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Thread: Planning boards that approve everything

  1. #1

    Planning boards that approve everything

    In Toronto we have a Committee of Adjustments which approves all development applications. We have a city council which approves all development application, and if a development somehow managed to be refused we still got a unelected Municipal Board, appointed by the province, which sole purpose is to approve everything.

    As a result we got a booming population with construction as the biggest growth sector in the province. I would even say quality of life is increasing due to all these new developments being built.
    I just hope it does not backfire.

    Of course we have some horrible developments which would of not been allowed with current zoning. Yet, We are getting far more beautiful tall towers which also would not of been allowed under the zoning.

    Developers are free to create wonderful structures as they no longer worry about zoning, height limits or density. However, sometimes they try to fit as many units as possible in a tall rectangle box so they can generate a huge profit.

    Is there any other city in the same situation? and any opinions on the current state of planning in Toronto?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Houston.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Looks like you'll be buying a copy of " A law unto itself" as advertised in the recent issue of Plan Canada.

    Seriously, do not be disheartened, elected officials are up for review every 4 years. If you really don't like what they are doing question their choices in a format consistent with their choices and the legal framework they were made in.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  4. #4

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    When I worked in New Hampshire, a lawyer friend did a study of Zoning Board of Adjustment actions on zoning variance applications. He looked at several towns, large and small, over a seven or eight year period. He reviewed not just the decision document, but also the minutes of the meetings.

    He found that most ZBAs approved most variance applications, as he expected. Even more interesting, he found that the only statistically significant factor in the decision was whether the neighbors complained. It was almost a straight-line relationship: if nobody complained, the application was approved, if somebody complained about it, the application was denied. He found lots of applications where there was no hardship shown in the record, but the apps were approved. He even found a few where a hardship was clearly present, but somebody complained about it and the application was denied.

    His analysis is several years old now, but I bet the results would be the same today - and not just in NH.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I'm happy to see that the Plan Board in my town will deny a bad plan even if nobody shows up. But Bullwinkle is right. If somebody - even just one person - comes to object, it carries a lot of weight with the Plan Board and/or the City Council.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    A lot of communities were having this problem in WA state when I was there... that and policitcal posturing, bringing up irrelevant information, etc... Many municipalities ended up going to a hearings examiner system instead of a board of adjustments or planning commission on most variances, conditional use permits, etc. I loved the hearing examiner system... you always got a fair, effecient hearing. I miss those days!

  7. #7
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Originally posted by Bullwinkle
    Even more interesting, he found that the only statistically significant factor in the decision was whether the neighbors complained. It was almost a straight-line relationship: if nobody complained, the application was approved, if somebody complained about it, the application was denied. He found lots of applications where there was no hardship shown in the record, but the apps were approved. He even found a few where a hardship was clearly present, but somebody complained about it and the application was denied.

    His analysis is several years old now, but I bet the results would be the same today - and not just in NH.
    Yep, that is my board to a T

  8. #8
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Originally posted by Bullwinkle
    When I worked in New Hampshire, a lawyer friend did a study of Zoning Board of Adjustment actions on zoning variance applications. He looked at several towns, large and small, over a seven or eight year period. He reviewed not just the decision document, but also the minutes of the meetings.

    He found that most ZBAs approved most variance applications, as he expected. Even more interesting, he found that the only statistically significant factor in the decision was whether the neighbors complained. It was almost a straight-line relationship: if nobody complained, the application was approved, if somebody complained about it, the application was denied. He found lots of applications where there was no hardship shown in the record, but the apps were approved. He even found a few where a hardship was clearly present, but somebody complained about it and the application was denied.

    His analysis is several years old now, but I bet the results would be the same today - and not just in NH.
    That's still pretty much the case for rural NH, but the attitude is definitely changing in some of the southern NH communities, where ZBA's seem to have grown a backbone in recent years. Having said that, I sit as an alternate on the ZBA in my hometown, and I lost track of how many times I was the "1" in 4-1 approvals.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  9. #9
    maudit anglais
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    I think OPer's analysis of the Toronto situation is a little extreme - they don't approve everything. And by and large, by the time a development gets put forward for approval, staff have negotiated to a proposal considered acceptable to the City. We do also write the occassional refusal report too...and usually council sides with staff on those.

    The OMB is a major concern though - almost every major development ends up before the board, and all local decision-making power is basically lost.

  10. #10
    [i]

    The OMB is a major concern though - almost every major development ends up before the board, and all local decision-making power is basically lost. [/B]
    ...and alot of the minor applications also. Here in Ottawa in the last two months I have heard of two OMB cases each regarding a SINGLE parking space in the front yard. Ouch...

  11. #11
    Has the OMB ever refused a large condo development since the tories took power?

  12. #12
    We have to remember a few things...Queen's Park actually controls the municipalities, and has final say on anything...they only provide municipalities with what responsibilities it sees fit, and takes them away or over-rides anything they please....the OMB is simply the highest authority...the Supreme Court of Ontario planning. It isn't cheap to take your case to the OMB, and is a delay...developers only use it as a last resort...a lot of the time they make a deal with municiplities.

    Zoning, density, and height limits are highly regulated, and inforced...Toronto city planning has no resemblance to Houston at all. We only here about a small percentage that apply for an amendment. And the city's official plan is, and never was intended to be written in stone to cover every square inch of the city (impossible anyway). That's why amendments need to be applied for, so it can be considered on a case-by-case basis.

    The reason a project like Minto-midtown and Ritz (or whatever it's calling itself these days) get approved, while seeming to exceed the "official plan" by ridiculous amounts, is because it actually conforms to what the city would like to see at that location....so it gets approved.

    The city knows that a small parking lot in the financial district will just stay a parking lot forever if the owner is only allowed to build an 8-storey office building, or a 12-storey res building. Introducing residential space to a 9-5 office district is the smart thing to do.

    Where the city falls down, is when they allow a historical building like the Concourse to be demolished and replaced by a new office tower...saving part of the facade just doesn't cut it...the site can accomodate both the old and new tower, and it has already been proven that old buildings can be retrofitted and still turn a profit.

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