Before this shift back to local decision making could have any effect, however, a Conservative Government was elected in October 2018 and it recently introduced legislation to expand the powers of the LPAT and allow it to make its own determination of the best planning outcome – essentially returning it to the rules that had governed the OMB. Once again, there are criticisms that this change will favour developers at the expense of the views and wishes of municipal councils.
There is little doubt that these latest changes were introduced to facilitate the work of developers, whether or not their particular projects might be locally supported. It is also entirely understandable that local citizens would fear the approval of projects that might dramatically alter their neighbourhoods. In addition, as a matter of principle I favour leaving municipal councils with as much discretion as possible so that they can respond to local needs and concerns – which is essentially their raison d’être. And yet …
Density versus NIMBY in the GTA
However valid these considerations might be on a province-wide basis, I have reservations about them when it comes to the situation in the Greater Toronto area (GTA). The explosive population growth in that area has led to skyrocketing housing and rental costs. It has also increased the already massive traffic congestion in the region. Existing planning policies are a major cause of this situation, destined to worsen markedly with a 40% increase in population anticipated over the next two decades. One third of the City of Toronto is zoned for detached single family homes only. New high rise housing is being built in a small swath of the city where land is very expensive. Additional housing, mostly in the form of single family homes, continues to be built in outlying areas, resulting in more lengthy commutes and traffic congestion.
It seems to me beyond dispute that if the Toronto area is to remain livable there needs to be a significant increase in density, within the city itself and especially near any public transit routes. Sprawl must be reduced and the long commutes that inevitably accompany it. More people must live close enough to work to contemplate using public transit, cycling, or walking. If municipal councils have the main say in land use decisions, NIMBYism will almost certainly prevent the kind of increased density that is necessary for the city. If the provincial land use tribunal has the main say in such matters, developers and density will prevail. Unpalatable as that will be for many, it may be the best hope for a livable city in the future.