This is a guest blog by Mary Bromley, a visual artist turned-witness-to-inappropriate-rural-development with a propensity to have her say from an environmentalist’s point of view
Participating in Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearings takes a toll on citizens. It’s expensive, time consuming and frustrating. It’s time to fix the OMB to level the playing field and end putting developers ahead of citizens.
I’ve been involved in two OMB hearings. In one, the onus was on the citizens alone to argue against our municipality’s position. In the other, we had the benefit of support from the municipality and the province. In both cases, the onus was on those opposing the development to prove that it shouldn’t go ahead. Because development rights don’t exist in Canada (there are no property rights in the Constitution) the onus should be on the developer to show how the development complies with policy and fits within the community plans. Instead, citizens fight in a system that is tilted against them.
The OMB is a quasi-judicial independent tribunal that hears disputes about land-use planning issues. Land-use planning happens at the municipal level of government. Public consultation is an important part of the planning process. Yet, once a planning matter is appealed to the OMB, citizens have diminished input and are shut out of mediation. We have to pay for our own experts whereas municipalities can recover OMB hearing costs if they side with the developer (Section 69, Planning Act). Our views are often regarded as NIMBYism. We are berated for not following process, intimidated, and sometimes charged with cost awards, made to pay thousands of dollars for participating in a public process.
As a citizen, I have spent hundreds of hours researching, reading reports, writing statements and helping raise funds for the big sewer fight. In the 1990’s, I was a member of a community group on the losing side of an appeal of the King City Community Plan. At the time, four community groups joined forces to try to limit sprawl in the village of King City, on the Oak Ridges Moraine, by stopping the extension of the big pipe sewer system.
Since 2012, I’ve been involved in an ongoing OMB case about the proposed development of a luxury retirement community on protected Greenbelt land. Very simply, the appeal concerns whether the OMB should uphold current provincial policy or defer to an official plan amendment that was never adopted by the Region of York nor by the province of Ontario. King Township, York Region and Toronto Region Conservation Authority state that there is no way this application to build a luxury retirement community on the Greenbelt should be allowed.
It speaks to the importance of this case that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs offered to help with this proceeding. But still, lawyers and experts had to be hired. There were three pre-hearings; in the third pre-hearing, the developer withdrew his original application, yet continues to try to resuscitate an unauthorized-by-the-region official plan amendment in the hopes of creating a hamlet (a small village) on working farmland. No hamlet currently exists on the site as there is no water nor sewers, just a gravel road. But the developer has dreamed up a hamlet, hopeful that it will bring to life the proposed development, abutting the banks of the East Humber River. This development is both contrary to the Greenbelt Plan which permanently protects farmland, and counter to the Growth Plan which directs growth to existing urban areas to limit the expansion of costly infrastructure like sewer systems.
This ongoing OMB case certainly speaks to the changes the province is considering in the OMB review – that OMB appeals should be prohibited if they contravene provincial land-use planning policies. But it also makes me wonder why the King Township planning application was allowed to proceed in the first place. Planning decisions require careful consideration as these decisions affect our community for the long-term. If applications that don’t conform to official policy are stopped at the planning desk, the money saved by municipalities would be enormous and it would ease the continual assaults on our communities and our environment that happen through OMB hearings and decisions.
Up until now, three years into ‘entertaining’ the hubris of this developer, the stress on residents opposing this absurd development proposal is profound. The fact that the developer can still carry his case forward again and again with altered versions of the original proposal (which, according to King Township, he continues to do) leads one to predict that this thorn in all our sides will continue…endlessly. Developers shouldn’t be allowed to resubmit an altered application when it doesn’t conform to policy. It is a waste of all of our time and peace of mind. And it is an insult to our environment and our democracy!
Citizens need to speak up. Changes to the Ontario Municipal Board are needed to:
- stop bleeding money from our municipalities,
- stop losing our environment to inappropriate development
- stop wasting the time, energy and fundraising efforts of citizen volunteers.
It’s time to fix the OMB. Sign our petition to make change happen.