January 2, 2006

Ontario Bill 51 will better align land use planning with sustainability

Proposed legislation introduced in Ontario's Legislature would reform the province's land use planning system in such a way as to make it more compatible with the government's energy efficiency and sustainability goals. Bill 51, the Planning and Conservation Land Statute Law Amendment Act, provides for new planning rules and planning tools to facilitate intensification and brownfield redevelopment, sustainable development, and environmentally sound community/design features. It would also clarify the role of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and make available to some municipalities the option of creating a local appeal body to deal with certain planning matters rather than the OMB.

"The proposed reforms would provide clearer rules and a more effective process for the public, local councils and others involved in planning our communities. They would also give local residents and community leaders more opportunity to play an important role in community planning and development," explained John Gerretsen, Ontario's Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister.

The bill would, among other things:

*require municipalities to have up-to-date official plans to help them make better decisions for their communities;

*allow councils to consider architectural and design features as a condition of planning approval, in order to improve the look and feel of their communities and to promote innovative and energy efficient buildings and communities or neighbourhoods;

*provide the public more input into planning decisions that affect their communities;

*make it easier for municipalities to redevelop former industrial sites (brownfields) to help meet housing and other community needs; and

*give municipalities the ability to promote the use of innovative ideas and technologies, such as solar panels, through land-use planning decisions.

Provisions in the proposed legislation enhance environmental conservation by improving the use of conservation easements as a tool to support the long-term stewardship and protection of agricultural lands, natural heritage areas and important watershed features on private lands. A conservation easement is a restriction, registered on the title to a property, which protects important natural features on that property by limiting development and/or restricting certain land uses for the term of the easement.

The proposed legislation would also and protect local decision-making by returning the OMB to its original role as an appeal body on local planning matters, rather than the main decision-maker. Other provisions would require the OMB to give greater weight to the decisions of local councils during the appeal process and would limit appeals to information and materials provided to the council when it made its decision. Finally, municipalities meeting certain minimum criteria would be authorized to establish local appeals bodies for some planning decisions such as minor variances.

Bill 51 is the latest in a series of strategic policy, legislative and regulatory initiatives put in place by the government to manage growth in Ontario in a way that ensures environmental protection. Previous actions have included the Greenbelt, the proposed Places to Grow plan, source water protection, the transportation strategy for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the proposed growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

The proposed legislation has been posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry for a 75-day comment period ending February 26, 2006 (www.ene.gov.on.ca, reference No AF05E0001)

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