Change could be on its way for the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
The Province of Ontario is undertaking a comprehensive review of how the OMB operates and its role in the province’s land-use planning system to help make it more efficient and more accessible to all residents.
The OMB plays a central role in Ontario’s land-use planning process as an independent, public body through which people can appeal or defend land-use decisions that affect their property or community.
“We know we have to take a good look at the OMB’s role in the land-use planning system. We want to ensure that the OMB is working as effectively and efficiently as possible. We’re seeking input in a number of areas, including what can be appealed, who may appeal and how the OMB hears matters.”
— Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs
As part of the review, the government is consulting the public on possible changes to the OMB that, if adopted, would:
Allow for more meaningful and affordable public participation
Give more weight to local and provincial decisions and support alternative ways to settle disputes
Bring fewer municipal and provincial decisions to the OMB
Support clearer and more predictable decision making
The changes under consideration would improve everyday life for Ontarians by providing easier public access to information about the OMB and its processes through an expanded Citizen Liaison Office. The proposed changes would also better specify what can be appealed to the OMB, as well as the mechanisms through which the OMB hears these appeals.
Ontarians wishing to participate in the consultation may submit comments online or in person at one of the town hall meetings being held across the province this fall.
Improving the OMB’s role in the land use planning system is part of the government’s plan to build Ontario up and deliver on its number-one priority to grow the economy and create jobs. The four-part plan includes investing in talent and skills, including helping more people get and create the jobs of the future by expanding access to high-quality college and university education. The plan is making the largest investment in public infrastructure in Ontario’s history and investing in a low-carbon economy driven by innovative, high-growth, export-oriented businesses. The plan is also helping working Ontarians achieve a more secure retirement. QUICK FACTS
The OMB is an independent tribunal that makes decisions at arms’ length from the government. First established in 1906 as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board, it is one of Ontario’s oldest tribunals.
The OMB has a mandate under many statutes, but the majority of its hearings relate to Planning Act matters.
OMB hearing about controversial Port Carling development set for September 22; ruling could come long after next municipal election
Update Jan. 22: The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) pre-hearing at the Township of Muskoka Lakes took care of administrative matters quickly this morning. The meeting wrapped up within an hour of its 10 am start time with about 25 people attending. The purpose of today’s meeting was to see what the issues are and to find out who might be involved as a party or participant and to figure out how long it might take to hear all the issues identified. The Muskoka Lakes Association and Rick Spence have joined the Township of Muskoka Lakes as parties to the hearing, each with their own list of issues in regard to Hanna’s Landing Inc, which launched the OMB action by requesting the OMB take over the zoning approval process for its development project from the Township. Parties to the hearing will be expected to make presentations at the hearing which is scheduled for September. A handful of neighbours of the proposed project also asked to be listed as participants so they can be kept informed of the proceedings. Sources say the Township has hired an external planning firm that may have helped produce a list of up to 37 issues (including a draft plan of subdivision) given to Hanna’s Landing officials late yesterday. Muskoka News Watch has requested the issues lists provided to the OMB by all parties involved.
Hanna’s Landing hopes OMB will take over zoning approval from Township; public pre-hearing of issues starts Wednesday, Jan. 22, 10am
Posted Jan. 19, 6pm: Taxpayers in Muskoka Lakes Township may learn why the Township is refusing to circulate a zoning amendment request about the proposed Hanna’s Landing development on Wednesday. That’s when the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) is holding a pre-hearing to uncover what’s caused Hanna’s Landing Inc. to seek help from the OMB — and to learn why the Township has dug in its heels.
Hanna’s Landing is a residential development planned for the former Glenwood Trailer Park on the Indian River in Port Carling, a property that can also be seen from Mirror Lake. The developers promise to provide future housing needs for year-round residents of Muskoka Lakes and for those seeking vacation properties. The OMB pre-hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday at 10am [CORRECTED TIME is 10AM] in the Township Council Chambers and is open to the public.
The OMB holds a public pre-hearing to:
identify the issues to be dealt with at the actual hearing;
identify parties who want to take part in the full hearing; and,
set the date for the full hearing.
Ahead of Wednesday’s pre-hearing, Hanna’s Landing has sent its list of issues to the Township (as well as the District, MLA and Friends of Port Carling as those groups may want to take part in the hearing). As of press time, the company had heard nothing back.
Township Planning Director David Pink confirmed Friday (January 17) that Hanna’s Landing had shared its list of issues to be raised at the pre hearing, and the Township had yet to reply. He added the pre-hearing will try to solidify issues and that he could not comment on anything else at this time.
