to get share your voice on OMB reform this fall.

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