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Changes to the Land Use Planning Appeal System

Archived Backgrounder

Changes to the Land Use Planning Appeal System

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Ontario passed the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act 2017, which overhauls 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 

Once in force, the act will establish the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal to replace the Ontario Municipal Board. It will amend the Planning Act to eliminate "de novo" hearings for the majority of land use planning appeals. Instead, the tribunal will function more like a true appeal body for major land use planning decisions. 

The act includes the following reforms aimed at giving communities a stronger voice in local land use planning decisions:

  • Under the new standard of review for land use planning appeals involving matters like official plans and zoning bylaws, the tribunal will only be able to overturn a matter if the tribunal determines that the municipal decision is inconsistent with, or does not conform to provincial policies and municipal plans.
  • The tribunal would then be required to return the matter to the municipality with written reasons when it overturns a decision.
  • The municipality will then have 90 days to make a new decision on an application under the new law.
  • The tribunal will retain the authority to make a final decision 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 will 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.

Faster, Fairer and More Affordable Planning Appeals

The act will introduce major changes to the way land use planning appeals are conducted to reduce the length and cost of hearings and create a more level playing field for all participants. These reforms include:

  • Requiring the tribunal hold a case management conference for major land use planning appeals to identify and narrow the scope of the appeal and to explore opportunities for mediation and settlement, which could avoid the hearing process all together.
  • Establishing clear timelines for the hearing process to help ensure timely decisions.
  • Creating statutory rules regarding the conduct of hearings, including setting strict timelines for oral hearings and limiting evidence to written materials in major land use planning appeals.
  • Eliminating lengthy and often confrontational examinations and cross-examinations of witnesses by parties and their lawyers at the oral hearings of major land use planning appeals.
  • Empowering the tribunal to examine parties and other individuals who appear before the tribunal and providing the tribunal with modern adjudicative powers to promote active adjudication, provisions for alternative hearing formats and permitting the assignment of multi-member panels.

Free Planning and Legal Support

The act will establish the free Local Planning Appeal Support Centre, a new provincial agency, which will help Ontarians access information and advice about the appeal process. The centre will be modeled on the Human Rights Legal Support Centre and will deliver the following services to help people understand and more effectively participate in the appeal process by:

  • Providing general information about land use planning.
  • Offering guidance to citizens on the tribunal appeal and hearing process.
  • Providing legal and planning advice at different stages of the appeal process, which may include representation in some cases.

Sheltering Major Planning Decisions from Appeal

The act also includes measures to exempt a broader range of major municipal land use planning decisions from appeal, which will provide municipalities with greater certainty and timely implementation of major decisions. The following matters will no longer be appealable under the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act 2017:

  • Provincial approvals of official plans and official plan updates, including approvals of conformity exercises to provincial plans.
  • Minister's Zoning Orders.

The act will 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 also protects municipal policies that support appropriate development around protected major transit station areas, such as GO Train stations and subway stops.

Local Appeal Bodies will also be given more authority. They will be able to hear appeals on site plans, in addition to their current scope of minor variances and consents.

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