On Tuesday of this week, at the age of 112, the Ontario Municipal Board passed into history, to be replaced by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (“LPAT”).
Whether or not this amounts to one cumbersome bureaucracy being replaced by another remains to be seen. In theory, however, some of the alleged failings of the OMB, which has frequently been accused of being “developer-friendly”, seem to have been addressed.
The main differences that LPAT brings to planning dispute resolution are as follows:
- The OMB arrived at its decisions after hearing representations from all parties in a completely adversarial process. The outcome would be arrived at on the basis of what the particular panel believed to be the best planning outcome, irrespective of the local council’s decision.
2. The LPAT replaces this by using a simple test: “Does the proposal follow the municipality’s official planning rules?” If it answers in the negative, then it will send the matter back for that council to reconsider; that is to say, it will not substitute its own decision.
3. Under OMB rules appeals were dealt with by what are known as de novo hearings. This is a process whereby it would conduct a full hearing as if the matter was being argued for the first time. This was widely criticized as it increased costs and caused delays. Now, LPAT will start and finish by reviewing the decision made by the local council.
4. This “fast track” approach on the face of it has a lot of merit. This is because, for the most part, there will no longer be hearings as such. In the majority of cases, evidence will be limited to written materials and there will be no examination and cross-examination of witnesses.
However, a failure in this new regime is that it may limit the ability of municipal residents to mount a substantive attack if they feel aggrieved by a planning decision. MV Councillor Carl Bromwich echoed this when he told The Current earlier this week:
The elimination of the Ontario Municipal Board appeal process for residents and landowners is a setback for our Province. Landowners will lose their option for appealing decisions that may or may not directly affect their right to enjoy a lifestyle they have grown accustomed to by owning and governing their own land and home.
Just one more infringement on the landowners in this once great Province.
Time will tell whether LPAT proves to be more efficient, cost-effective and impartial than its predecessor was accused by some of being. In the meantime it is understood that the OMB will continue to wind down over a substantial period of time as it deals with its current backlog of applications. Apparently this backlog has been increased as a result of developers rushing through last-minute applications so as to ensure such applications were dealt with under the old rules.