The land acquisition for the 125-acre Goddard Park in London Grove Township involved a combination of resources, including 44 acres contributed as part of the Lamborn subdivision.
How it Works
To ensure that a municipality has adequate park and recreation opportunities, they are authorized under Section 503 (11) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code to offer property developers the option to dedicate public open space within proposed subdivision and land developments, pay a fee to be used instead of dedicating land (i.e., "fee-in-lieu"), or a combination of dedication or construction of recreational facilities.
The municipality will need to adopt a Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinance that reflects the policies established in the comprehensive plan, as well as the requirements of the state Municipalities Planning Code.
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
The applicant provides the land or funding for recreation facilities.
Additional Funding Potential
Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances can generate funds to match other grant sources.
Fee-In-Lieu can be used to meet recreational needs in areas where dedicated land may not be practical or available.
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 creating opportunities for walkable activities based on Smart Growth principles.
Recreation land or fees or a combination thereof, are to be used only for the purpose of providing park and/or recreational facilities accessible to the development.
Regulations Must be Followed
The municipality must follow other specific standards and procedures set forth in the Municipalities Planning Code.
In addition to identifying open space lands and desired recreational areas, East Bradford Township's Open Space, Recreation & Environmental Resources Plan offers the legal basis for the establishment of fees in lieu of dedication of recreational lands and facilities.
In addition to determining how much and what types of parkland will be needed to service new development, municipalities have to establish public dedication requirements. North Coventry Township ties the amount of land to be dedicated to the size of the development.
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:
Open Space and Recreation Plan
A municipality must prepare and adopt an open space and recreation plan. The plan must determine the municipality's recreational needs and contain objective standards for the amount of recreational land and facilities that will be needed to meet increases in population due to future 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 informal 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 Provisions
Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu are typically adopted as part of municipal Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance. The ordinance must contain objective standards for determining the amount of mandatory land for dedication. 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 provisions should contain standards to ensure that the land offered for dedication will be appropriate for its intended use; it should be sufficiently level, accessible, well-drained and conveniently located to meet the needs of future residents of the development. The ordinance language should preclude stormwater management areas, wetlands, excessively steep areas, land that will be difficult or expensive to maintain, or other undesirable areas to be offered for parkland dedication. Proposed parkland should also adjoin existing parkland areas when possible because of the opportunities of scale that can result, and the potential for easier maintenance.
Parkland 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 parkland 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 Homeowner's Association (HOA) instead, the municipality should ensure that the HOA will be appropriately capitalized in the future to permit the continued maintenance of the recreational land. 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 of final plan approval. Some municipalities require that the recreational areas be established at an early phase in the construction process, to ensure that these areas are provided in accordance with the approved plan.
Municipalities may be reluctant to accept offered land for public dedication when the land is too small, fragmented, constrained or is 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.
Public Recreation Requirements are not a Substitute for Open Space Preservation
Having parkland dedication and/or fees is important for providing public recreation facilities but is not a substitute for open space preservation. Municipalities can preserve open space through cluster/open space zoning, true agricultural zoning, transfer of development rights, subdivision ordinance open space requirements, and purchase of open space land or easements.
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.
Only Method for Park Impact Fees
Municipalities that are interested in charging park and recreation impact fees for new development must follow the procedures outlined in section 503(11) of the Pa Municipalities Planning Code.
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. A Fee-in-lieu option is available.
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% of the gross tract area for residential uses, up to 25% for institutional uses. The ordinance also offers a fee-in-lieu option.
London Grove Township includes park and recreation lands and facilities in its Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance with particular attention on opportunities for providing land for active recreation. An applicant for subdivision or land development where it is required to set-aside land for open space can meet these requirements by dedication of land which is appropriate for recreation, paying a fee-in-lieu, or a combination of land and a fee. The requirement amounts to one acre per 20 new dwelling units or $1,000 per dwelling unit.
Kennett Township Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance. Upon agreement with the applicant or developer, the township may require the construction of recreational facilities, the payment of fees in lieu thereof, the private reservation of the land, or a combination of the above for park or recreation purposes as a condition precedent to final plan approval.