The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) may be shutting its doors to make way for the new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which would replace one of the oldest tribunals in the country.
On Tuesday, Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro announced legislation that would replace the OMB with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. The OMB has been under fire for years as its practices are lengthy and costly. One of the main criticisms of the tribunal are the ‘de novo’ hearings, appeals that are considered ‘new’ issues and that are treated as though no previous decision had been made, despite a possible rejection by the municipality. This is incredibly frustrating to urban planners who are trying to implement intensification targets and specific planning in certain neighbourhoods, only to be thwarted by developers who appeal to the OMB.
The OMP is an independent adjudicative tribunal that conducts hearings and makes planning decisions on zoning bylaws, development proposals, subdivision plans, and ward boundaries. It has been around since 1906, and was originally known as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board. In 2015 to 2016, 1460 matters were brought before the OMB across the province. The OMB process also makes it difficult for residents and resident groups to represent themselves against wealthy developers with large legal teams.
The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal would instead give greater weight to local communities to be in charge of their planning and development plans. The Tribunal would only decide whether or not the municipalities are following their official land use plans and would return the concern to the municipality if developers failed to follow the land use plan. If the municipality failed twice to adequately follow their land use plan, then the Tribunal would hold a hearing and make the final decision instead. This process would place far less power in the hands of a powerful housing board such as the OMB. The province would also create a public interest centre that would help residents and resident groups for free to give them a better chance at success against developers.
There are concerns that removing the OMB has a third party officiate between developers and the municipality will give unprecedented power to political players in local communities. Without a separate tribunal to make planning decisions, the urban landscape will be in the hands of city officials and this will create an entirely new set of issues. On the other hand, the OMB is allowing developers to obtain approval through an appeal and build up in areas that are bereft of adequate resources, such as transit and grocery stores to support quick growth in popular areas such as Yonge and Eglinton.
It is a bold move for the province to replace one of the oldest institutions in Ontario with a newer and more updated Local Planning Appeal system. The OMB has been criticized for several years and bringing new legislation to the table to be discussed is a progressive move for development and urban planning in local communities. If the new Tribunal passes, it will be interesting to see if the new system is more efficient and responds to public interests in a new and fresh way, or if it simply a newer and shinier version of the OMB.