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A municipality may express an interest in acquiring specific land (or easements thereon) for trails, streets, parks, open space networks and other public purposes by establishing an “official map” that “reserves” this land. If a landowner seeks to develop reserved land, the municipality has a year to pursue acquisition of the land from the owner before the owner may freely build or subdivide.
An official map shows the locations of planned future public lands and facilities such as streets, trails, parks and open space. The official map expresses a municipality’s interest in acquiring these lands for public purposes sometime in the future and notifies developers and property owners of this interest. Official maps may be used by townships, boroughs, cities, and counties. An official map is not a municipal base map, existing or future land use map, a zoning map, or any map in a comprehensive plan, though these can be used to help identify areas for the official map ordinance. Section 107(b) of the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) defines an official map as a “land use ordinance” with the map as the primary component of an official map ordinance. If a landowner seeks to build on or subdivide land noted on the official map, the municipality has up to a year to acquire the land from the owner before the owner may freely build or subdivide.
Sixty-four or more Pennsylvania municipalities and one county have adopted official maps as of early 2011. These municipalities are located in 15 counties. The greatest concentration is found in eastern and southcentral Pennsylvania, but the official map is also used in Centre, Allegheny, Butler and Erie Counties. An inventory that describes the focus (transportation, trails, parks, etc.) of each map can be found in Appendix A of “The Official Map: A Handbook for Preserving and Providing Public Lands and Facilities.” Most local government officials interviewed for this guide found the official map to be a worthwhile and effective means of securing the areas and improvements included on the map.
The first edition of this guide was authored by Frone Crawford, Esq., Andy Loza, David Albright and Jason Smith and edited by Andy Loza. Nicole Faraguna managed the project. The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association (PALTA) completed this edition in late 2010 with support from the William Penn Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Recreation and Conservation “Growing Greener” Program.
PALTA and DCNR then formed a partnership with PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to develop a more expansive guide, the end result being the publication of “The Official Map: A Handbook for Preserving and Providing Public Lands and Facilities” in June 2011. Also joining in the collaboration were the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, Chester and York County Planning Commissions, Brandywine Conservancy, and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association. Representatives from these organizations reviewed and commented on drafts of the publication. The Handbook may be downloaded from the ConservationTools.org library.
The guide presented here contains much of the same content as the Handbook but with various edits and additional content including coverage of the intersection of conservation, the municipal codes, eminent domain and official map reservations.
Nothing contained in this or any other document available at ConservationTools.org is intended to be relied upon as legal advice. The authors disclaim any attorney-client relationship with anyone to whom this document is furnished.
Copyright © is held by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
Text may be excerpted and reproduced with acknowledgement of ConservationTools.org and the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.