Just over a week ago, the Province of Ontario announced the creation of new tribunal that would replace the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) as we know it today. The Provincial government argues that the tribunal will make the process more democratic, allowing citizens to access to a faster and more cost-effective hearing process. Named the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), it would give much more weight to elected officials and their communities, in contrast to the OMB, which arguably weighed broad Provincial growth targets over local concerns.
According to the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance (OGA), the restructuring comes mostly as good news for the 120 associations—environmental and public health organizations, ratepayer and community groups, and localized environmental organizations—that make up the organization, which operates as an environmental defence watchdog. Although the OGA is hopeful that the reform will result in more democratic decision making, the group warns that new legislation must very proactively support public participation, while ensuring that planning decisions give priority to environmental matters—chiefly sustainability and ecological preservation.
The OGA's priorities regarding the new LPAT draw from a series of December 2016 recommendations that the organization made regarding OMB reform. While last year's recommendations were geared towards a reformed OMB—rather than LPAT—many of the priorities cited remain relevant in terms of structuring the new organization. Included below are some highlighted recommendations, while the full list can be found here:
- All environmental issues should be heard by a specialized Environmental Tribunal
- Limit Cost awards to $5,000
- Remove Section 39 of The Planning Act which allows a developer to pay for municipal hearing costs if the municipality supports the developer
- Mediations should not be mandatory, and funding should be made available to public groups for mediation proceedings
Review qualifications of Board members, while developing a public complaints process. Require a diversity of planning expertise on the Board, including members that have experience in land use planning & policy, urban design. Shift away from selecting members that only have development approvals experience and legal knowledge.
Complementing the general policy priorities, the OGA has publicized the first-hand experiences of a number of members who have faced complications in dealing with the OMB. To farmers Gill Evans and David Toyne, "going to the OMB was a terrible experience. Not only were we intimidated, but the developers slapped us with a huge cost award for advocating for our rights. To ensure fair hearings, the province must financially support citizen participation at the OMB and do away with outrageous cost awards."
Evans and Toyne were looking for a 30 metre buffer to separate a new subdivision in Vaughan from their cattle farm. The OMB decided that a mere 4.5 metre buffer would sufficiently separate new residents from the Greenbelt-protected agricultural use.
Sony Rai of Sustainable Vaughan—and organization advocating for less sprawl—has also shared views on the OMB, saying "the OMB was the last line of defence for appealing bad municipal decisions. I'm concerned the OMB may be changed to becoming a rubber stamp for municipal decisions that are not in the interest of curbing sprawl. While we welcome reform of the OMB that supports more democratic decision marking, our members are concerned that the issue of cost awards has not been dealt with. Citizens remain vulnerable to deep pocketed developers at OMB hearings through gigantic cost award claims, specifically meant to deter anyone from challenging develop plans at the OMB."
Want to share your thoughts on the OGA's stance on the reform? Feel free to leave a comment using the space provided below, or get involved in the ongoing discussion in the associated Forum thread.