What's that LPAT? Explaining the new way to fight city hall in Ontario
The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal took over for the Ontario Municipal Board April 3
A new provincial body called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is about to become the center of Sudbury city politics.
That's where opponents of the Kingsway Entertainment District — to be built around a new arena and casino — will appeal its recent approval by city council.
The tribunal has just been set up to replace the Ontario Municipal Board for reconsidering council decisions.
The province is promising that the tribunal will fix many of the problems people had with the municipal board. Here's a look at some of them.
It'll be faster
Some cases languished for years before the Ontario Municipal Board.
There are still outstanding appeals filed before the official switchover on April 3 that will be heard under the OMB process, including about two dozen in northeastern Ontario.
Among those are two appeals by Sudbury developer Dalron. It's looking to overturn city council's 2009 rejection of its 221-home Sand Castles subdivision beside McCharles Lake in Naughton, as well as the 300-home development off Howey Drive voted down in 2012.
The new appeal tribunal has strict deadlines, ranging from 120 days to 210 days, for when it has to render a decision.
Sault Ste. Marie senior planner Steve Turco says the tribunal will also likely be less busy than the municipal board. That's because only appeals which arguing that local and provincial planning guidelines were broken will be considered.
"This is something that's going to have to be tried and tested to see what appeals actually get to the land use tribunal," says Turco.
It'll give more power to local decisions
The big difference with the new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is that where the municipal board issued final and binding decisions on planning disputes, the new body will instead send cases back to town and city councils to figure out.
Sault Ste. Marie developer Jeff Avery, whose 91-lot Pointe Estates development on the St. Mary's River was rejected by city council and the municipal board, feels this is a better system.
"It would make council accountable to making the right decision rather than just making a political decision and listening to the NIMBYs and what have you," Avery says.
But Mitchell Kosny, the associate director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University in Toronto, thinks leaving it up to local politicians could lead to more delays.
"I increasingly see councillors waffle all over the place and I think they're afraid to make really tough decisions," he says.
At one point, there was talk that each city or region of Ontario would get its own appeals tribunal, but so far that's only happened in Toronto.
Sudbury's Greg Dalton, who was part of the Friends of Bennett Lake who fought a 15-home development in their south end neighbourhood five years ago, would like to see a local appeals body staffed by citizens — and not by politicians and officials.
"I think the process can be improved by this, but perhaps there's also an opportunity for abuse," he says.
It'll be easier for citizens to appeal
Another common criticism of the old municipal board process was that it favoured municipalities and developers, since they had the money to pay for lawyers and other experts.
Dalton and his counterparts collected money door to door in their Sudbury neighbourhood to get $30,000 for their municipal board appeal, the bill for which was inflated, he says, because they had to go out of town to hire lawyers and urban planners.
"The people we spoke to, they didn't want to forfeit their chance of getting city contracts," Dalton says.
The government has also created the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre with a $1.5 million budget to help citizens groups put together their appeals.
Kosny questions whether that's enough to make a significant difference for the dozens of appeals being filed with the tribunal, especially since he expects the new process opens the door for more planning disputes to go to court for a judicial review.
"Probably going to be a lot more work for lawyers here," he says.
Laura Higgs, executive officer of the Sudbury and District Homebuilders Association, says the main thing for her members is not knowing exactly how the new system is going to work.
"There was a defined road for them to follow, so now what I'm hearing from my members is 'Gee, we're not sure how we're going to navigate this.'"