Notebook

NOTEBOOK: Three reasons why OMB reforms are good for our community

Great to see that the Ontario Government is pushing ahead to reform the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), with a proposal to replace it with a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Three quick thoughts on why this will be good for our community – both Stittsville, and more broadly, all of Ottawa.

  1. Planning decisions rest with elected officials.  I love how Kevin O’Donnell (a local community activist and creator of ottwatch.ca) describes the current OMB system: “Parents, you know when kids ask one parent for something and get told no, so they go ask the other parent to see if they’ll say yes?”  That’s how developers often use the OMB.  Municipal planning decisions belong with local elected officials who are accountable to voters, period.
  2. It levels the playing field. The proposed reforms limit the scope of what can be appealed, and provide a mechanism for legal help for citizens.  Under the current system, residents and community associations are at a huge disadvantage, with professional and legal advice for OMB hearings costing in the tens of thousands of dollars.
  3. The reforms will save residents money.  City Hall will spend less on experts and lawyers to defend their decisions.  I don’t know what the figures are for Ottawa, but in Toronto, legal staff spent 6,700 hours last year just preparing for OMB hearings, let alone the time spent in actual hearings.

A concrete example in Stittsville: For the past five years or so, City Hall has been collaborating with residents and businesses to develop the Stittsville Main Community Design Plan (CDP), including zoning that limits building height to four stories.  These OMB reforms should make it a lot more difficult for a developer to challenge that four-story limit, or any other conditions set out in the zoning for the street.

The plans still need approval in the Ontario legislature, of course. And developers can still challenge council decisions if they feel that city hasn’t followed provincial rules or developed sound planning policies. There’s a lot that’s open to interpretation.

Here are three articles from with some good reporting and analysis (and differing viewpoints) on the issue:

Joanne Chianello, CBC News:  Why changes to the OMB may force council to own its planning decisions

“The new tribunals will now be charged with reviewing the decisions councils make — rather than hearing the entire planning case anew — and considering solely whether elected officials followed their own municipal plans. Which they often do not.

Indeed, council is known to vote against its own community development plans, secondary plans and even official plan designations, based on the recommendations of the city’s own planning staff…

If the new legislation really ends up making appeals more difficult — and it’ll take a few years to be able to know if that’s the case — then councillors and planning staff will no longer be able to hide behind the OMB.

Instead, they’ll have to do their jobs better. They’ll have to adhere to the city’s actual policies. And if those policies are out of date, they’ll have to update them instead of making spot zoning decisions on the fly.”

Jennifer Paligaro, Toronto Star: OMB reform praised as ‘bold’ boon to local democracy

“Councillors representing densely populated wards in both downtown and midtown praised the provincial push for reforms.

‘It has been nearly impossible for cities like Toronto to successfully plan communities that ensure that there is a great quality of life — that there’s school capacity, recreation, affordable childcare, transit, parks, public realm,’ Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22 St. Paul’s) told reporters after the announcement.

‘I hope that they are not only reinventing the wheel, but they’re getting rid of a wheel that’s been broken for far too long and replacing it with something that will actually tip the balance of power towards communities, local planners and ultimately elected officials at the municipal level rather than developers financial interest. That’s the way it’s been for far too long.'”

Alex Bozikovic, Globe & Mail: Axing OMB boosts cities’ planning power – for better or for worse

“Cities will have to take final responsibility for the choices they make. And here is the problem: local politicians have few incentives to make the right choices. Almost nobody wants a bigger new building on their block and too many progressives still see the development industry as inherently evil, rather than as providers of necessary housing.

Yet: Ontario’s urbanism needs radical change. It’s still dominated by car-oriented suburbs, which are economically and environmentally unsustainable. If we care at all about mitigating the effects of climate change or about making it possible for people to get around in a reasonable way, what’s needed is a dramatic shift toward denser housing and more development around transit. The changes of the past 20 years are nowhere near enough.”


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One thought on “NOTEBOOK: Three reasons why OMB reforms are good for our community”

  1. Well put, thank you. And, while not unexpected, sad to see the reaction by several developer interests who raise fears that NIMBYism will run rampant and the cost of housing will increase. They fail to grasp that the key point is to empower the local community: Let consensus be found locally, through constructive dialogue among all parties, and let the decision makers be held accountable.

    See on the Greenspace Alliance web site for more analysis and comment.

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