Ottawa’s Official Plan Amendment put on hold with surprise OMB decision

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Several Ottawa area land developers received a surprise post-Christmas present from the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) when it issued a ruling putting into question several aspects of the city’s most recent Official Plan Amendments (OPA).

The Feb. 23 ruling included instructions that the city should consider whether the planning horizon should be to 2036 instead of 2031, and hearings on appeals should be adjourned until the city completes its employment lands study and LEAR (Land Evaluation and Area Review for Agriculture) studies and – to anyone outside of the planning world an arcane concept, but vitally important in this context, that earlier official plan amendments (140 and 141) “are to be considered part of the Planning Act’s section 26 Comprehensive Review and therefore subject to the Section 26 consultative process.”

The ruling related to a motion by the Taggart Group of Companies and Walton Development and Management (Ontario) LP seeking the denial of approval of OPA 140, 141 and 150 “in their entirety.” The OMB in its February decision didn’t totally overturn the OPAs but its ruling certainly changes the picture, says Josh Kardish, chair of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association’s (GOHBA) builder/developer council.

Kardish says there have been many different perspectives on the issue. The GOHBA had decided to take a more granular approach, focusing on specific policy language within the OPA “so it is less prescriptive in nature,” and was working with the city to “flush out the issues and hammer them down into more appropriate language” as the association considered some language to be more appropriate for specific zoning bylaw rules rather than the overall official plan framework.

Soloway Wright lawyer Ursula Melinz, who has been representing the GOHBA through the OPA process, says the appeal filing deadline for the Feb. 23 ruling has passed.

“We haven’t heard that the city intended to appeal,” she said. “Staff are working on preparing the city’s response to the decision, which is going to the planning committee by the end of April.”

She said that while some people in the development community are happy with the decision, others are frustrated, including some of her clients who were working on plans under the new official plan provisions, which now may have to be put on hold pending the completion of the required studies and delayed hearings.

“If OPA 150 is truly on hold, and it may truly need to be that way, and if it takes until mid-2017 or late 2017 until all the studies are done, that may mean the plan will be on hold 18 months to two years out,” she said.

Kardish said the OMB decision reflects a “validation of concerns raised” by the industry. “This is being rushed,” he said. “You can slow it down” and get it right.

The longer time horizon and studies may show that there are needs for additional lands to be made available for development. “In a broader timeline, there’s a whole bunch of different doors open for the development industry,” he said.

Melinz said that some members of the industry are still attempting to ascertain what impact the ruling has on current development projects and what the next steps may be. What is clear is that the ruling confirmed that OPA 150 was deficient in some aspects so more work must be done by the city and the industry will likely have opportunities to be involved.

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