I’ve never attended an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing before, so I joined about 30 other people at Town Hall when it convened to hear the appeal of Innisfil’s Cookstown Heritage Conservation District (HCD) bylaw. The presiding Member of the Board reserved her decision after the 2-day hearing process. The Board’s website says most decisions are rendered within 45 days.
The experience got me thinking about the process in general. It is a somewhat formal, but limited, legal proceeding described as an ‘administrative tribunal’. There were only a few key questions to consider:
- Did the Town of Innisfil have legal authority to pass the HCD bylaw?
- Did the Town meet the required pre-conditions necessary to enact an HCD bylaw?
- Did the Town satisfy the requirement for public consultation?
In general, these encounters with our legal system look like a cash cow for lawyers, consultants, printers and paper makers. Others might not fare as well. The Cookstown appellants appeared embarrassingly unprepared for what transpired. The public impression is that developers come out ahead most often. And why not?
- Developers have the deep pockets to afford a team of legal counsel, planners, and consultants to challenge any municipality. They accumulate experience with each OMB hearing.
- Developers can calculate the benefit to them in dollars of winning an OMB challenge
- Municipalities are less able to put a dollar figure on an OMB challenge. What dollar value can be put on winning an incremental increase in ‘quality of life’? How much damage might a loss do?
- Municipalities are only as strong as their legal and planning staff. They are cautious about diverting money from core services or spending a limited budget on something that their taxpayers might consider a waste, especially if winning is in doubt.
- Individual appellants are the least equipped in terms of financial resources, legal expertise, and access to planners and consultants.
If not Heritage Conservation, then what?