One of the most dominant forces in city building is the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which operates as a branch of the Environment and Land Tribunals of Ontario (ELTO) and is directed by legislation from several ministries, primarily Municipal Affairs and Housing.

 Ontario Municipal Board logo, OMB, Government of OntarioOntario Municipal Board logo, image by Government of Ontario

The OMB is an adjudicative body that rules on municipal planning-related disputes. It was originally formed as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board to oversee the rapid expansion of the province’s intercity railway network in the early 20th century. As communities grew and evolved beyond the railway age, the board became known as the OMB in 1932, and is the only quasi-judicial planning body of its kind in North America.

The OMB hears appeals to planning decisions made by the City of Toronto, many of which deal with issues that concern building height. Individuals can appeal after a council decision to permit a development that exceeds height restrictions, causing increased traffic in a neighbourhood or casting shadows on other properties. This is referred to as NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard), a term used to describe residents who have issues with developments that alter the character of a neighbourhood.

Some notable developments featured on UrbanToronto that have gone before the OMB include Market Wharf and Trump International Hotel & Tower. The OMB granted Context permission to construct Market Wharf as a mixed-use development on lands that were formerly not designated as such (among other amendments), and it granted Talon International permission to build two storeys above what was proposed in the original application, arguing that its location at 311 Bay Street was an appropriate site to showcase "skyscrapers with wondrous architecture."

Market Wharf, Toronto Condos, Context Development, architectsAllianceMarket Wharf, image by Context Development

On the other hand, developers can also appeal to the OMB if council has made a decision on a proposal that they disagree with. For the development industry, the OMB is used as a tool to balance the decisions made by municipal politicians with proposals made by developers.

Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto, Toronto Condos, Talon InternationalTrump International Hotel & Tower Toronto, image by Talon International

Building height restrictions in Toronto are quite low even in the downtown area, so developers must apply for amendments on proposals that exceed the limits for building height. In each of these cases, a site-specific application is required in order for the developer and City Planning to discuss the merits of permitting increased height on the particular site in question.

The OMB has been criticized by some members of council for its perceived bias toward the development industry. Councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam have led the charge against the OMB, arguing that it favours developers over resident concerns as developers have the financial wherwithal to fight appeals that residents do not. Earlier this year, council voted 34-5 in favour of a motion to ask the province to release Toronto from the OMB’s jurisdiction. Mississauga has gone even further,  voting to disband the OMB altogether.

Councillors Wong-Tam & Matlow, Vince Talotta, Toronto Star, OMBCouncillors Wong-Tam & Matlow, image by Vince Talotta/Toronto Star

Queen’s Park is aware of municipal concerns regarding the OMB, but Minister of Municipal Affairs Kathleen Wynne has indicated the government has no intention to alter the OMB’s role in the planning process. Like it or not, the OMB will be playing a large role in Ontario's planning process for the foreseeable future.