Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Encouraging news from Queen's Park on OMB reform

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Today, Queen’s Park has announced a series of reforms to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). For years, residents have justifiably railed at the OMB’s role in land-planning in the province. Arguably, it systemically favours developers in the face of local land-planning decisions. It is prohibitively expensive and time consuming, and is a de facto spur to the abdication of accountability for local Councils.

Last fall, several Ottawa councillors including myself wrote to Queen’s Park in response to its consultation to urge some key reforms: the end to de novo hearings (treating each appeal as a fresh case), and the implementation of public interest funding to help residents even the playing field.

The reforms announced today accomplish both of these. It will take a few days to digest the reform package, but on an early basis I’m encouraged.

The Province has announced this morning that the re-named Local Planning Appeal Tribunal will limit the scope of appeals to whether or not a municipality has failed to follow its own rules or adhere to provincial policies. Further new information raised in the course of an appeal hearing will have to go back to local Councils for further consideration. Where the Tribunal finds that a municipality has not followed its Official Plan, it will send that back to Council for consideration rather than replacing the decision with its own.

This means an end to the fresh second chance available to developers when their proposals are rejected by Council. Knowing this, residents will be able to better hold their elected officials accountable: there will be less political throwing of hands in the air to say “the OMB would just overturn us.”

Very encouragingly, the Province will also help residents mount appeals with free planning and legal advice in some cases. Hiring lawyers and planners is one of the key hurdles to mounting legitimate challenges; the current price tag would run around $40,000 for a significant appeal.

Residents should also cheer the use of written submissions rather than oral hearings, and mandatory case management.

The new rules would also more strictly restrict what can be appealed. Challenges to Official Plans would be curtailed, again putting more responsibility for getting it right on local Councils. And, the legislation would restrict applications to amend a new secondary plan for two years unless permitted by Council.

However, one proposal merits closer consideration. The Province has proposed to limit appeals to developments in relatively close proximity to transit and light rail stations, apparently at Council's discretion. In Kitchissippi, a large swath of our geography falls within 500m of a transit station, much of it with zoning many consider outdated and with a continued unwillingness on the part of the planning department to plan for growth.

The answer to ensuring the new rules work for, and not against, residents, is clear: plan for growth and then defend those plans. The incentives are now in place to accelerate planning for our growth areas. Where appeals to transit-proximity development are limited, access to the Tribunal is improved and more equitable, and the scope of Tribunal hearings constrained, this is good news for Kitchissippi residents.

My thanks go to Minister Naqvi, our MPP, for his ongoing leadership role as a champion for these reforms. I'm looking forward to hearing your feedback as I and colleagues contemplate the reforms and find out more.

Posted May 16, 2017