Ontario's Proposed Changes to the Land Use Planning Appeal System
Ontario will introduce new legislation that would, if passed, overhaul the province's land use planning appeals system, giving communities a stronger voice and ensuring people have access to faster, fairer and more affordable hearings.
Giving Communities a Stronger Voice
The new law would establish the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which would replace the Ontario Municipal Board. The Planning Act would be amended to eliminate "de novo" hearings for the majority of land use planning appeals. Instead, the tribunal would function as a true appeals body for major land use planning decisions.
The proposed law will include the following reforms aimed at giving communities a stronger voice in local land use planning decisions:
- For complex land use planning appeals, the tribunal would only be able to overturn a municipal decision if it does not follow provincial policies or municipal plans. This would depart from the current "standard of review" for land use planning appeals, where the Ontario Municipal Board is permitted to overturn a municipal decision whenever it finds that the municipality did not reach the "best" planning decision.
- In these cases, the tribunal would be required to return the matter to the municipality with written reasons when it overturns a decision, instead of replacing the municipality's decision with its own. The municipality would be provided with 90 days to make a new decision on an application under the proposed new law.
- The tribunal would retain the authority to make a final decision on these matters only when, on a second appeal, the municipality's subsequent decision still fails to follow provincial policies or municipal plans.
Under this new model, the tribunal would be required to give greater weight to the decisions of local communities, while ensuring that development occurs in a way that is good for Ontario and its future.
The proposed new law would introduce major changes to the way land use planning appeals are conducted in order to reduce the length and cost of hearings and create a more level playing field for all participants. Proposed reforms will include:
- Requiring the tribunal to conduct mandatory case management for the majority of cases in order to narrow the issues and encourage case settlement. The tribunal would also be provided with modern case management powers to ensure meaningful case conferences.
- Creating statutory rules regarding the conduct of hearings, including setting strict presumptive timelines for oral hearings and limiting evidence to written materials in the majority of cases.
- Providing the tribunal with modern hearing powers to promote active adjudication, provide for alternative hearing formats and permit assignment of multi-member panels.
- Giving elected officials greater control over local planning, resulting in fewer decisions being appealed, thereby making the decision-making process more efficient.
Free Legal and Planning Support
The province proposes to create the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre, a new provincial agency mandated to provide free and independent advice and representation to Ontarians on land use planning appeals. The centre would be modeled after the Human Rights Legal Support Centre and would provide planning and legal advice to people who want to participate in tribunal appeals. The centre would deliver the following services:
- Providing Ontarians with general information on land use planning.
- Offering guidance to citizens on the tribunal appeal and hearing process.
- Providing legal and planning advice at different stages of the tribunal process, including representation in certain cases at case conferences and hearings.
Sheltering Major Planning Decisions from Appeal
The proposed new legislation would also include measures to exempt a broader range of major municipal land use planning decisions from appeal, which would provide municipalities with greater certainty and timely implementation of major decisions. The following matters would no longer be appealable under the proposed law:
- Provincial approvals of official plans and official plan updates, including approvals of conformity exercises to provincial plans.
- Minister's Zoning Orders.
Local Appeal Bodies would also be given more authority. They would be able to hear appeals on site plans, in addition to their current scope of minor variances and consents.
The legislation would also restrict applications to amend new secondary (i.e. neighbourhood) plans for two years, unless permitted by municipal council, and limit the ability to appeal an interim control by-law when first passed for a period of up to one year. The legislation would also protect municipal policies that support appropriate development around protected major transit station areas, such as GO Train stations and subway stops.