Monday, December 12, 2005

OMB reform: developers 0,
democratic excesses 1

The Ontario Liberal government introduced legislation today to restrict the Ontario Municipal Board's authority over urban planning issues and make it more difficult for developers to circumvent planning decisions made by local councils. If passed, the legislation would, among other things:

  • reinforce the OMB's original role as an appeal body rather than a principle decision-maker on planning disputes between municipalities and developers;
  • require the OMB to give "greater weight" to the decisions of municipal councils during the appeal process;
  • require municipalities to have up-to-date official plans subject to revision every five years;
  • allow councils to consider architectural and design features as a condition of planning approval; and
  • allow municipalities to establish local bodies for appeals on some minor variances.
The OMB, author of a contentious ruling on London's ward system last month, is described by the Canadian Press as "a costly and bitter battleground in which municipalities and their citizens are pitched against developers." One assumes that by "citizens" the CP is not rhetorically disenfranchising those individuals who live, work or shop in the "industry's" products.

The OMB's decisions in favour of developers have in the past, disproportionately perhaps by anti-development lobbyists, compromised its perception as an impartial arms-length arbiter. However, those decisions have often managed to curb the arbitrary and politically-motivated regulatory excesses of politicians who pander to NIMBY-style opposition to development — the OMB frequently rescues cities from irresponsible economic policy and heavy-handed property restrictions. These ends, though necessary, are obtained at the expense of allowing elected politicians to take populist stances on development issues without having to be held accountable in the end. Loosening restrictions on municipalities' planning authority may be an unappealing prospect — London has spent $220,000 so far in legal fees in unsuccessful attempts to defend the recklessly political Richmond Street zoning bylaw — but local government in Ontario will remain a child's game until voters and councillors are not saved from the consequences of their dirigiste fantasies. A little competition in regulatory regimes in Ontario would punish those towns and cities that allow their elected politicians to pander to their own "I got mine" prejudices. Unfortunately, the legislation will not go far enough.

Update, December 13, 2005: The London Free Press reports that deputy mayor Tom Gosnell is pleased with the proposed OMB reform:
"Giving more deference to local councils is appropriate because the public can change the makeup of a council every three years. …It's more democratic than leaving the decisions to a board that doesn't understand the history or interests of a city."
Alan Patton, a lawyer for local developers, offers a perspective less indulgent to politicians' grandstanding rhetoric:
[…] he's not convinced local politicians will like the changes, especially if more deference is shown to local councils and residents.

"That falls into the category of 'Be careful what you ask for because you might just get it,'" Patton said.

Instead of just taking planning issues into account, Patton said the changes could allow developers appearing before the OMB to show other issues that influenced the decisions of politicians, including personality conflicts, biases and the trading of favours.

4 comments:

Daniel said...

Here's a good article with relevance to Fogtown, that after reading you may wish to link to:

http://www.taemag.com/issues/articleID.18881/article_detail.asp

via Q and O

Daniel said...

Sorry for being brief -- busy now. Anyway, since it starts off on a seemingly unrelated note, let me quote a paragraph from further on:

"Urban liberalism fails the poor:

"Certainly New Orleans was following a very conventional program of urban liberalism. Local leaders had become convinced that becoming a “port of cool” was the ticket to success. Never mind the grubby fiscal and regulatory basics of encouraging business activity. Instead, city and state leaders adopted Richard Florida’s trendy “creative class” theory, and held a conference just a month before Katrina promoting the idea that a cultural strategy of fostering edgy arts and boutique entertainment districts was a promising way to bring in high-end industry. Over the previous decade, city leaders had already transformed the once-bustling warehouse district into a tourist zone. Before the hurricane hit, state and city officials were looking to expand the now-infamous convention center at a price tag of some $450 million.

"Amidst the focus on les bons temps, high-paying core industries like the port and energy production were left to decamp to places like the less lovely but far more business-friendly and efficient city of Houston. (See sidebar on page 26.) This is a tragic story which played out in similar ways in many city halls.

"The result of these unfortunate political decisions was to leave many urban cores with nothing but some often largely vacant office towers, Potemkin tourist districts, lousy public schools, ineffective police departments, and blocks of decrepit neighborhoods where residents are more dependent on government checks or jobs, or criminal activity, than on paid employment."

MapMaster said...

Thanks, Daniel, I appreciate the article. Kotkin previously published an excellent article on the consequences of local Creative Cities policies that are all the rage these days.

Are you by any chance Daniel Holt from Publius Pundit? Send us an email! I couldn't find it on your blog.

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