The Ontario government is turning back the clock on how development disputes are decided in the province — reverting to the old Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) rules under the newer Local Planning Appeal Tribunal’s (LPAT) name.
The changes are part of a sweeping piece of legislation announced Thursday as the government’s Housing Supply Action plan that Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark says will create more homes, including a more diverse mix of housing, to improve affordability.
“This bill will go a long way to provide people hope that they will have the right type of housing at a price they can afford,” he said a press conference at a Habitat for Humanity stacked townhome building site in Scarborough.
But he did not provide a hard target of the number of homes the government hopes to see built.
“Our success is going to be shovels in the ground. This is a continual priority of our government. Today’s bill goes a long way to putting some of those plans in motion but we’re not done,” he said.
The proposed rule changes are supposed to make it faster and cheaper for developers to bring new homes to the market and easier for homeowners to build secondary suites such as basement apartments.
Clark said the government’s proposal will make it easier for people to live closer to their jobs, speed up the development approval process and address the shortage of missing middle homes — smaller apartment buildings and townhouses — that provide an alternative to traditional detached houses and highrises.
Although Clark said he is aware of municipal concerns around the old OMB and mindful of municipal autonomy, he said it is not feasible to have the two parallel systems that are currently underway. Cases that were originally appealed before the OMB have been grandfathered under those rules as the LPAT began dealing with newer appeals over roughly the last year.
“There are 100,000 (housing) units that are stuck before the tribunal. I believe the processes we have put in place will unlock that backlog. We can’t continue to have a system where you’re waiting 24 or 36 months for a hearing. We need to do better,” said the minister.
The OMB, killed by the former Liberal government, was frequently criticized for undermining and delaying Toronto development decisions, sometimes for years, as the appeal process allowed adjudicators to take the application back to its beginnings to consider fresh evidence from all sides as if the municipality had never made a decision on the matter. Those kind of hearings will be restored, Clark said.
The LPAT was supposed to reduce the number of those disputes. It was designed to decide only whether a municipal decision conformed with provincial polices. If it didn’t, the application was sent back to the municipal council for review — a process that was intended to show more deference to local authorities.
Both systems have been operating during a transition time and the government says it will be allowing another transition period along with $1.4 million for additional LPAT adjudicators to clear a backlog that has hearing dates scheduled well into next year.
Among the government’s other proposed changes, Section 37 and parkland dedication funds, the money municipalities charge developers for local improvements, would be rolled into a single new charge that would also include municipal costs for soft services such as libraries and community centres and the recovery of waste diversion costs. Those changes would come under the auspices of a new Community Benefits Authority.
Secondary suites would be exempt from development charges in new homes to create an incentive to develop more of those units. Development charges also would be deferred for the development of rental and non-profit housing. Municipalities will be required to allow a secondary suite in secondary buildings such as coach houses, laneway homes and garages.
The province would have broader jurisdiction over planning around major transit stations and some employment zones. It would fast-track housing around transit and allow more housing around stable employment zones by allowing mixed-use development in some locations that were previously reserved for office and industrial building.
The Environmental Assessment Act would be modernized to focus on developments considered to be higher risk and exempting about 350 lower risk projects such as bike lanes.
Changes to the growth plan to take effect May 16 would simplify minimum intensification and density targets and streamline the process for increasing land supply by adjusting settlement area boundaries.
There will also be more adjudicators for Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board to clear a backlog of cases there.
The Ontario Building Code would be revised to eliminate the requirement for builders to install electrical vehicle charging stations in new homes. The province is also proposing to harmonize the provincial code with the national code in a move it says it will create more jobs.
Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski
Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags