Sudbury arena and casino debate moves to provincial planning tribunal
Case management conference on Tuesday first step in new provincial appeal process
The debate over a new arena and casino in Sudbury goes before a provincial tribunal today.
The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal will meet with both sides of the argument for the first time in Sudbury Tuesday morning.
On one hand is the City of Greater Sudbury, which approved the plans earlier this year and developer Dario Zulich, who made the planning application.
They will face off against five groups who filed the appeal to the the new provincial body, which replaced the Ontario Municipal Board earlier this year.
The appeals are from the downtown business improvement association, anti-casino advocate Tom Fortin, Sudbury planner and activist Steve May, the Minnow Lake Restoration Group and Christopher Duncanson-Hales, who is representing 36 faith leaders in the city.
Tuesday will just be a preliminary meeting, with no resolution to the argument expected. But here's what you should know about how that decision will be made.
1. Don't expect a decision until the new year
The law that created the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal or LPAT gives the body 10 months to respond after an appeal is filed.
That would put the deadline for the Sudbury arena and casino project in June. But the panel of adjudicators that oversees the tribunal have several options for pressing pause on the game clock, especially if the two sides agree to mediation.
2. The final decision may not be made by the LPAT
The tribunal's associate chair James McKenzie says that if the tribunal dismisses the appeals, the city council decision would stand and the Kingsway Entertainment District would go ahead as planned.
But unlike the Ontario Municipal Board which would overrule cities and towns with a final decision of its own, this tribunal will instead bounce the political hot potato back to Greater Sudbury city council if agrees with the appeals.
"If it finds that the appeals have merit, then the matter would be sent back to the council for them to reconsider and make a new decision," says McKenzie.
And even then, any of the sides of this debate still have the option of asking for a court to conduct a judicial review of the decision.
3. This hearing will be much less like a trial
In the old Ontario Municipal Board process, a hearing was much like a criminal trial, with an adjudicator playing the role of the judge, lawyers making arguments and questioning witnesses.
McKenzie says the LPAT hearing will be "very different" with only the tribunal panel itself allowed to call and examine witnesses.
Mark Simeoni, a former Sudbury city planner and former Ontario Municipal Board employee, says the new process is about gathering information, not an adversarial courtroom-like confrontation.
"The LPAT member would call a planner like myself if they need clarification on something in the written record, but not trying to shake a person from their opinion," says Simeoni.
4. The tribunal will focus on whether city council was consistent
Simeoni says most planning committee meetings draw residents who are concerned about environmental impacts or increased traffic from a proposed project.
But he says the tribunal is required to only base its decision on whether or not the city consistently followed its planning rules, as set out in the official plan, provincial policy statement and other planning documents.
Simeoni says unlike the old municipal board, the tribunal is not to decide whether the city has good policies, but whether or not it is following those policies.
"And so most people are going to have a disconnect between what motivates them to come out and what the rules of the LPAT will be when considering an application," he says.
5. There are lots of unknowns with a new process
While the process for the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is laid out in law, it hasn't been tested until now.
McKenzie says about a half-dozen appeals are working their way through the process now, but none have reached a hearing stage yet.
"It'll be important for everybody to be patient, because it's a new process. We as an institution are learning and working our way through the process ourselves and getting more experience with each one that we do," he says.