The Local Planning Appeal Support Centre (LPASC) was setup in 2018 in conjunction with the creation of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) which has replaced the role of the former OMB (Ontario Municipal Board).
As its name suggests, LPASC is a support centre developed by the previous Liberal Government which, according to their website, “Helps members of the public understand and navigate land use planning matters in Ontario.” The service makes the planning process more accessible and understandable to the average layperson, thus making it a more equitable playing field when it comes to resolving planning related disputes, whether that be large scale development or someone adding an addition to their home. It also provides information for municipalities to supply to residents who may come in to City Hall with questions.
Before LPASC, you were otherwise on your own. With LPASC you have a resource to help A) decide if you have a case for appeal in the first place; B) go about appealing the decision.
Before I went to school for planning and started working in the industry, I had no idea whatsoever how development worked. I knew about zoning bylaws and that you’re supposed to abide by them, but I had no idea someone could apply to change them. I didn’t know anything about provincial or municipal policies. It took me two years in school plus working in the field to understand the planning process.
It therefore stands to reason that the average person wouldn’t have a clear understanding of how to navigate the process of appealing a decision made by a municipal council or a committee of adjustment. This is where LPASC comes in, offering free professional services in a way that makes sense to those who are not in the planning profession. They also offer professional services such as planning or legal advice, legal representation or a combination of the above. They offer their services via email, phone or in person.
Most people will go their entire lives without having to deal with a planning dispute and although the issues we tend to see on the news are related to large-scale development such as subdivisions, condominium complexes and suburban sprawl, many planning matters take place quietly in the background. These applications may be as innocuous as someone wanting to split their property into two lots and sell one off for another residential lot; to build a larger garage than the zoning bylaw permits; to increase the height of their house; to reduce their setbacks to their property lines, or; to add a new use to a commercial site that the zone does not typically permit. These changes are often done through minor variance or consent to sever applications which are most often heard by the Committee of Adjustment, a quasi-judicial committee who are often regular citizens selected by council to hear the smaller planning matters of a municipality.
For example, if your neighbour applies for a variance, you will receive a notice in the mail inviting your comments and to attend a hearing. Perhaps you’re not happy with what your neighbour is proposing and don’t feel it’s an appropriate development for the area, but the committee who hears the application grants the request because they think that it meets the requirements for development. You want to appeal. While you’re informed of costs and deadlines, you were otherwise on your own before LPASC was established.
LPASC was created to make the playing field a little more level.
The above example is just for a minor change to a single lot. Imagine trying to navigate the system when up against a large multi-million-dollar developer, who has access to high-profile lawyers, engineers, planning consultants, environmental planners, etc. These appeals can take years and cost thousands of dollars to fight.
Without LPASC, anyone can still go ahead with an appeal, but most people can’t afford to hire a planning consultant or a lawyer to represent them, so they either won’t bother, or they’ll have to navigate the waters alone. LPASC was created to make the playing field a little more level by assisting residents in, first, deciding if there are grounds for an appeal–there must be a legitimate planning reason for an appeal (i.e. you can’t appeal a decision simply because you don’t like a neighbour or their choice of roofing material) and, second, through providing help in navigating the process. Yes, it costs money to run it, but it’s a public service meant to give the average Ontarian a voice in matters related to their community. LPASC helps to cut the red tape for the average person and it is a helpful aide to those who use it.
The reasoning behind its impending closure is, according to the CBC: “In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the ministry of the attorney general said the government has to make ‘difficult decisions’ about programs and demand for the centre’s services has been low, averaging just three enquiries per day”.
The Centre has been open for less than a year. Did the attorney general consider the number of visits to the LPASC website just to obtain information? Sometimes new initiatives take time to take hold. At the very least they could reduce staff, maintain the website, and increase the information provided on the site. Otherwise it will be a big disservice to the people of Ontario as they are once again left in the dark on planning matters that may impact their communities and quality of life.