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Should the Ontario Municipal Board be overhauled?

In Toronto, people regularly complain they can’t find an affordable place to buy or rent, but the...

In Toronto, people regularly complain they can’t find an affordable place to buy or rent, but they also complain the city is overrun by condominiums and developers have run amok, filling the skyline with glass towers.

Have they ever considered what affordability would be like if the real estate industry hadn’t delivered so many new housing units, or where would pricing be without these ubiquitous glass boxes?

Part of the complaint about the building boom is that high-rise apartments are too tall, cast shadows on low-rise residential neighbourhoods, create privacy concerns for neighbours, and lead to growth that cannot be supported in these areas.

This perceived overbuilding, or overdevelopment problem, has been exacerbated by the so-called “developer-friendly” Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The independent adjudicative tribunal conducts hearings and makes decisions on matters that have been appealed under specific provincial legislation.

The majority of appeals occur under the Planning Act for planning instruments, such as official plans, zoning bylaws, subdivision plans, consents and minor variances.

Perceptions about Ontario Municipal Board

Data on OMB decisions and whether the developer and/or landowner received a favourable result versus the municipality is not comprehensive; the perception is developers “win” more cases than they lose. However, many developers will only “go to the board” if they feel they have a good chance of winning.

There is also concern the “threat of the OMB” has forced municipalities to compromise in striking deals with applicants. The provincial government has heard the complaints and felt compelled to make changes to the system.

In May, the Ontario government tabled Bill 139, which is intended to significantly overhaul the manner in which local planning decisions are reviewed, placing greater authority in the hands of elected municipal councils and local planning authorities. The proposal calls for the OMB to be replaced by a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The Bill had its second reading in September.

Market Manuscript Report survey

For the latest Market Manuscript Report by Fortress Real Developments, a survey was conducted of urban planners in Southwestern Ontario, and 37 per cent of respondents thought the OMB needed to be overhauled. However, 69 per cent of municipal planners felt it should be overhauled, but only 26 per cent of private planners think it should.

The planning questionnaire also asked what impact the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal would have on housing supply and 48 per cent of respondents felt it was too early to tell. Only two per cent of respondents felt it would increase supply, but 40 per cent felt it would reduce supply moving forward.

When asked for additional written commentary on the OMB changes, professional planners were more than willing to offer their opinions. The most frequently expressed belief is good planning should not be influenced by politics, and if greater planning power is placed in the hands of councilors, they have really placed the power with local ratepayers and organized NIMBY groups that don’t want change.

Housing a growing population

Setting aside the gaudy real estate prices in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, the bottom line is Ontario has seen decade-high population growth over the past year, and with vacancies at near zero in many municipalities, the only way to accommodate new residents is by building new housing of all types and prices ranges.

If those homes are not built in your backyard, then where?

To read further on urban planner’s opinions on the OMB and the economics of land-use planning, download the Fall 2017 Market Manuscript here:

Fortress Real Developments is a diversified real estate development and investment company that partners with established builders and developers across the country. Ben assists in evaluating both the market conditions and projects that Fortress takes on. Follow his blog posts and commentary on the Canadian Housing Market at or follow him on twitter at @BenMyers29

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