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Guelph joins the call for major reform to OMB

Proponents for change say Ontario Municipal Board process is being abused by developers
20160201 Guelph City Hall Council Chambers KA

Guelph is joining municipalities throughout the province calling for a widespread reform of the Ontario Municipal Board.

The provincial government is currently conducting a review of the OMB and municipalities want to see it stripped of much of its power.

The OMB is an independent body that conducts hearings and rules on matters appealed to the OMB, mostly regarding planning issues. Often it is a developer or citizen (or citizen’s group) appealing a decision made by municipalities.

Guelph city council voted unanimously Monday night to support a motion led by councilor Cathy Downer to support the call for change and to ask for a public hearing held in Guelph as part of the provincial review.

So far roughly 40 municipalities have joined the call for reform.

“There’s great momentum for this … we want to put them (the province) on notice that we need significant reform,” said Downer, who will be part of a provincial summit of councilors in May on the issue.

She said there is concern the province’s reforms will be “tinkering or tweaking” instead of the systematic change many feel is necessary.

“Every municipality is looking for real reform,” Downer said. “It’s not always about the decisions, it’s about the process.”

Those critical of the role of the OMB feel it is often used by developers to circumvent municipal planning policies and decisions and as a way of intimidating citizens or citizens groups.

“It’s a significant problem for us in regards to our official plan,” councilor Phil Alt said.

Councillor Leanne Piper said reform of the OMB is “long overdue.”

“I’m bewildered that the decisions are taken out of the hands of elected officials,” Piper said.

Several neighbourhood groups spoke at Monday’s council meeting, adding voices to the call for change.

Michelle Richardson of the McElderry Residents Community group said developers abuse the process by bypassing the will of council and using deep pockets to wear down opponents.

The McElderry group has been battling HPI Developments over the future of the old St. Matthias Church property on Kortright Road.

“People feel hopeless” at the OMB, she said. “The process cannot be viewed as fair or democratic.”

Bruce Ryan of the Old University Neighbourhood Group said the OMB accepts “expert opinion over local sentiment” and that it’s always easy for someone to find “a friendly expert.”

“Money interests are much more likely to win decisions,” Ryan said. 

Councillor Dan Gibson, while pointing out that most developers do not abuse the process, said the problem lies with those that use the OMB to bypass the will of council.


Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 20 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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