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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

The OMB, while imperfect, helps protect Toronto against NIMBYism

In many neighbourhoods, the looming threat of OMB appeal is often the only thing keeping residents from total opposition to new development.

Many neighbourhoods in Toronto suffer from an anti-development, not in my back yard mentality.

Torstar News Service

Many neighbourhoods in Toronto suffer from an anti-development, not in my back yard mentality.

When I started writing about Toronto, it didn’t take long before I developed a strong position on the Ontario Municipal Board: I hated it.

There’s something about an unelected quasi-judicial board overruling neighbourhood planning decisions that’s bound to rub a guy the wrong way.

But over the years my view on the OMB has shifted. It’s definitely not good, of course. My colleague Jennifer Pagliaro just published an excellently-reported three part series in the Toronto Star outlining a bunch of its problems. Reform is needed.

But if we’re going to talk about reforms to the OMB, we also have to talk about NIMBYism. Because whatever the OMB’s faults, the not-in-my-backyard attitude that dominates local politics is worse.

In many neighbourhoods, the looming threat of OMB appeal is often the only thing keeping residents from total opposition to new development. Despite Toronto’s status as a growing city where demand for housing far outstrips supply, anti-growth attitudes run deep.

I have a collection of stories like this. In 2011, for example, residents in the Beach launched a campaign opposing a condominium, calling it oversized. It was six storeys tall.

In 2015, residents near Ossington Avenue sounded the alarm over stacked townhouses – buildings that allow two separate homes to exist on one lot.

And that same year, mid-towners erected lawn signs imploring the city to “save our streets from the density creep.” The “density creep” was a four-storey building located a kilometre away from a subway stop. The proposed project eventually went before the OMB.

Meanwhile at city hall, NIMBYism generally injects itself in politics in more subtle ways. The city planning department is historically starved for resources. The department’s net budget took a 2.6 per cent cut in the city’s 2017 budget, despite no shortage of work to be done.

And while those who oppose development often complain that the infrastructure does not exist to support new buildings, don’t forget that it is Toronto City Council’s job to fund and build infrastructure to keep up with growth. In the interest of keeping taxes low, they often choose not to do that job.

The rampant NIMBYism and reluctance to pay for growth is enough to make me wary of any major change to the planning status quo.

The Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario appear to share my concerns. In their report on OMB reform released this past summer, they lay out a series of smart reforms to the OMB, while also defending its continued existence.

The reason? “The threat that without an OMB local councils may become too beholden to constituents who don’t want to see any change in their communities is not an empty one,” the report says. We have to be careful, in other words, not to let the NIMBYs win.

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