Earlier this month, UrbanToronto published an article on the City of Toronto having implemented a Local Appeals Body for matters regarding land use decisions made by the Committee of Adjustment (CoA). In effect since May 3, the independent quasi-judicial body now defers the majority of appeals (of these more minor applications) away from the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in an effort to bring speedier resolutions for such matters. Now on a much larger scale, the Province of Ontario is proposing a major overhaul to the land use planning appeals system, which would ultimately replace the OMB.

In an effort to provide communities with a stronger voice in development, Ontario will be introducing new legislation in the coming weeks to create the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). Answering calls to give citizens better access to a faster and more fair hearing process, the LPAT's mandate is to give more weight to the decisions made by communities and in extension its elected officials, while taking into account how development and growth can contribute to Ontario in a positive manner. 

This means that the controversial "Hearing De Novo"—by which the OMB treats all land use planning decisions previously made at the municipal level as though the case never happened—would be eliminated. This would be a drastic change for the proposed LPAT, as De Novo hearings are both costly and lengthy. In 2015-2016 alone, 1,460 cases were referred to the OMB.

Toronto skyline, image by Simone Gramegna via FlickrToronto skyline, image by Simone Gramegna via Flickr

The new tribunal would also bring different methods to further reform the province's land use planning system, including the exemption of a wider range of major land use planning decisions from appeals such as Official Plans, updates to Official Plans, or plans to support transit-oriented development, as those appeals have been known to take years; and creating a mandatory case conference for more complicated hearings. This would help to encourage reaching a settlement much earlier, greatly reducing cost and the length of time it takes to appeal.

Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario released a statement this morning which reads “Land use planning directly impacts Ontario families and their communities, and so, it is important that residents feel empowered and supported in the decision-making process. We want to make sure that the voices of Ontarians are heard by all levels of government and that is why we will soon introduce reforms that would put people and communities first.”

The province is also looking to create a Planning Appeal Support Centre. In an effort to make the appeals system more accessible for the general public, this agency would be able to provide people free information and support, and even go as far as representation at the tribunal for citizens that want to be involved during the appeals process.

This process has been a long time in the making. In the last few months of of 2016, a series of 12 Town Hall meetings were held across Ontario, with over 700 citizens in attendance submitting their input and feedback on the proposed changes to the OMB. This was following the creation of a consultation paper, released in October 2016. 

Financial District, image by grab2015 via FlickrFinancial District, image by grab2015 via Flickr

While this news may come to many as a sense of relief that planning matters will be treated in a more democratic and less costly process, there is great concern that this change will compromise smart growth. The Ontario Home Builder's Association (OHBA) is concerned that this new Tribunal will put politics ahead of smart growth planning, making it much harder to add more housing to municipalities across the province. Additionally, these changes could very well undermine the province's own planning policies aimed at densifying cities.

Regarding the local politics ordeal, Joe Vaccaro, CEO of OHBA stated, "...it will only serve to empower NIMBY councils to make planning decisions to get re-elected. The role of the OMB has always been to take the politics out of local planning and ensure that decisions are based on evidence, 'good planning', and conformity to provincial policy". 

As the OHBA reports, having an independent land use appeals body is critical in the successful implementation of the Provincial Policy Statement, the latest of which was in 2014, and that intensification targets from the Growth Plan are met. Municipalities across Ontario are bound by provincial planning policies to optimize existing infrastructure to help create livable and vibrant communities. 

Vaccaro further elaborated, "To give more weight to local politics will detract from provincial goals. For more than 10 years, the provincial government has been demanding the increase of density and intensification in existing communities across Ontario. It is difficult to understand how the Province hopes to achieve Smart Growth goals by weakening the OMB when councillors are pushing back on intensification. If this LPAT is simply going to be a rubber stamp for obstructionist councils, then the Province's demand to optimize housing supply and provide diverse housing options will fail".

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We will keep a close eye on the new legislation in the coming weeks. Until that time, feel free to share your thoughts about the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal by commenting in the space provided below, or join in the ongoing discussion in the associated Forum thread.