Role of the Ontario Municipal Board in our lives
- submitted by Peter Vasdi 3 May 2006
There is a perception that the OMB was created in Toronto by Toronto business interests to further their interests - for their own benefit - elsewhere in the province.
The OMB seems to have been created originally to resolve land disputes regarding railways; that is, land use relative to transportation issues. Transportation issues are important in that a single transportation requirement can impact people in multiple communities and therefore require a collective multi-municipality approach - a provincial approach. However, extending that mandate to englobe land use that has no impact outside of a specific to a single municipality is a stretch that is not in the best interests of any municipality. In such cases, it should be the municipality, and not the OMB, that should have the final say in that kind of land use.
Why does the OMB have a say, and the final decision-making power, over zoning and urban design decisions? The municipality, not the province, will be the organization that will either suffer to benefit from the consequences. The municipality is the best placed to determine whether they are able and willing to bear the consequences.
We need to rethink the role of the OMB in our lives and to retailor the OMB to better address the interests of individual municipalities. It is a waste of our money and time and effort - and a great demoralizer towards motivating people to improve their urban lives - to allow a developer to run to the OMB each time its design is rejected by the community on which that design will have the greatest impact.
Current reforms to the OMB and related acts are being pursued by Ontario, but the extent of the reforms proposed seem to be only to the degree to which the OMB is to pursue various steps in their current procedures. The reforms do not even come close to suggesting that the decision-making power of the OMB should change in any way. And it is the very fact that the OMB is empowered to make land use decisions - urban design decisions. The original power of the OMB to determine the correctness of proposed zoning seems to have been extended to empower it to make urban design decisions. That power should be removed from the OMB and put into the hands of the municipalities.
I propose the following:
- Give the internal land use decisions back to the community.
- Restrict the decision-making power of the OMB to only land use that impacts on multiple communities. WHY? This would correct the current problems and improve the quality of lives within municipalities.
- In land use appeals, limit the initial OMB decision to simply determine whether municipal land use issues will or will not impact on other municipalities. WHY? Only if the impact goes beyond the municipality should the OMB exercise its mandate. Immediately enables the OMB to assign its resources effectively.
- Update the definition of "land use" to separate land use for purposes of transportation of goods, services, and people between communities from other types of land use; such as land use that impacts goods, services, and people only within a given single municipality. WHY? To make it easier for interested parties at all levels to determine when to appeal a decision to the OMB.
- Link "land use" to "zoning". WHY? It seems like the OMB was given the "urban design" mandate in order to address the need to relate zoning categories to each other (i.e., urban design) because zoning bylaws only identify zoning categories and not how individual categories should relate to each other for a given urban plan.
- Give the OMB the mandate to resolve 50-50 conflict issues within municipalities. WHY? 50-50 issues can hold up useful decisions. Also, the OMB can access provincial resources that may be useful in resolving a bottleneck conflict; for example, a situation where the whole community would benefit from a sewage system but continues to rely on septic tanks per house because of an inability to resolve cost and personality issues.
- The OMB should invest in some effort to justify its existence to the residents of other cities. WHY? To clarify its role to all.
- The main website for the OMB should introduce and provide biographies of the board members who will be making OMB decisions. WHY? To reassure the public that there is no possibility of conflict of interest; for example, if a board member is also an owner or has an interest in companies that would benefit from land use decisions. Another example would be a board member who is an architect (expertise in that area) whose personal livelihood has in the past and could still possibly depend on developers giving them architectural contracts. Or simply someone with broad personal contacts that could benefit from OMB decisions.
- Do not allow the government of the day to appoint OMB members. WHY? This gives the provincial government enormous power to mediate land use decisions. Abuse is a very great possibility in that the vested commercial interests can be lobbied before an election, and promises made re appointments - with the resulting mega financial backing towards winning the election. The abuse could bias an election process such that the whole process begins with the candidates all running to the same business interests and bidding for the largest pie. The actual decision about which party wins an election, therefore, does not rest with the public but rather with the backroom contacts and negotions taken place prior to the public election.