Ontario Municipal Board Reforms: What to Expect

On April 3, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) changed into the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) due to high criticism over OMB. OMB was a quasi-judicial body that dealt with development proposal appeals. It was criticized for being too “developer-friendly” finally resulting in complete abolishment of OMB and its substitution to the scaled-down LPAT. What does it mean for you and your community?

The New Tribunal Cannot Overrule Council’s Decision if it Adheres to City Planning Test

One of the most significant changes is that LPAT will decide whether a development proposal should go ahead or not based on a legal test on whether the proposal follows the city’s official planning test. Before the reform, OMB would hear arguments and make a decision based on the “best planning outcome.”  In real life, OMB could overrule a council committee’s decision and substitute one of its own. Today, LPAT has no such function. OMB’s capacity to overrule council’s decision meant that if a developer argued during a hearing that they were offering a bigger and more lucrative project, the board would consider the argument and rule in favor of the developer.

Things changed after the reform. Now LPAT will answer simple “yes” or “no” legal test on whether the proposal follows the city’s official planning test. In case the proposal is against such tests, it will be sent back to municipal councils to issue another decision. This tribunal will not be the entity responsible for planning decision. Jay Baltz, a member of the Hintonburg Community Association, said OMB’s capacity to overrule the council’s decision was fundamentally unfair. “There needed to be deference to what the local municipality wanted to plan in their own city.”

Communities Will Have More Chance of Appeal

Local Planning Appeal Support Center will provide legal and planning help to local citizens and communities. It will try to navigate the appeal’s process. Before the reform, ordinary citizens were restricted on participation in matters before the OMB because of high costs. “There was no way that there are many community associations who could afford a $30,000 fee to hire an urban planner,” Gary Ludington, Westboro Community Association chair said. Community associations had the option of either pay the fees or drop the appeal. The new Local Planning Appear Support Center helps citizens in the appeal providing legal assistance.

Municipal Councils Will Have Much More Control

Before the reform, OMB could consider the development proposal as if it had never been considered before.  LPAT will consider only those decisions that were made by local councils. This was one of the biggest criticism of OMB with critiques saying the tribunal should give more credence to the decision of the local councils. After the change, the elector councilors will be the ones who are going to make the decision. LPAT cannot appeal like OMB if the city council decision adheres to its own planning rules. This stripes off the tribunal of the possibility to approve projects that cater to the wants of developers. “If we are following our own official plan, it is perfectly within the power of city council to say no to developers” Ottawa’s planning committee member Jeff Leiper said.

Critiques Say Real Estate Prices Will Rise

The reform of OMB is not without criticism which comes mainly from condo builders. They warn that the reform would cause real estate prices to rise and the housing will be less affordable. They are also concerned that elimination of the known de novo (Latin for “from new”) hearings can disrupt the development.

“If this new Tribunal puts local politics ahead of Smart Growth planning, it will only serve to empower NIMBY councils to make planning decisions to get re-elected,” Joe Vaccaro, chief executive officer of the Ontario Home Builders Association, said.

Despite the criticism, it is evident that the benefits of LPAT over OMB outweigh. We expect to see more community involvement and balanced decisions in the future.

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