A big win for parks! The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled yesterday (June 20) on the Kardon Park case. The Court, in a unanimous decision, adopted the rock-solid, reasonable arguments the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and others made in defense of our parks and rejected those of the developer and municipality who seek to liquidate a portion of a park for a housing development. The Court found that:
- A municipality can’t grant easements and other interests in public park properties for private purposes. If it’s a park, its uses must serve public purposes. (This doesn’t mean that the municipality can’t work in partnership with private parties to provide services to the public in parks, only that parks must be used to serve public interests, not private interests.)
- A municipality can’t sell off park land just because the General Assembly lifts state Project 70 restrictions on the land. The Court recognized that Project 70 rules serve to ensure that state Project 70 grants given to local governments are used (or repurposed) appropriately; Project 70 rules have nothing to do with whether the dedication of public parkland can be undone. The question of when it is appropriate to undo a dedication of public park land is addressed instead by the Donated or Dedicated Property Act, which states that the park use must be “no longer practicable or possible and ceased to serve the public interest. The Act assigns the local Orphans’ Court the sometimes complex task of adjudicating whether this condition is met and what the municipality must do to fulfill its trustee responsibility to the public. (It’s important to understand that neither the state nor the municipality own a park; rather, they hold the park in trust for the park’s owners—the public.)
(The Court sent an issue regarding parkland acquired through eminent domain back to a lower court, because it found that everyone was using the wrong version of the eminent domain code in their deliberations.)
Justice Debra Todd wrote the opinion, which was joined by all the Court’s justices.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association has a lengthening track record of successfully defending Pennsylvania’s parks in the General Assembly and the courts. The Association appreciates its partnership with PennFuture, which provided legal services, and the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society, which joined PALTA in this latest effort.