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Markham joins growing movement to turf Ontario Land Tribunal to stop developers 'pushing the envelope'
March 8, 2022

Markham has joined the growing movement among municipalities to turf the Ontario Land Tribunal.

Markham Coun. Karen Rea -- who tabled the motion in support of Aurora’s proposal to abolish the provincial adjudicator that addresses appeals to land-use planning decisions last month -- said the time has come to turf the outdated, unaccountable, appointed body so control of local planning issues are in the hands of the municipalities where it belongs.

“This is our city, our official plan and it should be our decision to ensure that our vision is what is ultimately built, ensuring that growth is co-ordinated and meets our community’s needs,” she said, adding the tribunal basically exists to overrule local decisions limiting maximum densities of developments in accordance with official plans already hammered out through public and stakeholder input.

“It allows landowners to push the envelope further than what is in the best interest of the community as a whole knowing full well they will probably be approved if they appeal.”

She said the appeals process is not speeding up development or cutting red tape, providing affordable housing or a more diverse mix of homes, or boosting housing supply as the government contends.

“In fact, development appeals are costly and may delay housing starts by over three years on average. Those cost of those hearings are ultimately borne by purchasers and taxpayers.”

Rea added if landowners would build what was allowed in the city’s official plan, permits would be issued promptly and much of the public consultation meetings would not be required.

“I'm not aware of any application that this council has said no to when it conforms to our official planning zoning. In fact, we've also supported amendments when we felt it was appropriate.”

The Ontario Land Tribunal replaced the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) in 2021. In turn, LPAT had replaced the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in 2017.

Rea said the current Progressive Conservative government continues to overturn positive changes achieved through a reform of the OMB “on a whim” and adding Markham’s voice to the 100 or so municipalities calling for change is a necessary step to fix a broken system.

“This needs to be done now, not after the election. If we send a strong message, they will have to address it.”

The issue speaks to the very root of representative democracy and accountability, said Coun. Keith Irish, adding that turfing the tribunal would give municipalities the final word on planning decisions.

“We should be the ones accountable,” he said, adding locally elected officials know better what is right for their communities than tribunal members “who would very likely have difficulty finding Thornhill, Markham Village, Unionville and Milliken on a map.”

Coun. Reid McAlpine, who supported the motion, said if the tribunal is dissolved, the city will have to manage its planning process much better than it has historically.

“We would need to make sure that our official plan and our zoning bylaws are up to date at all times,” he said, adding the latest updated plan from 2014 still includes sections that were created in 1987.

“That's not good enough.”