The City of Toronto's Executive Committee has recommended approval of the creation of a Local Appeal Body (LAB) to adjudicate appeals of minor variances—and consent applications—from the Committee of Adjustment. Partially replacing the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) as a body of appeal for minor variances, the City-wide pilot project will also see the local appeal panel mediate disputes over the course of the next year.

Set in motion by City Council in 2014, the LAB initiative has been gradually making its way through the legislative process, with a detailed financial framework presented to the Executive Committee. Although the pilot project was initially proposed for only North York, an amendment presented by Councillor David Shiner to implement the initiative on a City-wide basis was adopted by the Committee. 

Construction cranes at work, image by Jack Landau

Implementing a local appeal body has been an option for the City since the City of Toronto Act (COTA) was first enacted in 2006. In advance of LAB's enactment, the City will select the seven citizen LAB members—including a Chair—outlined in the Staff Report presented by the City Manager. A second-floor space in the Northern District Library at 40 Orchard View Boulevard has been earmarked as the first office space for the pilot project. 

Pursuant to Sections 45 (minor variances) and 53 (consents) of the Planning Act, the LAB would replace the OMB as the official body of appeal. In terms of larger issues such as zoning variations and planning amendments, however, the OMB's current functions will remain. 

According to the Staff Report, "implementation of the LAB requires one-time operating costs ($0.561 million in start-up costs to equip and fit-out office space), $1.689 million gross and $1.517 million net in ongoing annual operating costs to operate the LAB, as well as $1.577 million in capital costs for the construction of the office space and hearing rooms." In addition, $0.2 million—amended for a initial $0.5 million—will be earmarked to set up a pilot project for mediation.  

The LAB initiative has been widely supported by many members of Council, with the greater autonomy from the OMB regarded as a step forward for Toronto. Likewise, various residents associations have welcomed the proposed appeal body, in the hope that a more localized body will show greater sensitivity to neighbourhood context.  

The Executive Committee carried the motion almost unanimously, with only Ward 12's Frank Di Giorgio voting against the LAB initiative. Di Giorgio argued that any decisions made by a local body would still have to be grounded in the same legal planning principles as the OMB. Regardless of who makes them, the decisions would be based on the same legal framework. In this regard, Di Giorgio saw the LAB as having little to no benefit to the City. 

We will keep you updated as Toronto's Local Appeal Body continues to develop: the Executive Committee's recommendation for approval goes to City Council on March 30. A copy of the Staff Report to the Executive Committee is available here, along with an overview of the Committee's amended decision. Want to share your thoughts about LAB? Feel free to leave a comment in the space below this page.