Bill 20, a private member’s bill to remove the OMB from planning decisions in the City of Toronto: A report by David Godley

The following report is written by David Godley of Long Branch:

 

Bill 20, a private member’s bill to remove the OMB from planning decisions in the City of Toronto

From David Godley, 401 Lake Promenade, Toronto, M8W 1C3

I attended the afternoon session of the Standing Committee of Finance and Economic Affairs on 17 April 2014 at Queen’s Park.

MPP Committee Members in attendance were Laura Albanese, chair, Rosario Marchese, Michael Prue, Soo Wong, Gila Martow, Jim Mc Dowell, Rob Milligan, Mitzi Hunter and Steve Del Duca.

The time for further submissions has passed. All presentations will be listed in Hansard and are therefore in the public realm.

The 3 presentations I listened to were by Brian Graff, a qualified architect and real estate expert who represented Beach Ratepayers Association of Toronto and other area groups; Nick Elson, a language professor at York University and tied in with an Ontario planning group and Catherine Naismith who is one of the principal leaders of architectural conservation in the country and a practising architect.

All of the presenters denigrated the OMB

All of the presenters denigrated the OMB and wanted it not to be involved in planning decisions not only in Toronto but other areas as well. Catherine was very frustrated because it is hard to even get the board to understand what heritage is about with emphasis on visual matters. The McGuinty Government weakened heritage protection by changing policy to preserve heritage buildings by adding the words “if feasible”. This allows the owner wanting to demolish to say it is not feasible for them.

It sounded as though Brian and Nick had had similar experiences to me but were more rabid! Some of the points they made were:

– The Provincial Review of Local Planning is pointless without looking at the role of the OMB (specifically excluded from the current review.) So Bill 20 is the only vehicle dealing with the OMB currently.

– Best practices should be established for a Local Appeal Board and hopefully this could be used in future to modify OMB procedures.

– Many zoning applications are too complex to fit into standard timeframes so the elected Council does not have a say when the OMB take carriage.

– Developers are given preference over homeowners in that developers are given much more leewway for variances, especially density.

– Developers see the maximums in the zoning bylaws as minimums and if they go through an application often try for a large as variance as possible. Usually the decision is a yes and no rather than something in between.

– Developer’s planners are in a conflict of interest because they are paid by the proponent.

– Developers build the cost of an OMB hearing into their budget and have techniques to fox opposition, e.g. a hearing saying the objection is frivolous.

– City staff has too much power as it is easy for Council to rubber stamp rather than going against a development decision and having to call in outside planners. City staff can compromise at an OMB hearing without City input.

OMB seen as developer friendly

– Knowing the OMB is so developer friendly dissipates any consensus being sought.

– Citizens are intimidated by not knowing process, the cost of hiring lawyers and planners (estimated as $15,000 for a straightforward hearing) and fear of costs being awarded against them.

– Citizens are frequently referred to as “Nimbies” although most of their evidence is relevant to planning. If developers considered planning aspects there would be no appeals.

– The OMB has no sense of local conditions. Developers have in effect (with OMB support) taken over planning of the city.

If there is an early election this proposed piece of legislation will fail and in any case needs support of the Provincial Liberals.

17 April 2014

[End of text written by David Godley]

 

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