With the end of the 2011 to 2012 Pennsylvania legislative session comes the death knell of a controversial, confusing land-use bill about when local governmental bodies can sell off certain public lands. The bill would have amended the state Donated or Dedicated Property Act of 1959 to clarify that municipalities can sell without court approval public lands that were bought but that have no restrictions or covenants that the parcels be preserved for public use such as for parks.

Without the requirement of court approval, supporters say it would have been easier and more efficient for local governments to sell off lands in these tough economic times to increase public coffers and to stimulate development projects.

Opponents feared that the bill would have given local officials too much discretion to sell off beloved parks and environmentally important green spaces in the name of budget shortfalls and the desire to build new malls and housing.

The bill was introduced by state Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, who stated that the intent was to help local governments line their coffers in a time of budget shortfalls by giving them "the ability to raise capital by selling under-used properties or those which are difficult to maintain."

In the October 21, 2012, Lancaster Sunday News, Rep. Cutler clarified his legislation. He wrote that he was motivated by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case that expressed confusion over the original intention behind the law, and that only a small number of land parcels would be impacted, those that were bought by a government entity without any deed restrictions or dedications for public use. He said that opponents who raised specters of "secret sales" of parks, or the obliteration of "agricultural or conservation easements," or land seized by condemnation were wrong about the bill's reach.

Surprisingly, it passed unanimously in the House of Representatives in May. Opponents of the bill expressed surprise at this level of support and some questioned publicly whether the potential negative impact of the bill was completely understood. As the bill wound its way through the Senate, organized opposition grew. Finally, after voting for this session ended in the Senate in late October, the bill was tabled. Legislators would have to reintroduce it next year for it to be considered any further.

Rep. Cutler acknowledged that he understands public concern that a park that may not have had appropriate restrictions or dedications could be sold under his bill, and that in response the idea is being floated of creating "a window of time where titles could be reviewed" and "updated to reflect the original purpose of the conveyance."

Land-use attorneys, public officials and a concerned public will be watching to see if the bill will be reintroduced in the next session and if so, whether changes will be included in response to public concerns.

In the meantime, if you face legal issues concerning land use like condemnation of your residential, recreational or commercial property, or if you are interested in commercial development of land now publicly held, talk to an experienced Pennsylvania real estate lawyer to understand how this complex area of state law applies to your situation and what your options are.