Remember the Ontario Municipal Board, known as the OMB, where developers, citizens and municipalities went to resolve disputes about a development? It was expensive, time consuming, difficult for citizens to navigate and populated by unelected members who were often political appointees. You may also remember the cheers from citizens and municipal leaders when the OMB came to an end after an extensive 2 year public review.
So why are the old OMB rules back? Because developers, namely the Ontario Home Builders Association (OHBA), asked for it and the government said yes.
The OHBA claims that bringing back the OMB rules will speed up bringing affordable housing to market. But the opposite is true. In the past developer lead appeals have delayed housing starts by over three years on average. And the cost of those expensive hearings is passed along to home buyers and citizens who have to pay for municipal lawyers involved in these appeals.
Before 2017, if a municipality rejected a developer’s proposal because it didn’t fit with the municipality’s plans, the developer would run to the OMB in hopes of getting their way, which they often did. In 2017, the OMB ended, and a new dispute body, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) was born. The new Board was tasked with determining whether the development application was consistent with municipal plans and conformed to provincial plans. Developers whose applications were rejected by municipalities would need to rethink and amend their proposal, to better fit municipal plans that were created with citizen input.
At the same time the LPAT was created, a Local Planning Appeal Support Centre was put in place to help citizens participate in hearings more constructively. One of the first things the new government did was to shut down the Citizens Support Centre, citing cost savings as the reason. That was the first hint that the OMB might rear its head again. The backlog of OMB cases created when developers filed an avalanche of appeals in 2017 to get in before the rules changed. Developers used the mountain of appeals to push for a return to the OMB. Finally, in Bill 108, More Homes, More Choice Act, developer dreams came true. The LPAT is keeping its name, but the rules it operates by are the old OMB rules that limit citizen participation and diminish the important role of local planning and decision making, while favouring developers with deep pockets.
The return of the OMB is very unpopular with citizens and municipalities. Some municipalities have passed resolutions opposing Bill 108. Their concern is that the government’s proposed changes to the OMB (LPAT) will reduce their ability to have a say in planning and designing their communities.
Participating at the OMB is expensive and many municipalities can’t afford to, or won’t risk participating in a multi-million dollar hearing with your tax dollars footing the bill. That’s likely what developers are hoping; that they will get their way as fewer hearings will occur as municipal budgets will also be stretched provincial budget cuts. The result will be that developer appeals will result in OMB approvals of their projects, regardless of whether they have been previously rejected by citizens and municipal governments.
People want to help shape the future of their communities. Do we want the development community free reign to plan our communities? Or do want municipalities, developers and citizens to work together to our communities?