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Politicians urge greater citizen engagement in OMB decisions

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 For years Hamilton councillors have complained about the lack of transparency and limited public input in how the province conducts its land use planning and appeal system, especially how the Ontario Municipal Board operates.

They have criticized the limited citizen notification about proposed developments within neighbourhoods, ignoring municipal planning policies and decisions, and how the Ontario Municipal Board will allow a development even though the traffic infrastructure isn’t available to handle the future vehicles projected in an area.

So when the province announced late last year it had launched a review of its land use planning and appeals process, city staff provided draft comments to the review last month by the Jan. 10, 2014 deadline. Councillors added some of their own at the Feb. 5 general issues committee meeting.

City planning staff stated they had wanted a complete overhaul of the land use planning and appeal system, rather than the tinkering the province is doing, calling it “short sighted.

“Meaningful changes to the system are needed …,” including looking at eliminating the OMB, hearing costs and length of hearings; long wait times for decisions; allowing the OMB to have respect for municipal decisions; whether complex OMB appeals should be overseen by two or more chairs rather than one; and improvements to the administrative process including adding a staff person to record all OMB proceedings, stated staff.

“Minor tweaking of the process is not enough,” stated staff.

Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark wanted the notification area for a proposed development to be increased from 120 metres to 500 metres. He said in upper Stoney Creek when an owner proposed expanding a mall, the notification for the public meeting only went to the local retail shops. Residents within the area weren’t informed, said Clark because they were beyond the 120-metre radius.

“The only ones informed are the tenants,” he said. “None of the residents knew about it.”

It will cost the city more to deliver the notifications to residents by Canada Post but city staff said the expenses are recoverable. The city, said staff, should also be allowed to inform residents about a public meeting by alternative means and not just a newspaper advertisement.

Staff and councillors also agreed that developers should make a pre-consultation with the municipality mandatory for applications.

Among the other 23 suggestions city staff have made to the review panel include limiting the appeal process to the OMB for variances, and extend the review of municipal official plans from five to 10 years. Municipalities should be allowed to plan for a 50 years horizon, rather than just for 20 years, said staff.

 “The network is not meshing,” said Stoney Creek councillor Maria Pearson. “We can’t be held hostage (by the province).”

A few councillors also urged the OMB to consider traffic infrastructure needs where the development under discussion will be located. Currently the OMB doesn’t take into account the traffic need of an area.

Clarksaid it has become a particular problem along Rymal Road. He said the south side of the roadway is all residential and commercial developments, yetRymal Roadremains only two lanes, with no sidewalks or crosswalks.

The review by the province is being done to make it “predictable, cost-effective and responsive to the changing needs of communities.”

The province had already reviewed the land use planning system in 2004 and 2007. Under this latest review provincial officials stated they are not considering scrapping the OMB, how the OMB operates or its procedures, eliminating the province’s approval authority, or matters of other legislation.

The province only allowed for an 80-day public consultation period, including six workshops, and comments made through the government website.

It is unknown how long the province will take to make its recommendations public.

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