Best planning and implementation toolbox

Land Acquisition:

Purpose of Tool:
Land acquisition is a tool used by state and local governments to set aside land for a variety of purposes to serve the public interest, which may include land slated for new infrastructure, new development, redevelopment, conservation, recreation, or other objectives. Ideally, land is acquired by mutual agreement between the local government and landowner where both parties negotiate a fair price. However, if the parties are unable to agree, eminent domain can be employed by the governmental entity. Eminent domain is the power of the government to seize land for public purposes, provided that fair compensation is given to the landowner. The use of eminent domain in land acquisition is usually the last resort by the governmental entity because of potential legal actions, as well as negative public reaction.

Benefits of Using Tool:
Land acquisition by governments provides the ability to make improvements to infrastructure and/or provide other public services, and is a critical component in providing adequate public services to citizens.

Steps Involved to Use Tool:
Procedures regarding land acquisition vary by state and jurisdiction. The following presents a suggested procedure for land acquisition by a local government:
  • Establish community support for the goal(s) that the local government is seeking to achieve. For example, discuss the need for any new facilities early in the process, and show the public how the new facilities will benefit the community.
  • Ensure the goals of the proposed action are consistent with the local Comprehensive Plan. This consistency will support government should the land acquisition process enter the legal system.
  • Gather an experienced team of staff, legal counsel, public policy experts, and communications specialists. These individuals will help the land acquisition process proceed smoothly and within legal boundaries. If the land is being acquired for redevelopment, select a redevelopment expert who has had past success without relying on eminent domain.
  • When considering land to acquire, take into account political and community sensitivities, for example, the acquisition of community landmarks that may not be regarded favorably by the public.
  • Identify multiple parcels of land for potential acquisition. This provides viable options for implementation if any barriers arise, such as time of acquisition, cost, or willingness of the landowner to sell the land.
  • Establish good relationships with the individuals who will be impacted by the land acquisition. In particular, this includes the landowner and adjacent area residents. Designate a separate staff person or communications specialist to confer with the landowner and/or nearby residents on an ongoing basis, outside of the negotiation process. In addition, develop a public participation process with regularly scheduled meetings and staff who are able to mediate controversy and answer any questions. Particularly if eminent domain is involved, public buy-in is vital. Take any controversy and threats of litigation seriously, and address these concerns prior to completion of the land acquisition.
  • Prior to initiating eminent domain, use alternative dispute resolution methods. Select independent mediators with past success in mediating similar disputes within communities. Start this process as soon as any controversy arises, to alleviate any ill feelings from the public early in the process.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    Local governments interested in land acquisition should first check local and state regulations regarding any specific procedures that must be followed. In Texas, eminent domain is referred to as “condemnation.” Under Texas law (HB 1495), effective February 1, 2008, landowners whose property is being condemned must first be presented the “Landowner’s Bill of Rights,” drafted by the Texas Attorney General. This document does not establish new legislation regarding condemnation; rather, it explains existing condemnation laws to landowners in a clear manner.

    In 2005, Texas passed a law (Senate Bill 7) prohibiting land acquisition for the purpose of tax boosting enterprises, such as redevelopment. This was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London, which allowed a local government to condemn private land for economic development purposes. Other states have passed similar laws to protect property owners from similar eminent domain situations.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    Other than the suggested procedures and documents described above, there are no specific resources required to use the land acquisition tool.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    In 2006, the City of Ava, Missouri purchased a 17-acre privately-owned parcel of land. The purpose of the acquisition was to build parks and trails for the public, as well as relocate the public works department closer to the local airport. This acquisition is part of a larger city-wide effort to expand parks and trails in the City. Contact:

    Parks Director
    avaparks@avamissouri.org 
    127 SW 2nd Street
    Ava, MO 65608
    417-683-7275
    http://www.douglascountyherald.com/testing/nm/publish/news_374.html 

    In 2008, the City of Dunedin, Florida voted to purchase waterfront land to secure property for a public park. The purchase was funded through various grants, so that that City did not have to tap into its general fund. The City worked with the non-profit group The Trust for Public Land to help acquire the land.  Contact:

    Vincent Gizzi, Director of Parks and Recreation
    1920 Pinehurst Road
    Dunedin, Florida 34698
     (727) 812-4530
    http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article838227.ece 

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    Local governments use land acquisition in a variety of ways and for different purposes and there are no standard metrics on how land acquisition improves quality of life.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
    References:
  • Local Government Best Practices: Land Acquisition (PDF): http://www.ehlers-inc.com/downloads/docs/LandAcquisition.pdf
  • Understanding Eminent Domain: Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights (PDF): http://www.oag.state.tx.us/agency/weeklyag/2008/0308eminentdomain.pdf 
  • Texas Senate Bill 7 (PDF): http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/792/billtext/pdf/SB00007F.pdf 
  • “City Buys Land for Park” (Douglas County Herald): http://www.douglascountyherald.com/testing/nm/publish/news_374.html
  • “Dunedin agrees to buy land for waterfront park” (St. Petersburg Times): http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article838227.ece