Establishing local appeal body will give our neighbourhoods a seat at the planning table
The City of Toronto should take advantage of every opportunity to make decisions locally that impact local neighbourhoods. Change is better managed when it is done at the local level, and a local appeal body (LAB) will help promote managed change where it matters.
Abolishing the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has been a long-standing request from Toronto City Council. Former Toronto councillor Michael Walker was the original agitator for abolishing the OMB as he believed an unelected, semi-judicial body should not be able to reverse a decision made by an elected council. Developers, on the other hand, worried about unfettered political influence, lobbied to keep the OMB intact, arguing that the Planning Act should be free from the meddling of city councillors.
The Province of Ontario, under the City of Toronto Act, gave the city more powers over certain planning decisions but refused to abolish the OMB. The province’s rationale was to give council a little more control over some decisions but still keep the provincial appeal body for larger developments that may be political and controversial.
A LAB would be a significant benefit for Midtown, as some of the most controversial decisions remain at the Committee of Adjustment. As old houses are knocked down and new ones constructed, neighbours are concerned about oversized houses, flooding, privacy, loss of trees and green space.
A LAB would be able to consider issues beyond the jurisdiction of the OMB that are important for protecting neighbourhoods but not always understood by provincial adjudicators.
A current proposal would see the city establish a LAB composed of three citizen members. It would be located at 40 Orchard View Blvd. — the location of the Toronto Public Library at Yonge and Eglinton. The fee to appeal a Committee of Adjustment decision would be $500, which is more than appealing to the OMB, but the cost of the hearing should be substantially reduced. The city is also proposing a mediation pilot project that would encourage the parties to mediate a settlement before it goes to the panel.
Although a LAB will need to consider the Planning Act when rendering decisions, the citizen members will be better able to measure the impact of variances on a community because the members will likely be more familiar with the community.
The mediation pilot project is also an excellent idea as it encourages opposing interests to work out their differences. Usually the best decisions are the ones that the two sides can agree on.
Kathleen Wynne has kept control over local planning with the province through the Ontario Municipal Board, but for how long?