General Assembly Gives New Flexibility to Municipalities
The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code authorizes municipalities to require developers, when developing land, to dedicate a portion of the land for public recreation or, if a developer is willing, pay a fee in lieu of the land dedication. Act 135 of 2014 clarifies, elaborates on and modifies the subdivision and land development rules regarding these dedications. Three matters are addressed:
- Use of land and fees;
- Banking and accounting;
- Elimination of time limit.
Use of Land and Fees
The rules originally stated that the dedicated land, fees or combination of the two “are to be used only for the purpose of providing park or recreational facilities accessible to the development.”
The new rules state that:
The land or fees, or combination thereof, are to be used only for the purpose of providing, acquiring, operating or maintaining park or recreational facilities reasonably accessible to the development. [emphasis added]
In other words, under the new rules, municipalities are clearly authorized to use fees not only for acquisition and development of facilities but also for operations and maintenance.
Banking and Accounting
Previously, municipalities were required to deposit the fees
in an interest bearing account, clearly identifying the specific recreation facilities for which the fee was received…. Funds from such accounts shall be expended only in properly allocable portions of the cost incurred to construct the specific recreation facilities for which the funds were collected.
The new rules only require that the fees be placed:
in an interest bearing account, clearly identified as reserved for providing, acquiring, operating or maintaining park or recreational facilities.
The intent of this change appears to be to provide municipalities flexibility in banking and accounting for fees while still requiring that any particular fee be used to support the development that generated it.
Elimination of Time Limit
The rules previously required municipalities to refund any fees that that they failed to use for an allowed purpose within three years of receipt. The new rules instead only require that:
Upon request of any person who paid any fee under this subsection, the municipality shall refund such fee, plus interest accumulated thereon from the date of payment, if the municipality had used the fee paid, for a purpose other than the purposes set forth in this section.
The time limit for expending collected fees was eliminated.
For More Information
House Bill 1052 (printer’s no. 3691) which Governor Corbett signed into law as Act 135 on September 24, 2014, may be viewed at http://conservationtools.org/libraries/1/library_items/1321
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association published Public Dedication of Land and Fees-in-Lieu for Parks and Recreation: A Guide to Using Section 503(11) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code in 2008. It’s available at http://conservationtools.org/libraries/1/library_items/253. (The guide will be updated in 2015 to reflect the changes to the law.)
Municipalities should consult with their solicitors for guidance in interpreting and acting on Act 135’s changes.