OMB reform motion passes unanimously at Guelph city council

Guelph city council has passed a motion asking the province to consider "significant and substantial reform" when the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing conducts a review of the Ontario Municipal Board in the spring.

Guelph joins Cambridge and North Dumfries, asking province to overhaul land use tribunal

The City of Guelph passed an amendment in 2014 to its official plan to allow the Guelph Innovation District to move forward on the lands near the former correctional facility, but that decision has been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. (Google Streetview)

A motion by Guelph city councillor Cathy Downer, calling for changes to the way the Ontario Municipal Board operates, received unanimous support at Monday night's council meeting.

"I was very careful with the wording of my motion to sort of let [council] know that this was about putting the province on notice before they do their review that we as municipalities are expecting significant reform," Downer said in an interview with CBC News Tuesday morning.

"I think it really helped having the support of neighbourhood groups."

The OMB is a tribunal that hears applications and appeals under various land use planning laws and operates under Environment and Land Tribunals Ontario.

Downer's motion is one of a growing number by municipal councils across the province. In January, the Town of Aurora passed a motion calling on the province to limit the scope of the OMB to matters of law and process.

Several other municipalities have passed that motion or ones similar to it.

Cambridge and North Dumfries have supported the motion from Aurora. 

The City of Kitchener, however, deferred making any motion until October.

'Significant and substantial reform'

In her motion Monday, Downer called for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to use an upcoming review of the OMB to consider "significant and substantial reform" including limiting the tribunal's jurisdiction. 

Downer also wants the ministry to host a public meeting in Guelph during the OMB review later this spring.

Guelph is no stranger to the OMB. When the city rejected Walmart's plan to build in the north end, the OMB overturned that decision in 1994, sparking a decade-long fight between Walmart and residents who wanted to stop the retail giant.

In the end, Walmart won and was allowed to build near two cemeteries and the 600-acre Ignatius Jesuit centre.

Developers have also appealed several of the city's decisions to the OMB.

That includes a May 12, 2014 decision to develop the Guelph Innovation District in the east end. The innovation district is a proposed mixed use development situated near the long-closed Guelph Correctional Centre. It would include a new urban village, research park, cycling trails and creating a hub for eco-sector jobs.

But the Guelph and District Home Builders Association, and eight other landowners and developers, took issue with an amendment the city made to its official plan regarding the innovation district, saying they were concerned the city was making it a priority over development south of Clair Road.

The amendment was appealed in July 2014 and is still an open case before the OMB.

"It's exciting, everybody's excited and we can't move on it and we're still having to adhere to an old, outdated official plan," Downer said of the appeal regarding the innovation district. "It's discouraging."

Ministry may start OMB review this spring

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is "currently looking at the most effective options for undertaking" a review of the OMB, spokesman Conrad Spezowka said in an email to CBC News.

"The government continues to see a need for an independent appeal body that can hear planning matters that are often complex, in order to protect long-term public interests. While at the same time recognizing the need for continuous improvement to the land use planning and appeal system," the email said.

It said the ministry will work with the attorney general and stakeholders "to recommend possible reforms that would improve the OMB's role within the broader land use planning system. We are working towards a goal of launching the review this spring."

Municipalities frustrated

Two amendments were made to Downer's motion Monday night, including one by Mayor Cam Guthrie, but simply added more names to the list of those receiving a copy of Downer's passed motion.

Downer said her motion has especially caught on with community groups that have seen the city try to do innovate projects, only to have those decisions appealed to the OMB.

"It impacts neighbourhoods," she said.

Elected municipal officials from across Ontario will meet on May 14 for a summit to discuss what is needed for OMB reform. It is expected recommendations will be brought forward at the summit, which will then be passed on to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), which advocates on behalf of municipalities to the province.

Downer added 40 municipalities have now passed either the Town of Aurora's motion or ones that echo its sentiments.

"It's that level of frustration that not just Guelph is feeling, but (it's) everywhere," Downer said.

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