'Friends of the development industry': Ontario Land Tribunal's role called into question

Development disputes in Ontario go to the Ontario Land Tribunal (Getty)
The Ontario Land Tribunal solves land disputes in Ontario (Getty)

Ontario officials are calling out the province's dispute resolution process for land use, saying it serves the needs of developers more than it does their communities.

The Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) is the next step after the local level, to resolve disputes related to land-use planning, environmental and natural features and heritage protection, land valuation, land compensation, municipal finance, and other matters.

Toronto councillor Mike Colle wants more education about the OLT.

"I've seen an increasing trend of developers bypassing the local planning process and going directly to the Ontario Land Tribunal," Colle told Yahoo Finance Canada.

"I think it's important for the people to know what [OLT] is because I would think 99 per cent of the population have no idea."

Colle says ​​he would rather see disputes handled at the local level and that there's no need for the OLT.

"The local planning decisions are much more democratic, and they shouldn't be left to an appointed, mysterious board that seems to be just friends of the development industry," said Colle.

Colle says part of the problem is that developers sometimes skip ahead to the OLT 90 days after applications at the local level, and before a municipal decision is made on multi-million-dollar projects.

Also See: The latest real estate news for housing prices, mortgage rates, markets, luxury properties and more at Yahoo Finance Canada.

Not just because the developer didn't make enough money

Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow also takes issue with the process and how developers can go to the OLT if they don't like the decision.

"What I would prefer to see is an appeal process that if the developer is going to appeal, just like the judicial system, there needs to be some merit for that appeal. Not just because the developer didn't make as much money as they wanted to," Matlow told Yahoo Finance Canada.

"They need to be able to say that wasn't done correctly, or that they skipped over a step where they fail to recognize a policy. There has to be some actual reason to go to appeal other than just a developer wanting to get more."

Matlow also says the OLT doesn't fit the needs of his or other local communities.

"It is incredibly frustrating when we know the needs of our community with respect to the needs for affordable housing, social services like school capacity, childcare, park space, infrastructure, quality of life needs. A developer has the ability to bypass the democratic process and go directly to a provincial tribunal that is appointed by the province which is unelected and unaccountable," said Matlow.

"They may live in Sault Ste Marie or Thunder Bay, which are wonderful places, but they may not understand the context of the priorities of local neighbourhoods in our city."

A number of local governments in several regions want the OLT dissolved, including Aurora mayor Tom Mrakas. He's been updating the growing list on Twitter as well.

In defence of the Ontario Land Tribunal

Others say developers' influence is overblown and the Ontario Land Tribunal is a needed process.

"The OLT is necessary in the current regulatory context. Given the powers municipal councils have under the Planning Act, I don't know if land use planning decisions can be purely political decisions," says a source employed with a municipality in the Greater Toronto Area.

"Similarly, given the unique needs of municipalities in a province as large and geographically diverse as Ontario, I don't think land use planning decisions can be driven purely by the private interests of the development industry. The OLT provides the necessary point where this tension can be mediated or adjudicated"

The source requested their name not be used, as they are not an authorized spokesperson for the municipality.

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains.

Download the Yahoo Finance app, available for Apple and Android.