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We experienced cruel autocracy of the OMB

March 20, 2014 will long be remembered by residents of Rumsey Rd. as the day they experienced firsthand the cruel autocracy of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

The hearing concerned the appeal to the OMB by the owners of the property at 28 Rumsey following the rejection of their application by the Committee of Adjust-
ment.   The application included 12 minor variances for floor space index (size), lot coverage, setbacks and height.

And by the way, they would demolish an existing classic Leaside home on a street block that had intact frontages thus far.  The neighbours felt the development would have a most significant impact on the established neighbourhood and adjacent homes.

The Leaside Property Owners’ Association (LPOA) wrote that “Given this proposal is for new construction, there is no compelling reason why the home cannot be designed to comply with our zoning bylaws. There is no existing structure or site condition to constrain design.

“This standard sized Leaside lot can accommodate a generous sized home while respecting the zoning bylaws….  the impact of the proposed variances will be excessive, will negatively impact both adjacent neighbours and contribute to the erosion of the Leaside’s heritage and architectural character.

“This application is not minor and not in keeping with the provisions and intent of the existing zoning by-laws and Official Plan which were created to preserve the character and guide the built form of our residential neighbourhood.”

The Committee of Adjustment evidently agreed, because it rejected the application.

However, the owner appealed to the OMB and the neighbours met with the owner in an effort to reach agreement and avoid an OMB hearing. This did not go well and so everyone trooped down to 355 Bay St. on March 20.

The conduct of the OMB board member in this case made for one tough day for the neighbours, and for the LPOA.

First, it appeared to us that the board member favoured the appellant right from the start, accepting almost all of the appellant’s submissions and objections, and consistently challenging the lawyer representing a participant (a neighbour), and our participants group throughout the day.

Second, she refused to allow officers of the LPOA, an incorporated residents’ association in the area of the subject property, to be recognized as representing the association. This is particularly odd since LPOA has appeared as a party or given evidence in other OMB proceedings.

In addition, the board member refused to accept a letter from the LPOA that confirmed our legal right to represent the association, and she accused us personally of “game-playing tactics”.

Third, because the LPOA was not provided party status, we were prevented from providing evidence including, but not limited to, the community’s efforts to protect the neighborhood character and the LPOA’s application for a Heritage Conservation District which would cover the subject property. This was clearly relevant evidence.

We have attended several OMB hearings over more than a decade and have never witnessed a board member being less accommodating to the participants.

In addition, the fact that the city did not, surprisingly, support the decision of the Committee of Adjustment hurt our case.

Despite the final outcome in the May 28 decision (we lost), we should be proud that our neighbourhood stood up and spoke to what we believe is an inappropriate application.

Our experience lends support to the growing movement to reign in or abolish the OMB. In Toronto there have recently been public meetings to hear the views of the public as to whether the city should establish its own Local Appeal Body to hear appeals of minor variances similar to the 28 Rumsey Rd. case. It is unclear as to whether this would really change anything as the rules would still be set by the province.

However perhaps we might have a little more leverage to get an adjudicator who appears less biased in favour of development.