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Monday, March 24, 2008

Developers vs. citizens - OMB

Mar 23, 2008 04:30 AM
Late last year, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) approved a controversial proposal to build a massive resort, including a 1,000-slip marina and an 18-hole golf course, at Big Bay Point on Lake Simcoe.

But that's not the end of the story. Shortly after the December ruling, the developer, Kimvar Enterprises Inc., served notice it would ask the OMB to order opponents of the project, including a ratepayers' group and its lawyers, as well as two local companies, to pay $3.6 million in costs related to the three-month hearing.

No date has been set to hear the cost application. But the staggering amount Kimvar is seeking has raised fears that it could deter community groups from taking their concerns about proposed developments to the OMB in the future.

OMB cost orders are unusual, but they are allowed in cases where a party has acted "unreasonably, frivolously, vexatiously or in bad faith."

Kimvar argues the conduct of its Big Bay Point opponents meets that test. The developer cites badly prepared expert witnesses. It also says its $3.6 million claim – which would be among the largest in OMB history – simply reflects the amount of money it has spent.

But Rick Smith of Environmental Defence, which helped pay the ratepayer group's legal bills and has been granted intervenor status on the cost motion, argues the developer's actions amount to intimidation. "Any citizen thinking about going to the OMB is going to be taking a hard look at this, and thinking twice," Smith says. We agree.

Where is Queen's Park on this issue? The government has shown no interest in intervening in this dispute over the awarding of costs, and Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson has ducked the Star's questions about where the government stands.

Surely the government can summon up the courage to say whether it believes a $3.6 million award is reasonable in this case.

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