Planning Framework

 Land Use Planning - The Planning Framework

Community or land use planning can be defined as managing our land and resources.  In Ontario, the Planning Act provides the legislative framework for land use planning.  It is the basis for local planning administration, the preparation of planning policies, development control, land division, provincial interests relative to municipal land use planning and the public’s right to participate in the planning process.  Although the Planning Act is the primary legislation governing municipal land use planning in Ontario, municipalities must also consider other related legislation such as the Greenbelt Act, 2005, the Places to Grow Act, 2005, the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Heritage Act and the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) when dealing with planning matters.

The legislative framework under the Planning Act includes processes and tools for planning and controlling development or redevelopment in Ontario communities.  These tools include official plans, zoning by-laws (including minor variances), plans of subdivision, site plan control and community improvement plans.  While in most cases, the approval of land use planning documents and applications rests with Council, as decision-makers, Council must also act within the limits of their powers as provided to them.

In addition to complying with requirements of the legislative framework, good decision making also requires that Councils exercise their powers in a manner consistent with the principles of natural justice. 

Natural justice includes the notion of procedural fairness and may incorporate the following guidelines:

  • Persons that may be affected by pending decisions should be given adequate notice about the proceedings;
  • Decision-makers should declare any personal interests they may have in the proceedings.
  • Decision-makers should be unbiased and act in good faith.  A decision-maker can not be one of the parties in the case, or have an interest in the outcome. This is expressed in the Latin maxim, nemo iudex in causa sua: "no man is permitted to be judge in his own cause".
  • Proceedings should be conducted so they are fair to all the parties – and decision-makers should not prejudge a case before all relevant information is presented and all relevant facts considered - expressed in the Latin maxim audi alteram partem: "let the other side be heard".
  • Parties to proceedings should be entitled to ask questions and provide evidence in support of differing views and opinions.
  • Decision-makers should take into account relevant considerations and extenuating circumstances, and ignore irrelevant considerations.

Of course, people do not always agree on planning decisions.  Because of this, the Province of Ontario has established the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) as an independent tribunal to hear appeals and make decisions on a variety of contentious municipal planning matters.  When people are unable to resolve their differences on decisions made by local planning authorities, they can appeal to the OMB.

When a matter is appealed to the OMB, the Board takes the place of the approval authority and can make a decision within the authority provided for in the Planning Act.  The OMB’s decision on all matters (appealed to it under the Planning Act) is final except when the matter has been declared to be of provincial interest by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, when the OMB allows for a review, or when the courts allow for an appeal.

The Province of Ontario has published a series of "Citizen's Guides to Land Use Planning" that can provide additional information about planning and development processes in Ontario municipalities.

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