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Board, Bye!: Changes to the Municipal Appeal Process under the Urban and Rural Planning Act, 2000

By: Joe Thorne, Giles Ayers, and Jayna Green

Introduction

Prior to June 1, 2023, decisions made by municipal town councils in Newfoundland and Labrador could be appealed to one of four Regional Appeal Boards pursuant to the Urban and Rural Planning Act, 2000 (“URPA”).[1] The Board would hear evidence and decide whether the decision under appeal should be confirmed, quashed, or varied.

However, the Regional Appeal Boards have now been done away with and replaced as a result of An Act to Amend the Urban and Rural Planning Act 2000 (the “Act”).[2]

Appeals will now be heard and decided by sole adjudicators appointed through the Independent Appointments Commission process.

While the jurisdiction of the adjudicators remains the same as the former Regional Appeal Boards — development applications, permit refusals and approvals, stop-work and removal orders, and issuances of orders made under specific sections of URPA, the Occupancy and Maintenance Regulations, Interim Development Regulations 2003, City of Corner Brook Act and the City of Mount Pearl Act –  adjudicators have also been given some useful new tools to make the appeal process run more smoothly.

Background and Major Changes  

The Act received Royal Assent on June 1, 2023. This legislation repealed Part VI of URPA, which governed appeals of municipal decisions. Under the old regime, the Regional Appeal Boards Establishment Order created the Western, Central, Eastern and Labrador Regional Appeal Boards. That Regulation was repealed, and appeal hearings will now be conducted by sole adjudicators.

Up to 20 adjudicators will hear appeals

The Minister can appoint up to 20 adjudicators for a three-year term, with the option for re-appointment of an additional term. Once appointed, adjudicators will serve until they are replaced or reappointed. An adjudicator has the same authority as the Board to confirm, reverse, or vary a decision, as well as impose appropriate conditions. Adjudicators can also direct the administrator or regional authority to carry out their decisions.

With the potential appointment of 20 adjudicators, the authors are hopeful that the municipal appeal process will speed up and a higher volume of appeals can be heard.

Dismissal of appeals without a hearing

Adjudicators now have authority to dismiss appeals without a hearing if they determine the subject matter of the appeal is outside their jurisdiction.

This is a significant change which will provide a boost to the timely progress of appeals and access to justice more generally. Prior to this change, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador had decided that the Boards did not have the jurisdiction to dismiss an appeal without a hearing, even when it was apparent from the documents filed by the parties that the Board did not have jurisdiction.[3]

The Boards’ inability to dismiss appeals without a hearing caused issues when combined with s. 45 of URPA that imposes a “freeze” on the work, development, or order until an appeal is resolved. A meritless appeal filed for the wrong reasons, against the wrong party, or well beyond the cut-off date could tie up a development or prevent a municipal council from enforcing the law for many months, even if the underlying issue could be dealt with summarily by the body hearing the appeal.

However, adjudicators will now be able to make a preliminary decision to dismiss an appeal that is outside of their jurisdiction without a lengthy wait for a hearing. This should resolve meritless appeals quickly and allow both business and municipal enforcement to run more smoothly.

Related amendments to other statutes

Other pieces of municipal and provincial legislation are amended by the Act:

  • Section 408(1) of the Municipalities Act, 1999 has been repealed, and now reflects that persons aggrieved by any order made under the relevant section of the Municipalities Act can appeal to an adjudicator within 14 days;
  • any person wishing to challenge a permit refusal by a municipal council in accordance with section 194 of the Municipalities Act, 1999 may appeal to an adjudicator;
  • The City of Corner Brook Act and City of Mount Pearl Act have also been impacted by the amendments;
    • Both municipal statutes grant those city councils with the authority to order an owner or builder to remove, modify, or stop work on a building. The appeal provisions of both statutes now reflect the new appeal process – permitting appellants to appeal to an adjudicator within the 14-day limitation period.

Transitional Provisions

Appellants who have filed appeals under the now-repealed appeal provisions of URPA, but have not yet received decisions from an Appeal Board by June 1, 2023, will be considered to have made an appeal to the adjudicator as opposed to the Board. Furthermore, decisions made by a Regional Appeal Board prior to June 1, 2023 will be considered a decision of the adjudicator. These provisions should ensure that those already involved in an appeal will experience a relatively smooth transition.


This client update is provided for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about the above, please contact a member of our Municipal Group.

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[1] SNL 2000, c U-8
[2] SNL 2022, c 14
[3] Noton Enterprises Limited, The City of Corner Brook v. West Newfoundland Regional Appeal Board (unreported oral decision of Justice Brian Furey issued February 20, 2020) at 12

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