Comment from David Godley regarding OMB decision with reference to 20 James. PL141217

David Godley at break during OMB hearing on Feb. 13, 2015. Jaan Pill photo

David Godley at break during OMB hearing on Feb. 13, 2015. Jaan Pill photo

The previous message from James Baldwin of Long Branch regarding 20 James St. can be accessed here.

The following message, from David Godley of Long Branch, has been sent to key politicians and staff:

Here are my comments on the decision for your consideration. These point out the ongoing weaknesses of the Ontario Municipal Board and the resulting follies.

Read the “bold”[below] to see what service Ontarians are getting from their “hard earned” tax dollars.

 

Process

The hearing was originally scheduled for 2 days; the same as two previous similar hearings in Long Branch.

The date was changed to an earlier 1 day hearing without explanation.

This was a mistake because getting through the hearing quickly became the most important element.

Everyone’s evidence apart from a couple of participants was curtailed to the extent that at least half the hearing was written and not tested.

A number of issues did not come out particularly from one nearby resident because of intimidation. He was even called out for going to the washroom!

The Divisional Court would throw this decision out in an instant.

Without notice I was asked to condense my presentation to 15 minutes. Fortunately I had written up my evidence so it could be an exhibit to be read later. “Do it now or go home I was told” even though I had asked to hear the other planning evidence first. At least the other planners had time to quickly revise their presentations to a compacted 30 minutes.

At a later hearing one planner gave evidence on a similar case for 3.5 hours. One of the participants who asked to be heard after the other planning evidence (as has happened in the 2 day hearings) was not so lucky.

The development planner and the Board acted as advocates for development. The Board, from a description in the decision, seemed to worship at the altar of the development planner. “He that can do no wrong” is in a serious pecuniary conflict of interest.

As a broadly qualified “Friend to the Board” I would have thought my observations would be welcome. However I felt victimised. The resident’s views of the neighbourhood were disregarded as not of planning importance. This may have been OK in the 1960s.

The hearing hardly seemed a good way to draw out the facts of the case or opinions. An outsider would have enjoyed the comedic farce but those damaged are damaged for life. Just ask the abutting owner of the top photo. I have never experienced a meeting where one person antagonised so many people so effectively so quickly.

 

Qualifications

In order to make a planning decision the skill of a well rounded planner is needed.

A knowledge of urban design and public participation are needed in addition to land use planning for the Official Plan (OP) conformity.

The Chair has no planning qualifications and seemingly only a superficial grasp of planning.

The development planner is a well qualified land use planner with emphasis on zoning. No understanding of how public participation is woven into a decision is evident.

There seemed to be an absence of urban design comprehension.

Likewise the City Planner does not include public participation in a decision despite all the references in The Planning Act. He has a keen eye for urban design but little knowledge of evaluation techniques.

In terms of advocacy I am simply an advocate for good planning, as the OMB and City should be. Following the planning and legal framework is of utmost importance in achieving good and fair planning. The Board has replaced planning by so called intuition, sometimes called prejudice.

Issues

The Chair did not appear to feel that severances and variances have to conform to the Official Plan on neighbour impact. Despite the current development rights the development still has to be reviewed in light of OP impact policies. This seems to be a blind spot.

It is extremely unlikely that a house builder is going to put a house near the back of the lot anyway and the massing is much larger because the density is much greater. Unfortunately this lack of understanding has resulted in bad planning which lasts for a century or so.

The photos attached are previous results. Additional approvals including this one will have similar negative effects. On the other road flanking side a set back of 10 feet was reduced to 2.5 feet and because of a large increase in density there will now be by far the most intrusive blank (ugly) wall in the neighbourhood. The impact on the appearance of the street seems to be a “subtlety” not understood by the Chair due to his lack of awareness of urban design and intent of OP policies.

Approval of the application means that in his dubious “logic” that every lot in Long Branch can be developed in the same way. Because this is a majority of the neighbourhood the historic and aesthetic character would be eclipsed. We already have a number of “carbuncles” approved but not built. Applications are increasing. If the hearing had been slowed the Chair might have found out a neighbour was present who wished to sever their own lot as well as lots of other facts and opinions. False assumptions are his downfall. Approval causes new applications. This is a case of blockbusting.

Respect and reinforcement of character has been lacking in parts of Alderwood, to the north. The residents there feel claustrophobic and destabilised. Some have moved away.

Not understanding that the block is the key area for neighbourhood character evaluation is another failing. The block is the critical element of the official interpreters of the OP. Of course the development planner will say that in his study area there is another similar development and support approval. This is nonsense. That is how developers have made inroads already.

The Chair does not understand the overall intent of the Official Plan which was thrashed out in detail with the resulting wording amended by the Council at the behest of Coalition of Residents and Ratepayers Association after months of negotiation. The politicians or Coalition would not have imagined the contorted interpretations now being seen.

Same with zoning. 15 years ago minor was used to adjust requirements where the lot was unusual. A throwback question in the application form currently asks “why cannot you conform to the zoning bylaw”. Now through the power of development planners, high priced lawyers and naive OMB decisions the system has been dramatically changed from the intent of the Planning Act – to allow radical change. The Divisional Court is routinely ignored. The De Gasperis case is the most important and shows minor must be small in impact and size.

The Planning Act was changed to make the Board have regard to the local decision. Unfortunately this was ignored and in fact the regard lessened due to an increasing culture of entitlement.

Now there is a new Planning Act bill bringing powers to the local level and with a review of OMB structure and operations in the wings. The failure of the OMB to adapt will result in its diminution. Sounds like the dinosaurs.

Conclusion

The Chair recognises that I might be well intentioned and I can say the same for him. However, along with some other members, his narrow perspective (especially not seeing the context of matters over time) has brought widespread condemnation and disgrace to the OMB. Having absolute power at hearings has corrupted some Board members whether they know it or not.

Unfortunately some of this stems from the Planning Department not giving good enough evidence or my attendance would not have been necessary.

Naturally I would like some explanation as these points are not addressed in the decision. Since the Board is renowned as one of the most secretive and opaque bodies, I am not expecting a reply. I would like some response from the Planning Department.

Below is “hard working taxpayer’s” view – someone whose life has been disrupted just by the imbalanced process.

Your truly,

David Godley
401 Lake Promenade
Toronto M8W 1C3

To access the previous message from James Baldwin, please click here.

Comment

The preceding comments are from David Godley and James Baldwin of Long Branch. The comment which follows is my own comment.

Work is underway to change the legislation as it pertains to the Ontario Municipal Board; information related to this topic can be accessed here.

From what I can gather, the steps aimed at changing the legislation are promising. That being said, a problem remains – again, from what I can gather – with regard to the demonstrated capabilities and capacities of of OMB board members and the oversight that is in place with regard to their behaviour at hearings. I refer, among other things, to the track record that has been accumulated to date with reference to:

(1) the capacity and capability of OMB board members to understand the parameters under which they are entrusted to operate and

(2) the capacity and capability of OMB board members to apply, with an adequate measure of fairness as assessed by a neutral observer, the planning legislation – by way of example, planning legislation as it relates to the Official Plan for the City of Toronto) that is in place. (I refer to what is in place now; the comment is of relevance as well with regard to legislation that may be in place in the future.)

(3) The level of oversight that is evident with regard to the behaviour of OMB board members, as evidenced by the dialogues that occur at OMB hearings, as reported by residents who have attended such meetings.

(4) The ability to document what occurs at OMB meetings. As noted at an earlier post, it would be valuable if it were possible to record what occurs at such meetings.

 

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