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Have you noticed any large signs on properties explaining that a planning application has been made related to the land? In my last column in this monthly series about building a city and how the building industry mobilizes when a transit plan is given a green light, I decoded those development proposal signs and explained that a land owner has to make an application to the town or city for permission to improve the land use.
Those notices are also a sign that there will be an opportunity for you to get involved in the planning process. The Planning Act sets out rules for holding public meetings to discuss the proposed vision. There are also cases where I’ve heard some developers will voluntarily bring their team together with the local councillor and the public to hold additional information meetings before the statutory meeting to get them involved in the process from the start.
Sometimes communication breaks down and, if a planning application isn’t endorsed by a town or city staff and approved by council, the land owner can appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
I believe the OMB plays an essential role in the approval process. It provides an impartial and independent tribunal that is removed from local political pressures and renders decisions in accordance with the Planning Act.
Nobody wants to go to the OMB, but an appeal to an independent, non-political, unbiased decision-maker is essential to ensure that any municipality, community, ratepayer association and non-profit agency, along with the landowner, has an opportunity to present and test the merits of an application against sound planning principles.
I know that change can be tough. I’ve been a planner for my entire career, so I can also say with confidence that change can be good. There are a number of examples across the GTA where an OMB decision paved the way for a new land use and now the area is celebrated. Toronto’s Distillery District is one example, and the Shops and Residences at Don Mills is another. There are also cases where the OMB decision opposes land uses and a recent example was the denied proposal for a large retail complex in the Leslieville neighbourhood.
An important planning principle is to build complete communities and to do that a land owner interested in participating has to research and study what the neighbourhood looked like in the past, what it looks like in the present and what it could look like in the future.