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Thoughts on the OMB

Last night I watched CBC’s the Condo Game documentary. This is what it’s about:

“The Condo Game examines the forces at play behind the fastest moving condo market in North America – Toronto – and discovers that the glittering glass hides a sea of troubles.”

If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here at CBC’s Doc Zone. It’s about 45 minutes long.

Generally, I found the piece to be overly sensationalized. (If you watched it and it left you worried about condos, contact me. I’d love to hear from you.) However, that’s not to say that the documentary doesn’t raise some important points. One that I absolutely think is worth discussing is the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

Many developers like “the board” because it provides recourse. If the city fails to take action on a development application within 180 days, developers have the right to appeal to the board.

While I do think it’s critical to have some sort of mechanism to unlock a gridlocked planning process, I also think that it’s fundamentally problematic to give the province ultimate decision making power over municipal planning decisions.

Real estate development is very much a local business and these decisions should be happening at the local level. However, with the OMB looming overhead, it has left municipalities disempowered. “We’ll deal with it at the board” always remains an option. 

But what if there wasn’t a board? What if municipalities and developers had to figure out a solution between the two of them? We’d certainly end up with less wasted money (on expensive lawyers), but I think we’d also end up with better design and planning outcomes.

To do this though, the city needs to get their act together with respect to zoning. Almost nothing is zoned for what developers end up building. But I think this largely has to do with the fact that the city knows any dissenting decision will just get appealed. Again, they’re disempowered.

So I think it’s time we empowered cities. This may seem scary to some developers at first, but there’s a lot to be gained.

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