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Sunday, March 3, 2024
Editorial: Flawed development system needs fixing
Editorial File

There has to be a better way.

It’s easy to say that about just about any process. Most times they can be streamlined, made more efficient and be used to fix flaws.

But when it comes to development processes and downright loopholes that allow developers to skirt democracy, it’s time for a change.

This week we’ve written about one of those loopholes, which allows developers to run out the clock on municipalities, giving them the ability to take their projects over the heads of our elected officials and bring their proposals directly to the Ontario Land Tribunal.

So far, most tribunal rulings have been in favour of development companies.

Thanks to changes implemented by Doug Ford’s government, once a municipality has deemed a project application to be complete, it has just 90 to 120 days, depending on the situation, to approve the project.

If the city or town fails to do so, the developer can appeal to the tribunal.

 It’s a flawed process for several reasons:

• Most municipalities don’t have the staff resources to deal with every application in 90 to 120 days.

• There is insufficient time for resident input and feedback.

• The Ontario Land Tribunal has a disturbing history of favouring development, to the point that of 178 decisions by the agency in 2022, only six went against developers, according to a report by the Hamilton Spectator.

That’s a discouraging pattern and when combined with flaws in the system, it gives developers free rein to do whatever they want, wherever they want.

It’s much more than a simple “grey area” of legality, as one expert planner labelled it.

And what’s even more disturbing is that there doesn’t appear to be any limits on the reasoning a town might not have made a decision on a project within 90 to 120 days — such as whether the developer is even bothering to respond to the town’s comments, the resident input or concerns from elected council members.

In essence, a developer can go on a long vacation, ignore the town’s messages and requests for an updated plan, and then take the project to the tribunal at the end of the day and almost certainly win whatever they want.

It’s a major flaw in the system.

So what can be done about it?

Our politicians can direct town staff to deny any permit if a developer isn’t playing ball.

No answer to our emails or letters? Then no building.

No concern or willingness to adjust plans based on what residents desire? Then you can’t get what you want either.

Or the town could just deem every application incomplete until a full assessment, including resident input, has been done and responded to by the developer.

Developers are integral – they build our homes. And we have densification targets to meet so that housing is something every Canadian can enjoy.

And developers shouldn’t have to wait forever for a decision on their projects.

But there has to be a better system that allows for a more democratic process, especially surrounding contentious developments.

People’s voices are important and developers, large or small, shouldn’t be able to steamroll residents’ concerns and input in the name of making an easy buck.

If that’s the way Ontario wants to do it, let’s stop having elections, let’s stop having open houses for projects — and stop acting like the people get a say.

Because as it stands, they don’t.


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