The Ontario government wants to endow the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal—which was tasked with considering local planning rules when arbitrating developer applications—with the same power the defunct Ontario Municipal Board had to overrule decisions made by local-level officials.
But Josh Matlow, long a critic of the OMB, is leading a group of Toronto city councillors who have vowed to fight the change, citing a developer community with too much clout at the expense of an enfeebled City Hall.
It appears the councillors have some support from the real estate community.
“Historically, the OMB has been very pro-developer, but I don’t think that strengthening the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal’s power will necessarily be a good thing, so from that perspective I agree with Josh Matlow,” said Sage Real Estate Ltd. team lead Christine Cowern. “Unless they’re creating a lot of mid- to lower-income housing, all it will do is create more unrestrained density and put services at stake in different neighbourhoods.”
As a sales representative, Cowern says that she fields innumerable calls from families distraught they’re priced out of Toronto’s real estate market, and she reckons that will only become exacerbated by an emboldened LPAT.
“Developers will focus on building homes in the highest price points they can,” she said, “but the supply of affordable housing has to increase because this Doug Ford initiative will allow developers to have a free for all. They’re going to build on the higher luxury end that’s mostly unaffordable for the majority of people. You’re not looking at developers that will build three-bedroom condo apartments at $350,000.”
However, one reason housing supply lags well behind its demand is project approvals take longer than they should. A Residential Construction Council of Ontario study determined that rezoning took six months in 2006 and three and half years a decade later. Unsurprisingly, giving LPAT more teeth pleases developers.
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the OMB is back, however, we are pleased to see that the provincial government is committed to processing the backlog at the LPAT and helping expedite the approval process so as not to impede supply,” said Sam Crignano, president of Cityzen Development Group. “Like many other developers, we have thousands of potential homes at the LPAT waiting for decisions.”
Toronto’s infrastructure is heavily strained, though, and Cowern fears an unchained LPAT could be the impetus for pressure too great to bear.
“We’re already at our maximum, in terms of how much our infrastructure can support, and by putting in high-rise apartment complexes, which is pretty much the only thing developers can build because there’s not enough land to build freehold communities, it will put a huge tax on our infrastructure,” she said. “It’s already at a breaking point.”