The following message is from David Godley, a resident of Long Branch (Toronto not New Jersey):
Thank you for inviting comment on the Ontario planning system in which I have been involved as a planner since 1974.
These comments are mainly on predictability, transparency and accountability and citizen engagement. They are from the Toronto neighbourhood perspective.
I am in principle supportive of the OMB being the appeal body for planning matters as a local appeal board will be more influenced by politics.
Appeals are necessary as minor planning applications often allow minimal input with only 5 minutes presentation. With larger applications citizens should be in at the ground floor with communitiy meetings before the proposal has been worked out in detail.
Citizens tend to be shut out of the process initially by the applicant, staff and political representative. Consequently public input can be meaningless. The same applies to developers if there is fostered opposition.
The Ontario Municipal Board is fraying at the edges. Many Chairs do a difficult job well but others seem to lack basic understanding or do not follow logic. There is no coordination to make decisions consistent. To address this would be a major step forward. See my comments below on a complaint I made together with attachments. There is no real accountability of the OMB but they circle the wagons where there is criticism.
If there are not radical changes at the OMB either from the outside or the inside I suggest that a panel of qualified planning professionals handle severance and variance appeals through written representation and/or mediation.
Citizen engagement is usually top down planning (see blue type below [not included in the posted text]) and there is a development orientation in planning in Ontario. Rather than using the Official Plan and Neighbourhood Plans the objective seems to fit in a development with the least mitigating effects.
Toronto used to prepare Neighbourhood Plans using a stakeholder’s advisory committee. This system should be brought back to prepare detailed plans and modify the zoning which has not been comprehensively reviewed since the Official Plan was approved in 2006.
The same thinking should be used to control development. New York uses Community Boards successfully. They are just as applicable here (google: Community Boards nyc).
Design has always been a weakness in Ontario planning. The development permit system would strengthen this but it is difficult to take zoning rights away. Developers are getting smarter with design but it is an area that still needs to be improved perhaps strengthening powers of the Design Review Committee.
Instead of permitting developments that simply make a profit we should be creating the heritage buildings of the future, like the proposed Gehry buildings. Once a building is approved it will likely be there for 100 years. It is worth spending the extra time at the project development stage. A quality environment not only is rewarding for those within it but it will be an economic generator as well.
There is always the conflict between quick and cheap approvals and thorough community participation/quality development. Toronto’s best interest is served by moving towards the latter.
In summary we need better civic engagement using stakeholder advisory committees dealing with policy and community boards dealing with applications. If the OMB continues unreformed, a qualified planning panel needs to be set up to decide minor applications through written representation and/or mediation.