This week, councillors looked at a new process for receiving information and providing direction on Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) appeals, which have more than tripled in Collingwood in 2021 over previous years.
As part of council’s strategic initiatives standing committee meeting on Monday night, Summer Valentine, director of planning, building and economic development, said that in a typical year the town deals with two major appeals on average. By the end of 2021, the town had received notice of seven Collingwood projects engaged in the OLT process.
Moving forward, once an OLT notice of appeal is received by the municipality, a notice of receipt would be provided to council through a public session update.
“We have taken so many steps for transparency during our term, and this is may be one of the last holes we needed to fill,” said Coun. Yvonne Hamlin.
“I am very encouraged to see that when an appeal is filed, council will be told in a public session so our community will also know,” she said. “I found it somewhat unsettling to have residents ask me about particular appeals when I didn’t even know they were under appeal.”
A staff report will also be prepared to be presented to councillors in-camera with background information and a general outline of the issues at play in the appeal from staff, including input from the town's solicitor. At that time, pending the direction received by council on the initial report, the town solicitor would either inform the OLT of the town’s withdrawal from any further participation in the appeal or the intent to be a party to the appeal.
As OLT applications can take years to complete, council would then be informed periodically in-camera on major updates. At minimum, an annual update would be provided to councillors.
At the conclusion of any appeal where direction from council was provided to actively participate, a final update would be provided, summarizing the decision and orders of the OLT, along with any activities or next steps required to be undertaken by the town to implement the outcome.
The advice of the town solicitor would be sought on a case-by-case basis to determine if the final case summary could be presented in open session.
The Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) adjudicates matters related to land use planning, environmental and natural features and heritage protection, land valuation, land compensation, municipal finance, or heritage. When a land owner disagrees with a planning decision made at their municipal council, they have the option of appealing that decision to the tribunal. For instance, if the town turns down a development proposal, the developer can appeal the decision to the OLT.
Decisions of the OLT are final.
According to the staff report provided by Valentine, appellants, applicants and/or municipalities periodically pursue settlements for a variety of reasons, thereby avoiding what often are expensive hearings, with uncertain outcomes. A two-week hearing, for instance, can cost a municipality more than $100,000.
The 2021 municipal budget allocated to OLT legal costs was $23,000 and expenditures to-date exceed $82,000. The total current municipal budget for 2022 OLT costs is $100,000.
If staff time and consulting costs were included, Valentine noted the resources being directed to OLT matters would be far more significant.
“We are facing not only in this municipality but throughout Ontario, a planning framework that runs the risk of superseding good planning principles,” said Coun. Deb Doherty. “I think it’s very important to be cognizant as we review all these appeals that we should not be pressured or, frankly, bullied into approving what is otherwise best and highest practice for planning in this community.”
Mayor Brian Saunderson agreed.
“This is an aspect of risk management,” said Saunderson. “We can assess OLT appeals with costs and merits moving forward in a way that allows public consultation in that process. It’s going to be an increasing burden for this council and for our staff.”
The currently active Ontario Land Tribunal appeals for Town of Collingwood planning matters are:
- Huntingwood Trails (Collingwood) Ltd at 5 Silver Creek Drive (due to non-decision)
- Blackmoor Gates GP at 33 Findlay Drive, 22 Campbell Street and 774 Hurontario Street (due to non-decision)
- Two appeals for Collingwood Harbour House at 31 Huron Street (due to non-decision, likely to be consolidated)
- Bridgewater at 11644 Highway 26 West (due to non-decision)
- 12 Fourth Street W. (Appeal of council decision – partial refusal of heritage permit)
- Consulate Developments (Ontario) Inc. et. Al at 11790, 11878 Highway 26 West (Appeal of Council Decision – official plan designation of subject property)
An appeal related to non-decision can occur when the town does not meet the deadlines included in the Planning Act for making a decision on a development application.
Coun. Mariane McLeod noted four of the OLT appeals are due to non-decision, and asked if the Ontario Land Tribunals timelines had changed.
Valentine said that potential explanations for the rise overall in litigation may include limited staff resources available at approval authorities, a more engaged public, an evolving policy and regulatory landscape and a general increase in complexity of development applications.
“In the past couple of years, the Planning Act time frames have been reduced and that was ostentatiously to get housing to market more quickly. It has had an effect on the number of appeals as well,” said Valentine.
At the end of the committee meeting, council voted unanimously in favour of receiving the report, adopting the new general process for reporting OLT appeals to council, and asking staff to continue to monitor budget and workload resources allocated to OLT matters.
The decision will need to be ratified during the next regular meeting of council on Jan. 24.