Recent cries by the development industry about housing supply are replaced with a sudden rush to file Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) appeals before new legislation cuts off that route to override municipal and provincial planning rules. They are hoping that they can get their projects heard, and approved, under old rules that always seemed to favour them over approved municipal plans.
Over the last two years, the development industry has blamed lack of infrastructure in urban areas along with the Greenbelt and Growth Plans for high house prices. Fortunately this isn’t what I was taught in planning school where I learned that house prices have nothing to do with the land availability. Here it is straight from my textbook, “The cost of housing is a function of location, cost of commuting, amenities, types of housing and consumer preference….it is essentially behavioural.[i]
Isn’t it ironic that the same industry that complains about the cost and delays caused by OMB hearings is now rushing to get their applications in before the rules change as a result of new legislation that will likely be passed by the Ontario Legislature this week. This is good news because the OMB is adversarial, expensive and time consuming. An OMB appeal can take years to hear and cost millions, potentially adding to the cost paid by the home buyer. The replacement for the OMB, the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal will require new developments to conform to Municipal Official Plans. This means that the days of the OMB substituting its decision on the appropriateness of a new development over that of the municipality or province should be over. Fewer mega-storey condos will be built over municipal opposition and more mid-rise mixed use buildings will spring up because provincial policy requires it.
We need more housing to provide for the 100,000 people moving the Greater Golden Horseshoe each year. But we need the right kind of housing in the right places. A more diverse housing mix in our existing cities and towns will help people live closer to services and their jobs. It will also allow people to stay in the same community if they want to downsize or reduce their home maintenance requirements.
The OMB applications being filed this week will take years to hear, adding to the cost of housing and the time it will take to build it. It’s time for the province to end the debate and pass Bill 139 with a requirement that prohibits new applications to the OMB made this year to be heard under the old rules.
[i] Hodge and Gordon, Planning Canadian Communities, 5th edition, 2008