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Can the OMB be reformed?

The province is launching a review of OMB. For many communities, it is too late, but could such a review ever achieve its goals?

omb_dudeAs you may recall, our association represented our members and the community at large in a fight against a racist development at OMB. We have found the OMB to be poorly organized and quite corrupt, in its deference to the stronger party and ignorance of the law.

Writes Kate McGillivray for CBC News:

Ted Nixon welcomes an announcement by the province Wednesday that it's launching a review of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

After all, the Toronto homeowner has had three years to think about why the review "has to happen."

In 2013, the OMB, which hears applications and appeals related to land-use planning laws, allowed a builder to put two large houses behind his North York house, even though the City of Toronto had rejected the building application because it violated city bylaws.

"They wanted something like 13 or 17 variances — I mean, the houses were not at all in keeping with the neighbourhood — and they got them all approved. You've got to be kidding," Nixon said.  

Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Ward 22, St. Paul's, says it's a story he sees all the time in Toronto.

"Time and time again, council will make a decision that a developer will simply not like," he said, "and they'll go to the OMB, and far too often, they'll get their way."

Matlow and Nixon are both hopeful that the OMB review announced Wednesday by the province will lead to radical changes in how the tribunal is run.

They aren't the only ones; in March, 40 municipalities passed motions calling for major changes to the land use tribunal.

At the announcement, Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro said the government is considering giving more deference on decision-making to local councils.

That would make it harder for developers to go around municipal decisions and appeal to the OMB to intervene.

Matlow, who said he's had his eye on the OMB for 30 years, said he would like to see change start with a demand that the board comply with the city's official plan, instead of merely requiring them to "have regard" for them.

He'd also like residents like Nixon and developers to be on a "more equitable playing field."

"Right now, financially, it's really, really difficult for the average resident or group of residents to challenge a deep-pocketed developer," he said.

Let us hope that this review will improve OMB or replace it with a more accountable structure.

In a follow up to the Rail Deck Park story, Andrea Janus writes for CBC.

Mayor John Tory says the city will find a way to build a new downtown park and pay for major infrastructure repairs, because the proposed Rail Deck Park is "the last chance to do something really bold" regarding greenspace in Toronto.

Yesterday, city council unanimously approved $2.4 million for design work on the proposed downtown park that will look at all the logistics, including who will help pay the estimated $1.05 billion cost.

The 21-acre park would be built on top of the rail corridor that runs between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way.

Tory said Thursday that over the years, council has "been very good" about approving new office and condominium developments for the downtown core. But that has created a greenspace deficit.

"Anytime you have a chance, and I would say in this case it's the last chance, to do something really bold in terms of a big new park in the centre of the city, you should seize that opportunity especially in light of the fact that you have a deficiency of parkland in that part of the city," Tory told CBC's Metro Morning.

Tory noted that other major priorities must be addressed, including hydro and transit infrastructure, as well as more community facilities, in addition to the proposed park.

But, he rejected the notion that paying a large sum for a new park would make it impossible for the city to address other pressing concerns, including a backlog of repairs at Toronto Community Housing.

Some councillors also argue that the Rail Deck Park plan favours downtown residents over those in the suburbs.

"People in these discussions always think they have to set it up as a choice. And I think a lot of the times these things are false choices, especially when it comes to the suburbs versus downtown," Tory said.

"I just don't understand why people say, 'If we do this park therefore we won't be able to afford to build more transit or have proper housing or fix the roads.'"

Who owns air rights?

He said "difficult discussions" are coming this fall on how the city will pay for all of its priorities, be it fixing current infrastructure or planning for new projects, such as the park.

"I'm actually very focused on fixing Toronto Community Housing now because it's not acceptable," Tory said.

"But that doesn't mean that we have to sit back and say, 'Therefore, we should abandon ideas of properly providing parkland for people who live in the downtown and creating a great new park.' The other alternative that people would have is that we would just leave this land on the course it was on, which was for a developer... to come along and build more condos and more offices there, or just leave that ugly scar on the downtown that separates one part of downtown from another."

In addition to the cost, a potential hurdle for the park could be the question of who owns the air rights to the space above the tracks.

Recently, documents emerged stating that a company named Craft Acquisitions Corporation purchased all of the air rights and space above the tracks in December 2013.

Tory acknowledged that some city money will have to be spent on "lawyers and title searchers" to look at the issue.

When asked whether the city would have to expropriate the land, Tory said that won't be necessary because it's city land and council can vote to change the official plan to designate it as parkland, which would make it off-limits to an office or condo.

Ultimately, Tory said, the park is about building a liveable city for residents 25 years from now.

"We can have something here that in a generation people will be saying, 'thank god they did that and didn't have a bunch more condo towers and office towers.'"

The downtown park is definitely not a bad idea and we support the Mayor in his attempts to secure funding. TCHC and and should deal with its funding issues by transitioning their housing units to self-funded Co-ops.

Sources / More info: cbc-omb, cbc-park

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