Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances
Recreational areas and parklands are often designed as part of subdivisions and land developments. Municipalities are authorized under Section 503 (11) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code to require property developers to dedicate public open space within proposed subdivision and land developments. An applicant or developer may also agree with a municipality to construct recreational facilities, pay to the municipality a fee to be used instead of dedicating land (i.e., "fee-in-lieu") or a combination of land dedication, construction of recreational facilities, or the payment of the fee. The dedicated parkland or the payment of the fee is to be used by the municipality to ensure that future residents of the subdivision or land development have adequate park and recreational opportunities.
Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances can provide the following benefits:
- Energy Conservation: Recreational areas provided through Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances inherently conserve energy by encouraging efficient land use, reducing the reliance on vehicles to access recreational areas, and by creating opportunities for walkable activities based on Smart Growth principles;
- Recreational Opportunities: Recreational areas and opportunities can be created during the design stage of subdivisions and land developments, when design flexibility is potentially greatest;
- Reduced Reliance on Public Expenditures: Public expenditures for recreational facilities are reduced;
- Additional Funding Potential: Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances can generate funds to match other grant sources; and
- Flexibility: Fee-In-Lieu can used to meet recreational needs in areas where dedicated land may not be practical.
The following limitations may be associated with Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances:
- Cannot be Used to Provide Parkland in Other Areas: Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances cannot be used to address an existing lack of recreational areas (i.e., Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances cannot be used to provide recreational areas for existing neighborhoods that do not have any).
- Recreation Plan Required: The Municipalities Planning Code requires that the governing body must have a formally adopted recreation plan, and the park and recreational facilities are in accordance with principles and standards contained in the subdivision and land development ordinance;
- Accessibility Requirements: Recreation land or fees, or combination thereof, are to be used only for the purpose of providing park or recreational facilities accessible to the development; and
- Regulations Must be Followed: The municipality must follow other specific standards and procedures set forth in the Municipalities Planning Code.
How To Use This Tool
The Municipalities Planning Code establishes specific procedures for the creation and administration of Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances. Municipalities should observe the following procedures:
A municipality must prepare and adopt an open space or recreation plan. The plan must determine the municipality's recreational needs and contain objective standards for the amount of recreational lands and facilities that will be needed to meet growth and development. Public input into the plan is essential.
The open space and recreation plan should define the types of recreational areas that are needed in the municipality. Municipalities should ask their citizens (through surveys or other means) to determine the appropriate mix of active and passive recreational areas. Some municipalities may call for passive recreational areas such as trails and natural areas to be provided in areas that may have greater proportions of steep slopes or wooded areas. Other municipalities may promote active recreational areas such as sports fields. Municipalities with well-prepared and adopted open space and recreation plans will be able to defend their policies and requirements in the event of a dispute with applicants.
Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance
Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances are typically adopted as part of municipal subdivision and land development ordinances. The ordinances must contain objective standards for determining the amount of mandatory land for dedication. (Refer to Figure 4-18 in Linking Landscapes). The ordinance should also include a formula that can be used by applicants who choose to pay the fee-in-lieu instead of the dedication of land. Municipalities should note that this fee will need to be adjusted periodically to reflect changes in land values.
The ordinances should contain standards to ensure that the lands offered for dedication will be appropriate for their intended use; they should be sufficiently level, accessible, well-drained and conveniently located to meet the needs of the development. Subdivision and land development ordinances should not allow stormwater management areas, wetlands, excessively steep slope areas, lands that will be difficult or expensive to maintain, or other undesirable areas to be offered for parkland dedication. Parklands should also adjoin other existing parkland areas when possible because of the opportunities of scale that can result, along with potentially easier maintenance.
Parklands may be privately-owned, but only upon agreement of the applicant (municipalities cannot require the private reservation of land or the construction of recreational facilities, or the payment of fees-in-lieu of public dedication, without the agreement of the applicant). If the applicant agrees, the private ownership of parklands will remove the maintenance responsibility from the municipality but may also result in limited public access. If parkland is not offered for dedication but will be retained by a home owner association instead, the municipality should ensure that the home owner association will be appropriately capitalized in the future to permit the continued maintenance of the recreational lands. Easements should ensure that parkland is not converted to other uses in the future. Public ownership provides more opportunities for use by a wider community, but places maintenance and administrative responsibilities on the municipality.
Development Review Process
Subdivision and land developments should meet the dedication requirements as a condition to final plan approval. Some municipalities require that the recreational areas be scheduled at an early phase in the construction process, to ensure that these areas are provided according to the approved plan.
Municipalities may be reluctant to accept offered lands for public dedication when the lands are too small, fragmented or are otherwise inappropriate. In such cases, the municipality should be willing to negotiate with the applicant to accept an offer of fee-in-lieu of dedicated land. However, the municipality should ensure that the fee-in-lieu reasonably reflects the market value of recreational land that would otherwise have been offered for dedication by the applicant.
East Bradford Township includes recreational and open space requirements in its Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance, and links its requirements to the East Bradford Township Open Space, Recreation and Environmental Resources Plan and Linking Landscapes. The amount of park and open space land required to be dedicated shall equal at least 2,000 square feet per dwelling unit in any proposed residential subdivision or land development or at least 500 square feet per each 1,000 gross square feet of building area (on all floors) in any proposed nonresidential subdivision or land development.
North Coventry Township includes community facilities, park land and open space standards in its Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance, and includes a range of required dedicated open space of 12 percent of the gross tract area for residential uses, up to 25 percent for institutional uses. The Township also discusses a fee-in-lieu provision.
Section 503 (11) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code addresses "Provisions requiring the public dedication of land suitable for the use intended; and, upon agreement with the applicant or developer, the construction of recreational facilities, the payment of fees in lieu thereof, the private reservation of the land, or a combination, for park or recreation purposes as a condition precedent to final plan approval."