The Pennsylvania General Assembly comes back into Harrisburg today for an eight-day session. This legislative session will end on November 30, and any bills that don’t get passed by then will die. All indications are that the representatives and senators will not be coming back into session after the election – at least not for serious business. Members, faced with a backlog of unfinished business, will be busy passing as many bills as possible – but will be trying to avoid voting on controversial issues this close to the election.
But a bill teed up for final passage in the Senate would change settled law that protects local parks from being sold for development – that should be controversial. HB 2224 would allow local governments to sell parks if they paid so much as $1 for the land unless there’s a specific deed restriction dedicating the land to public use. Local governments could sell parks even if the public currently enjoys the park’s amenities and no matter how the park serves the public by protecting water, wildlife habitat and air-cleaning, cooling stands of trees. This bill, introduced by Rep. Cutler (R-Lancaster) in February, sailed through the House on a vote of 197-0. Speedy passage in the Senate is expected as soon as this week.
A law passed in 1959 laid out an orderly process to allow local governments to sell public assets that they no longer deem useful. Local governments have sold and attempted to sell parks in the past, but the courts have ruled that if people use the park, the local government has a duty to hold that land in trust for its citizens.
So what's wrong with that system that led Rep. Cutler to want to try to change it? HB 2224breaks a functioning process that both allows local governments to dispose of park property that has outlived its usefulness, but also protects those park assets which the public currently enjoys. Turns out that Progressive Housing Ventures, LLC wants to use an East Caln Township, Chester County park – Kardon Park – to dump its stormwater into and to have it count as the development’s open space. That’s where so many bad bills come from – private interests seeking a solution to a specific problem – but that solution breeds unintended consequences for the rest of us.
In July, a judge overturned a lower court ruling allowing the sale saying that the township could not sell the land because “it was purchased by the township with specific state funds. In this matter, the township first needed permission from the state Legislature to use the parkland for uses other than “recreation, conservation and historical purposes,” which it did not have when the conditional use application was approved.”
But the developer had already attempted to cover its bases in the event of what they must have anticipated would be a loser in court by getting Rep. Cutler to introduce the bill delivering to them the property they want. But Kardon Park is not some overgrown, weedy derelict. It’s a lovely community asset with lots of supporters in the Friends of Kardon Park.
If the Senate passes HB 2224, this could be the fate of your favorite local park if a developer decides it would be a good place for houses rather than trees, trails, soccer fields and picnic areas. Go here to let your senator know you value your local parks and that there is no need to tear down a well-developed process to fix what is not broken. You should do that today – the Senate may well vote this week.