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Impacts of Bill 139 on Development Planning in Ontario: An interview with Aaron Platt of Davies Howe LLP

In the 1980s and 1990s, Toronto was considered a polite but uninspiring place—an adolescent city when compared to the more mature metropolises of the world. This all started to change shortly after Y2K. The skyline grew as new buildings were developed in the downtown core. As provincial regulations such as the Places to Grow Act (implemented in 2005) and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006) started to have real impacts, intensification began to evolve in neighbourhoods all over the city. By 2006, it was easy to see Toronto emerge as a truly interesting, dense, culture-filled, culinary, exciting place. 

Bill 139

Gone are the days when people would resent and criticize the central place the city holds in the country’s media and political landscapes. Now those very same people  Bill 139begrudgingly admire Toronto. They love the energy, restaurants, swagger, originality, pace and vibe. Toronto has changed. While the city still has problems, like transit inadequacy and lack of affordable housing, over the last 15 years, Toronto has grown into one of the most charismatic and desirable cities on the planet. 

The development community played a critical role in Toronto’s evolution. This all took place with the oversight of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), a provincial institution that functioned in various forms from 1906 (when it was founded as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board) until 2018 as the court of last resort for land development appeals in Ontario. While not every decision was perfect, this governmental institution facilitated changes within Toronto to accommodate its ever-expanding population and pluralism. In the process, the OMB earned what many consider an underserved reputation for favouring developer interests over democratic planning principles. 

In the last year of its mandate, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s now-defunct provincial Liberal government bowed to public pressure (and impressively low polls) as it sought to reform the land use planning system. Rather than attempting to improve the institution that had done so much good for the province and its capital, Wynne dissolved the Ontario Municipal Board and replaced it with a very different system. Her government’s passing of Bill 139 empowered the new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, the effects of which are only now starting to be understood by the development industry. 

In November 2018, Randy Gladman, VP. Development Management with Colliers Project Leaders spoke with Aaron Platt, a municipal lawyer and partner at the boutique planning law firm, Davies Howe LLP, about Bill 139 and its impact on the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto. Aaron was no stranger to the OMB, having represented developer and municipal clients on several occasions. Aaron is a leader in the community of Toronto-based lawyers working to sort out what changed as a result of Bill 139 and how to guide clients through the new order. Aaron has an inside view of how development methodology in Ontario is shifting in real-time. We spoke about the differences between the OMB and Bill 139’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, how the City of Toronto’s planning and entitlement process has transformed, the impact on the public, and what the new provincial Conservative government might do to further improve the process. 

Download a copy of the interview here.