Making way for the new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), the controversial Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) folded up shop this week.
After years of drawing criticism for being too developer-biased and too often overturning city council decisions, the province undertook an extensive review in 2016, including town halls across Ontario spearheaded by Yasir Naqvi, attorney general and MPP for Ottawa Centre.
Unlike the quasi-judicial OMB, the scaled-down LPAT won’t make decisions on arguments made by both sides of contentious planning decisions that it believes to offer the best outcome, but rather decide whether the proposal meets the standards for the city’s planning rules and return matters to municipal council if the answer is no.
The city will then have 90 days to make a decision; on second appeal, the tribunal will retain the authority to make a final decision if the municipality’s new decision still fails to follow provincial policies or municipal plans. LPAT is meant to be the appeals tribunal the OMB wasn’t.
Other complaints levied against the old board were that the cost of participation was too high for regular residents and neighbourhood associations, but LPAT will offer legal and planning help through its Local Planning Appeal Support Centre (LPASC), which has a $1.5 million budget.
Community associations will no longer be on the hook for expensive lawyer’s fees or for hiring urban planners to argue their side of an appeal since the only criteria is whether the matter is in keeping with local planning guidelines.
It should make the appeals process itself much more streamlined too, as the OMB heard cases from the beginning as though they’d not been considered before; the LPAT won’t hear cases in their entirety but consider only decisions already made by council.
Another common criticism of the OMB was that it was opaque and comprised of unelected members but nevertheless had the power to overturn decisions made by those who are supposed to represent their constituents; Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper, who sits on Ottawa’s planning committee, told CBC that Ottawa city council would try to avoid OMB appeals even if it meant compromising with developers to approve larger developments than the city’s official plan allowed.
If you were a skeptic, you might even think city councils may have occasionally taken advantage of their ultimate lack of accountability to make voter-friendly decisions with the underlying knowledge that a very different decision might come down from the OMB. He called the OMB a “convenient scapegoat for unpopular zoning decisions.”
Matters filed with the OMB prior to December 12, 2017 will still be heard by the OMB subject to its existing rules, which could take a couple of years.
While it remains to be seen whether the new tribunal will be everything the OMB failed to be, I find myself in the unusual position of admiring the province; if it took them a while to get moving, once they did, things happened fairly quickly and with the participation of the public. Here we are two years since the process began and the OMB is no more.