Official Map Ordinance
Official maps are a combined map and ordinance that help municipalities plan and prioritize community investments in open space and public facilities. Official maps are expressly designed to implement elements of the comprehensive plan. They identify existing and proposed transportation infrastructure and transit rights of way. Official maps designate open space for preservation, such as recreation sites, important resource areas, and other public facilities needed to support the goals of the comprehensive plan.
Despite the name, official maps are not meant to convey the exact locations of future public lands. They are meant to serve as a point of negotiation between the municipality and the land owner. Additionally, they provide the development community with a clear framework for private investment. They visually represent a community’s long term goals as articulated in the comprehensive plan.
When a land owner begins the development process on a parcel with identified future facilities that are included on the official map, the municipality has up to one year to reserve the necessary land or secure easements. Deeds or easements are obtained through negotiated settlement, dedication, privately constructed facilities or, when necessary, exercise of eminent domain. The municipality may also choose to forego acquisition.
Official maps are enabled in Article IV of the Municipalities Planning Code. They may apply to all or part of the adopting municipality. All municipalities may adopt official maps, including counties. Additionally, municipalities may jointly adopt an official map.
- Helps identify and prioritize investments in public lands or facilities
- Signals municipal intentions to the development community
- Can provide protection from legal liability (see Middletown Township vs. Lands of Stone)
- Commitment to land acquisition can give municipalities an advantage during grant applications or when pursuing the adoption of funding mechanisms such as impact fees, dedicated taxes, etc.
- The costs of drafting an official map range from $1,500-10,000, with an average of $6,000[i]. This cost could be considerably higher if significant comprehensive planning activities need to be undertaken
- Perceived opportunities for abuse of eminent domain. However, a systematic review of Pennsylvania municipalities with official maps shows few instances where eminent domain had to be exercised[ii]
- Land acquisition according to the official map can incur costs to the municipality at inopportune times. Identifying and collecting a dedicated funding source can be a necessary but difficult component of a successful official map
- Make public education during the development of the map a priority. This is especially important for land holders affected by the official map
- Integrate the official map into the S&LDO and Zoning ordinances through amendments
- Regularly update the map during updates of the Comprehensive Plan
- South Middleton Township (Cumberland County) Official Map Ordinance
[i] The Official Map: A Handbook for Preserving and Providing Public Lands and Facilities