The province recently announced, with little fanfare, that it was initiating a review of the Ontario Municipal Board (“OMB”).
The OMB is an independent adjudicative tribunal that plays a crucial role in land use planning in the province. It reviews decisions made under a number of statutes, though the bulk of its work relates to land use planning decisions made under the Planning Act. As a result, the OMB has tremendous influence over planning decision making in the province, including severance of land, zoning by-laws, and official plans.
Many have identified the need for review and reform. In particular, although the availability of an independent tribunal is recognized as an important tool for public input into land use decision making, the OMB has been criticized by would-be public participants.
Some groups and individuals have complained that the OMB’s procedures lack transparency, that proceedings tend to be adversarial, and that participants find themselves marginalized. Others have complained that the OMB hinders participation by, for example, ordering steep post-hearing costs awards against unsuccessful public interest groups (though at least one of these high costs awards was ultimately reduced to $50,000). Some have expressed frustration over a perceived history of OMB decisions that seem to consistently overturn city council planning decisions aimed at curbing urban sprawl or preserving the character of local neighbourhoods in favour of developers.
As part of its current review, the province is currently seeking feedback on:
- the OMB’s jurisdiction and powers
- meaningful citizen participation and local perspective
- clear/predictable decision making
- hearing procedures and practices
- alternative dispute resolution
- timely processes and decision making.
The province has indicated that it will incorporate the feedback it receives into a consultation paper, which will be released this fall for further comment.