Land Acquisition

What is it?

Land Acquisition is when a municipality secures the fee simple (full-title) ownership of a parcel of land for a public purpose, in this case to maintain their natural infrastructure. This can occur through a regulatory mechanism (like reserve land taken on subdivision) or through a real estate transaction like a purchase or receipt of a gift (e.g., donation, bequest).

How can municipalities use it?

To help maintain the natural infrastructure system, a municipality can acquire land to strategically protect areas of importance, such as environmentally significant areas, wildlife habitat, urban forest, or other areas that have cultural significance. A Municipal Development Plan, natural area management plan, open space plan, biodiversity plan, among other plans and policies, can identify areas that maintain or enhance natural infrastructure connectivity to prioritize for acquisition. Most properties acquired for open space will be paid fair market value. Land Acquisition funds can come from the capital budget, or the municipality can form corporate partnerships and community partnerships to fulfil funding needs. Some communities will have Land Conservation Funds which can cover all or part of the cost. Further, multiple municipal departments can share Land Acquisition costs for properties that serve multiple purposes.

What are the advantages?

The many advantages of Land Acquisition include:

  • Ability to acquire land that contains valued features such as wetlands, native vegetation, and habitat, which maintain or enhance the natural infrastructure system

  • In the case of purchases, can proactively secure desirable parcels

  • The land acquired can increase recreational or cultural opportunities

  • Presents an opportunity for public-private partnership

  • Shows a municipality’s commitment to environmental sustainability

What should you watch out for?

No tool is a silver bullet. The following should be considered regarding Land Acquisition:

  • Capital funding may not be available for use in acquiring land

  • Partnerships to raise funding for land acquisition require resources to develop

  • Developers may push back on reserve land if they think they can get paid market value for land

How can it help maintain natural infrastructure?

Land Acquisition helps to maintain the natural infrastructure system by protecting key areas from development or conversion. Through assets that connect, maintain, or enhance the natural infrastructure system, a municipality is investing in ensuring functions and benefits are sustained.

Resources

Portland, Oregon Land Acquisition Strategy Portland Parks & Recreation’s (PR&R) Land Acquisition Strategy provides the framework for determining which potential projects to pursue. PR&R has received properties though donations, foreclosures, or surplus properties from other public entities, as well as partners with other Bureaus and agencies in funding acquisitions.


City of Calgary Natural Area Management – Calgary’s Natural Area Management Plan establishes the policy direction for the protection, management, public use and enjoyment, acquisition, and stewardship of Calgary’s natural heritage.


Cootes to Escarpment Park System: Land Securement Strategy – Several land securement tools are described for their contribution to protection of the important natural region known as ‘Cootes to Escarpment’ in southern Ontario, including land acquisition.


Best Practices for Watersheds & Recreation – Headwater Economics, a nonprofit research group based in Montana, developed this document to enhance watershed stewardship in the face of increased recreational pressure. The document includes four municipal case studies that highlight tool use to maintain healthy watersheds. One of the tools they include is land acquisition.


City of Hamilton Proposed Natural Areas Acquisition Fund Strategy – submitted by the Hamilton Planning and Economic Development Department to set aside funds annually for the acquisition of Natural Area lands. The general purpose of a Natural Areas Acquisition Fund Strategy is to outline the requirements for the implementation of the Natural Areas Acquisition Fund. It provides details on the suite of securement tools available for landowners who have natural heritage system lands located on their property. It also provides a framework for determining the natural heritage lands that would be suitable for acquisition by the City of Hamilton, and fosters relationships with Hamilton partners that currently participate in the securement of natural heritage system lands within the City of Hamilton.


Halton Region Greenlands Securement Strategy – Developed by the Regional Municipality of Halton, the Greenlands Securement Strategy is intended to bring to the table land securement partners, funding partners, and other available resources within the Region to work cooperatively towards complimentary goals of securing further greenlands. Land acquisition is included in their strategy.


Ottawa Greenspace Master Plan: Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces - The purpose of this document is to express Council’s vision for greenspace in the urban area and set policies for how this vision can be pursued. As the city grows, there is to be an adequate supply of greenspace, accessible to all residents. It will be high quality and sustainable and linked to allow for movement through green corridors. This document includes a section on land acquisition.

Did we miss something?

If you know of a resource that should be on this list - or your municipality has a sample or case that should be here, please let us know!