Here’s how the OMB proceedings have come about: Hanna’s Landing Inc. appealed to the OMB last August after Township council refused to circulate a re-zoning application for its property. Under its regular procedures, the Township staff would circulate such an application to the public (without intervention by Council) and applicable agencies for comment within a certain timeframe. But Council refused to send it out.
“Our application [for a zoning amendment] was submitted in March 2013, and certified as complete by Township Planning Director David Pink,” says Jeff Goldman, President of Hanna’s Landing Inc. He notes both Pink and the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) recommended that the application be circulated for comment to statutory agencies and the public (even though the MLA opposed some of what the application contained). Yet Council, under the Mayor Alice Murphy’s leadership, refused to do so, says Goldman. He claims Council has displayed a continued disregard for the advice of its own Planning Director and “flagrant violations of the procedures for processing planning applications as proscribed by The Planning Act.” As a result, he’d like the OMB to take the zoning approval phase of the development over from the Township.
Township Council heard the request to approve circulation in Planning Committee of the Whole (COW) Meetings held May 21 and August 15, 2013. In one meeting, Goldman says Council took about 45 minutes to try and rewrite the needed rezoning bylaw on the spot. When that effort failed, Council then called for a second special meeting to rewrite the draft bylaw that had already been vetted by the Township planning department. Goldman says that meeting was never held. He adds the discussion during the public COW meeting raised questions that “came out of left field” from the Mayor and other councilors that he felt were irrelevant to the task at hand. By August 22, there was still no Council decision on the application that was received by the Township more than 120 days before: so Hanna’s Landing appealed to the OMB. (Note: Friends of Port Carling provides its perspective on how those meetings proceeded in a 2013 recap. See References).
In a letter dated August 22, 2013 to Murphy and all Councillors, the lawyer for Hanna’s Landing, Leo Longo, states Council’s actions, when coupled with its continued decisions to ignore advice of its own planning professionals, “undermines our client’s confidence in the inclination and/or ability of Council to deal with its application in a fair, objective and competent manner.”
This is not the first time Hanna’s Landing has been an issue in front of the OMB. Before the last municipal election in 2010, the MLA and Friends of Port Carling opposed part of the Township’s and District of Muskoka’s Official Plans that expanded Port Carling’s boundaries for properties (an expansion that would demand any future development to be on District sewer and water). The expansion of Port Carling’s eastern boundary also included the area proposed for Hanna’s Landing, a development the Friends of Port Carling oppose. A third appeal came from Hanna’s Landing itself as the District of Muskoka had approved less of an expansion than was sought by the developers.
Sidebar: Just prior to Murphy announcing her candidacy for Mayor in Summer 2010, Murphy also tried to launch a fourth appeal of the Official Plan. Her concerns were in regard to the proposed hydro development at North Bala Falls, but the OMB dismissed her application to appeal as there was no evidence of any previous objection. (See MNW article about proposed Zoning Bylaw overhaul that highlights importance of registering objections before bylaws are passed. Revisions to that zoning bylaw are being discussed tomorrow, Jan. 20, 2014, and Council has said it hopes to pass the bylaw in early 2014).
In August 2011, the OMB upheld the Official Plan (and boundary expansion), paving the way for Hanna’s Landing to move ahead. Murphy, along with the MLA, called the OMB ruling a victory as it also left a door open for further consultation and broader participation in plans for the Hanna’s Landing development.
The OMB decision required that the parties (i.e., The Township, District, Friends of Port Carling, MLA and Hanna’s Landing) through their lawyers and planners collaborate to finalize some technical details for the boundary expansion area. “Unfortunately”, according to Goldman, “Mayor Murphy inserted herself into these discussions despite our objections. She was instrumental in introducing requirements for the site that were beyond the scope of the initial OMB hearing. and the discussions became deadlocked resulting in a second OMB Hearing in Toronto in November 2011.”
Mayoral intervention may have backfired
Goldman says the results of that November hearing upheld the positions taken by Hanna’s Landing on all matters. The OMB decision also made it possible for the number of residential units at Hanna’s Landing to grow from the original expected 250 to a minimum 295 (agreed to by the Township in those 2011 meetings) and to possibly more than 330 — an increase that will likely not sit well with those opposing the development in its entirety. That change, say some observers, begs the question about whether ongoing intervention by the Mayor and Township has backfired for those in the community who would prefer to curtail the size of the development. The OMB has essentially granted the developer with more flexibility: making the situation worse rather than better in the eyes of those who oppose it. Wednesday’s pre-hearing may provide insights into whether Hanna’s Landing will get the support it wants from the OMB.
MNW Readers, if interested, MNW has compiled a timeline of events regarding the Hanna’s Landing issue from the beginning OMB appeals to today. Click here to read that timeline.We look forward to feedback if any verified dates are missing.
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