City-run appeals body should replace OMB: land use consultations

Dennis Hanagan —

Developers should be made to provide more green space when they build, and public advocates should be appointed to help residents voice their concerns at what can be “intimidating” Ontario Municipal Board hearings.

Those were a few ideas that came from a recent meeting Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray held in Cabbagetown to seek residents’ views about reforming the province’s land-use planning systems, including what can be appealed to the OMB.

“The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (Linda Jeffrey) will be introducing a bill to reform land-use to look at the OMB and to look at a more democratic and fairer way to deal with … development of neighbourhoods,” Murray said in an interview.

“Council can make a decision (about a new building development) but it can be appealed to the provincial board and they can change the height of a building, the scale of a building, all kinds of things.”

This has been a sore point with Toronto councillors who express frustration at developers heading to the OMB to appeal city planning decisions.

Murray also scheduled consultation meetings with constituents in Roosedale-Moore Park, Corktown, and Church-Wellesley. At the Cabbagetown session fewer than two dozen people turned out.

There, a resident recalled the case of an individual who spoke at an OMB hearing and he was “eviscerated” by a developer’s lawyer. “It’s intimidating. That’s the way it operates,” the resident said.

Murray said in the interview that Toronto could establish its own local appeals body under the City of Toronto Act as an alternative to the OMB. Almost 60 per cent of cases appealed to the OMB could be heard by a city appeals body set up by city hall, according to Murray. But the city hasn’t done that.

“Toronto has particular powers, unlike other municipalities … (to) be the final say. They’ve chosen not to exercise that. They didn’t create the appeals body,” Murray said.

“So we’re saying … we as a provincial government will get more involved in working with residents in Toronto to say do you want us to be more prescriptive, do you want us to actually say here are the things that can go to the municipal board, and here are the things that can’t.”

Toronto Centre-Rosedale councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says a city-run appeals body would be allowed to address only minor variances from the Committee of Adjustment, not appeals from big condo developers.

“What we’re saying is that the City of Toronto, the sixth largest government in Canada, the city with the largest, most professional development department—we do not need to be under the purview of the Ontario Municipal Board,” Wong-Tam toldThe Bulletin.

“The provincial political meddling in local decision making has got to stop.”

Murray said Toronto could be using development charges to create amenities, such as parks, to accompany new developments. “We know that Section 37 money is collected, development charges are collected, park dedication is collected.”

He referred to the new Corktown Commons and Sherbourne Commons parks but said money for those green spaces has come from Ottawa and Queens Park.

“We’re getting some nice parks, but they’re not coming from municipal tax dollars. We need to get the municipality more engaged to see some of the money that’s being generated from all this development coming back to these communities to provide … the parks, the transit, and the amenities they need to make these neighbourhoods liveable.”

A document handed out at the Cabbagetown meeting said 30 per cent of the OMB’s 2011 and 2012 caseload originated from Toronto.