In many communities, the municipality is the largest single owner of land and holder of other real estate interests. While municipalities carefully plan for the capital needs of buildings and land, the same care is not always taken to track the legal aspects of a community's real estate holdings. Stewardship of municipal real estate is typically decentralized among various departments and boards. Knowledge of each real estate interest's origin and history may be buried somewhere in municipal archives or the memories of long-time municipal employees. Often, recorded instruments, land use permits, and related restrictions and regulations are not readily accessible in a central database or filing system.
The details of these legal documents may be an afterthought when a municipality decides to build on, expand, dispose of or otherwise modify the use of municipal land. All too often, issues such as use restrictions or the need for legislative approval under Article 97 are not identified until a municipality is well along the process. With the increasing focus on municipal succession planning, the priority list for such planning should include a centralized database that catalogs all of the real estate interests owned or held by the municipality and the legal constraints that affect its use or disposition.
Best practices for municipal real estate management include:
* Compiling a centralized real estate inventory
* Preparing a comprehensive real estate checklist for future transactions
* Consulting with real estate counsel at the front end of the process (rather than after issues or litigation arise)