Sussex Strategy Group

Sussex Strategy Group

May 31, 2017 08:30 ET

Wynne Government's OMB Reforms Puts Planning Process at Risk According to Leading Municipal Lawyers

Be Careful What You Wish For

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 31, 2017) - A group of some of the province's most prominent municipal land use planning lawyers have come together to issue a warning to the Wynne government that the proposed legislation aimed at reforming the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) will ultimately hurt, rather than help, those that have come to depend on the process to make impartial planning decisions.

Last month, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Ministry of Attorney General announced it would be tabling legislation intended to introduce sweeping changes to the land use planning system in Ontario. Those changes, which were outlined yesterday and include measures such as the elimination of de novo hearings for the majority of planning appeals and changing the standard of review on appeal, have prompted many to say the changes, rather than resulting in a more efficient process, will actually make it more complex and less democratic.

"Instead of making the process a more public friendly place, these changes will do the opposite, and make the process more litigious, focusing primarily on a legalistic approach which ultimately will not be in the best interests of anyone," says Adam Brown, a land use planning lawyer with nearly 30 years of experience. "By eliminating the live hearing process, these proposed changes will ultimately end up shutting out the public at large."

"The real question people in Ontario should be asking is how changes to the land use planning process will nurture the type of collaboration that encourages communities to thrive and ensures we build our cities upwards and not outwards," says Ian Flett, a municipal and land use planning lawyer whose clients are largely citizens and ratepayer groups. "As it stands, this legislation is seriously flawed. Municipal governments are not the exclusive defenders of the public interest. The OMB provides an equal-footing to developers, landowners, ratepayer groups, environmental groups and municipalities. It ensures a fair hearing process to either debate or mediate over how development can best serve the public interest. These proposed changes undo that."

Mary Flynn-Guglietti, who has extensive experience appearing before the OMB on a wide variety of planning matters, says the proposed legislation ignores the fundamentals of fairness. "When the provincial government began its review of the OMB it reaffirmed the continuing need for an independent tribunal in the land use planning process to ensure that it is a place where people can be heard. While all participants in the land use planning process recognize the need for improvement, regrettably the province has thrown out the baby with the bath water."

Nancy Smith, a lawyer in Hamilton whose practice covers all of southwestern Ontario, says if it weren't for the OMB, important projects like the Lynwood Charlton Centre's Charlton Hall Residential Treatment program, a place that provides a spectrum of mental health services for youth and families in Hamilton that saw the City of Hamilton deny its rezoning application, simply wouldn't exist. "There are other Lynwoods in this Province, projects that are clearly in the public interest that will be harmed in the future if these reforms become law."

Media Opportunity:

All four lawyers will be holding a press conference today beginning at 2:15 P.M. at the Queen's Park Media Studio and will be available for interviews.

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