The provincial government’s plan to replace the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with a new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal – with greatly diminished powers – will make it much more difficult to bring new housing supply to communities across Ontario, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) says.
“If this new tribunal puts local politics ahead of Smart Growth planning, it will only serve to empower NIMBY (not in my backyard) councils to make planning decisions to get re-elected,” said OHBA CEO Joe Vaccaro. “The role of the OMB has always been to take the politics out of local planning and ensure that decisions are made based on evidence, ‘good planning,’ and conformity to provincial policy.”
The changes would eliminate what the government describes as “lengthy and costly ‘de novo’ hearings for the majority of planning appeals,” the government said in its statement announcing the planned legislative change. “The term ‘de novo’ has been used to describe how the OMB deals with appeals of municipal land use planning decisions, by considering the same issue that was before the municipality as though no previous decision had been made.”
In addition, the province plans to exempt a broader range of major land use planning decisions from appeal, including new official plans, major official plan updates, and detailed pans to support growth in major transit areas. As well, the province says it will “make planning appeals more accessible to the public by creating the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre, a new agency that would provide free information and support, which may include representation at the tribunal for citizens who want to participate in the appeal process.”
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson expressed support for the change. “We’re pleased to see the province of Ontario take action to ensure that the land use planning appeals system is more efficient and supportive for residents,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing the proposed legislation to help ensure timely and balanced hearing outcomes in Ottawa.”
However, the OHBA says that an independent, third party, land use appeals process is essential to ensure the implementation of the Provincial Policy Statement and that intensification targets in the Growth Plan are achieved. Provincial planning policy requires municipalities to optimize Ontario’s existing infrastructure to create vibrant, livable communities.
“To give more weight to local politics will detract from provincial goals,” Vaccaro said. “For more than 10 years, the provincial government has been demanding the increase of density and intensification in existing communities across Ontario. It is difficult to understand how the province hopes to achieve smart growth goals by weakening the OMB when councillors are pushing back on intensification,” said Vaccaro. “If this new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is simply going to be a rubber stamp for obstructionist councils, then the province’s demand to optimize housing supply and provide diverse housing options will fail.”
“Provincial planning policy directs more growth into existing communities through intensification and higher density targets,” the OHBA said in its response. “OHBA is concerned that the changes announced today will undermine the provincial government’s own planning policies.”