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Pennsylvania real estate disputes grow over parks' development

There's an eternal conflict in the world of real estate. It involves the fight between those who would develop the land in urban areas to increase tax revenue and promote economic prosperity versus those who would keep each existing acre of pristine land in its untouched condition to preserve the beauty of nature. The preservationists usually are the underdogs in these real estate disputes, but they've nonetheless succeeded in keeping thousands of Pennsylvania acres from the developer's backhoes.

One area of major real estate litigation involves disputes over small and medium-sized parks in Pennsylvania, which are owned by local municipalities, townships, counties and municipal authorities. There's an inconsistent mix of regulations and land restrictions that may or may not ultimately prevent a park from being partially or totally sold off for commercial development. Often these real estate disputes about land use and the validity of restrictive provisions end up in the Pennsylvania appellate courts for final resolution.

That's probably because people feel emotionally committed to their real estate preferences and environmental allegiances. One current case in Downingtown in Chester County involves a small 40-acre park that the borough wants to sell for development, to increase tax revenue and to see the population swell. The borough has been under an agreement of sale on the Kardon Park tract to sell to developers.

The Chester County court recently approved the sale to the private developers of about 20 acres, roughly half of the tract. The same judge denied the sale in 2009 but noted this time that the legislature since lifted a requirement that it be absolutely held for public use. The judge fashioned a compromise by keeping the other 20 acres in their current condition for public uses now existing, with provisions to improve existing trails.

The Chester County's Court's compromise is disappointing in some respects to both parties. It's thus expected that the real estate disputes in this case will crawl through the Pennsylvania appellate courts and may possibly get as far as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court prior to final resolution. If it gets there, the final decision may contain some watershed principles regarding the ability of public entities to facilitate private development of public lands.

Source: philly.com, Judge's ruling on sale of park has new appeal ahead, Tricia L. Nadolny, Dec.12, 2013

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