Maybe pigs will fly. Maybe Roswell aliens and UFOs were real. Ya never know.
But if Ottawans think a major change is coming to their neighbourhoods because Queen’s Park killed the Ontario Municipal Board, well you just don’t know how the world works. It’s something to do with money. And for that to change would be as likely as pigs becoming aviators and aliens showing up on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
The OMB was the developers’ best friend. They would throw city planning out the window with regularity.
Video above: Pigs do fly. Who knew?
And there actually was a time when that mattered … when some city councils actually followed their own zoning and obeyed the rules.
But as The Who so aptly said when social change was at its zenith:
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
Yessirree, we’ve got a new constitution … no more OMB and instead local planning review councils.
These local panels can make the city stick to its planning rules. How? To what extent? Zoning variances, too?
City planning in Ottawa is like trying to squish mercury with your finger … it just flies all over the place.
Municipalities will finally be kings of their own courts. But just what became king?
This is a city council that is run with the velvet fist of Mayor Jim Watson. What Jim wants, Jim gets. Meanwhile its planning department created the concierge program for the city’s biggest developers. Talk about too tight with the people you are supposed to be administering.
It’s a city council and planning committee that has been co-opted by campaign donations from the very people these elected representives are supposed to administer directly. How do you feel with the highest authority of planning in your neighbourhood residing with Watson and planning committee chairwoman Jan Harder? They make the OMB, the developers best friend, look like Mother Teresa.
Don’t forget Watson was the Ontario minister of municipal affairs and did nothing to really reform the OMB. Now he’ll be the unassailable authority over planning in Ottawa. Feel better now?
Too many councillors and the mayor depend on developer money to win elections. The city will be easier to control for them than the OMB. It’s already run by special interest groups not the least of which is the development industry. And if you think this will change because the province ruled that developers can’t donate to municipal election campaigns, you are so wrong. The development firm’s president can donate as an individual as can the vice-presidents and every employee of the company if that’s what it takes for the industry to get its way. And maybe even the president’s third aunt twice-removed from Topeka, Kansas.
So all Queen’s Park’s changes to the campaign donation rules amount to is that gifts from developers will be harder to identify by anyone who takes the time to check on public campaign expenses.
While we’re on the subject of money, don’t forget that council and the planning department get development charges for every project that’s approved. If you’re running debts like Watson is at the city, when a developer says jump, council just pleads … how high?
So the development industry has co-opted the planning department and the politicians and that’s how they get those three or four extra storeys worth multi-millions of dollars. The OMB was bad … the municipalities could be worse. Politicians and planning take money straight from the development industry. The OMB, bad as it was, didn’t do that.
Oddly, the provincial and local development associations are nervous about all these changes from Queen’s Park. But then if you had the run of planning in the core AND the suburbs, you’d be nervous, too. Never change a winning game. Don’t worry builders, everything will be all right.
One other thing. Your agent hasn’t seen who is appointing the local review boards. Jim Watson? Jan Harder? The province? The developers?
That’s rather a glaring omission.
And remember that the province in these changes says municipalities must allow big housing along transit lines. Just how far away from stations will the city call transit-oriented development. Greely? Vars? Osgoode? Fitzroy Harbour? It’s up to the city.
So local politicians and community groups are happy about the new legislation. Well they should be if you have a thoughtful civic government. You won’t find that in Ottawa. Reform in Ottawa would be a call for city councillors to wear conservative hats at jaunty angles.
Sure pigs might fly some day. We could discover Roswell was true. But don’t count on it anytime soon.
Like The Who said:
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
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