The Ontario Municipal Board – the long-standing tribunal that settles planning and development disputes – is set for a major overhaul, and it may have an effect on the Toronto condo market.
The OMB is one of Ontario’s oldest institutions. It was first established in 1903 as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board, to oversee the growing rail transportation system. In 1932 it was renamed to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Like any storied institution, the OMB has faced its share of criticism. City councillors in Toronto and Mississauga have been fighting for years to strip the body of its power, citing a series of questionable decisions and arguing that it takes power out of the hands of municipal governments, according to the Toronto Star.
Overhauling the Approval Process
The Ontario government announced in May that it plans to overhaul the judicial body in order to give communities more say over the planning and development process. The new tribunal will be called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and will aim to give more weight to the decisions of local communities.
Currently, if a city rejects a development application, the tribunal can override that decision. According to the Star, independent research suggests that the OMB’s decisions tend to favour developers.
Cracking Down on Development Appeals
The proposed changes – which include a total revamp of how appeals are conducted – could prevent developers from using the OMB as a way to get around city council decisions.
For example, currently OMB hearings are carried out “de novo”, meaning “as new.” So if city council turns down a development application, the tribunal can serve as an avenue for a do-over, allowing developers to seek out a more favourable ruling. The new system would require appeals to focus on whether the city broke provincial policies or failed to follow its own rules, which could stop developers from using it as a way to skirt municipal decisions.
The Fight Against NIMBYism
While that may all sound great on paper, critics have pointed out potential drawbacks with the proposal. For instance, Toronto realtor Brad Lamb tells BuzzBuzzNews that leaving planning and development decisions in the hands of residents will propagate NIMBYism – the “Not In My BackYard” mentality that stifles development.
Lamb argues that abolishing the OMB will ultimately lead to less development, less density, fewer jobs and fewer homes, as residents will selfishly defend their desire for the status quo.
That could reduce the supply of homes available for sale and ultimately lead to higher prices, he asserts. Lamb argues that the biggest issue with the OMB is its subpar staffing levels and the resulting delays.
“Despite what NIMBY ratepayers believe, the board was fair and often did not agree with developer’s development proposals,” Lamb wrote in a Facebook post.
“It wasn’t hysterical or personal, it followed provincial policy for land use. Sometimes following that policy was unpopular with ratepayers. Many citizens of this city have an allergy to height and density.”