The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) is a needed third-party body that provides a public forum for appeals on local land-use planning matters.
In our current planning system, an appeal to an independent, non-political, unbiased decision maker is essential to ensure that municipalities, communities, ratepayer groups and landowners have the opportunity to present and test the merits of an application against sound planning objectives. This is what the OMB is all about.
It’s a third-party administrative tribunal that is responsible for handling appeals that could involve landowner variances, municipal official plans, zoning bylaws or housing development projects. For example, a homeowner that wants to make an addition to his home but is denied by his local municipality has the option to appeal the decision at the OMB.
The board makes decisions in the interest of the public based on sound planning principles, away from local political pressures. It provides value to the public good because decisions made by the OMB offer a necessary balance to pressures that may get in the way. The local interest is not always the public interest.
Development projects help communities evolve and thrive, however they are often faced with local opposition because residents don’t want their neighbourhoods to change. The OMB provides a public forum where the review of applications can be dealt with based on sound planning standards and the principles of fairness and transparency.
The OMB doesn’t get enough credit for the key role it plays in the development approval process. Many of its decisions have resulted in award winning and much loved projects across the city.
One such example is the Toronto’s Distillery District, which would not have happened without the OMB. The condominium project that financially supported the revitalization and renewal of a formerly derelict district has become a highly sought after tourist area.
The OMB is often criticized for siding with developers, however independent research by a leading University of Toronto expert on public policy found that, in fact, the OMB most often favours the expert testimony of municipal planners and there are many examples of projects that didn’t get approved and didn’t happen.
Cases also often go to the OMB when there is no decision made at the local level. The board is there as a check and balance to ensure applications get dealt with.
Without the OMB, appeals would go to the court, which have less local and planning knowledge and longer wait times. Toronto is looking to create its own local appeal bodies, but it is finding that the application costs are likely higher then that of the OMB and the administrative burden is cumbersome and the end result could be more costs.
The province recently launched a review of the OMB, how it operates and its role in the land-use planning system.
We believe that we need a body like the OMB but there is always room for improvement in the role, operation and function of the board. For instance, the OMB could provide planning resources to ratepayer groups to facilitate mediation and settlement. Hiring and training more experienced mediators is another example that would help improve efficiencies and expertise. It’s important that we all work together to help make the OMB more efficient and more accessible to everyone.