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On December 3, 2015 a few parts of Bill 73, the Smart Growth for our Communities Act, came into force, amending both the Planning Act and the Development Charges Act. The majority of the changes under the Planning Act are not yet in force. One significant pending change relates to removing appeal rights of official plan amendments for environmentally sensitive land use designations.

The goals of the Bill 73 Planning Act amendments include enhancing citizen engagement, resolving planning disputes locally, and protecting and promoting green spaces.

For those concerned with environmental planning matters, once the Bill 73 amendments come into force, appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) of official plan designations related to the following environmentally sensitive areas will be prohibited:

  • vulnerable areas as defined in the Clean Water Act, 2006
  • the Lake Simcoe watershed, as defined in the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008
  • The Greenbelt Area or Protected Countryside, as defined in the Greenbelt Act, or within the boundary of a special crop area designated by the Greenbelt Plan
  • the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Area, as defined by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan

In addition, the forecasted population and employment growth set out in the official plan cannot be appealed in certain circumstances.

Settlement Area designations (i.e. expansions to the urban boundary), also cannot be appealed where the official plan of a lower-tier municipality makes the amendment to reflect an approved boundary set out in the upper-tier municipal official plan.

Regarding improving citizen engagement,  approval authorities are now expressly required to “have regard to” written and oral submissions by the public for planning proposals when making decisions. While it is arguable that this was required under the existing legislation, the amendment now makes it clear that public submissions must be considered by municipal councils and by the OMB.

One other change is to the requirements in appeal notices themselves. While likely “de rigueur”  for developers who appeal planning decisions, citizens may find themselves caught off guard if they make an appeal that fails to provide the necessary specificity. When appeals for official plans or zoning by-laws are made, appellants must specify in what way the appealed official plan, upper-tier official plan or by-law is inconsistent with provincial policy statements. If they do not, appellants may be at risk of a dismissal of their appeal by the OMB.

For citizens, it is often difficult to participate effectively because the opinion of planners and other experts almost exclusively govern at the OMB. These changes do not really address that particular issue, and in fact entrench the requirement for expert help at the appeal notice stage. Citizens involved in these issues will need to engage planning experts and legal advice well before a decision is made, and minimally at the time of filing an appeal notice.

You can see all upcoming amendments to the Planning Act, on Ontario’s e-laws site.

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