In September of last year, Linden Lab discontinued the ability for residents to order island "reservations." Until that time, it was possible for people who planned to buy an island in the future but weren't ready to do it right away to reserve a spot on the grid for 90 days for a (usually) low fee. The reservation program was at times controversial, because some residents used it for extortion, intentionally bidding on reservations that surrounded existing estates, thereby blocking the estate's expansion until the estate owner paid the reservation holder to sell the reservation. Many of us assumed that when the reservation program ended, all those thousands of reservations currently cluttering up the grid would finally expire, alleviating the expansion headaches of established estate owners.
Unfortunately, six months after the reservation program ended (and three months after all those existing reservations should have expired), this is what you see when you look in the Land Store today (hint: yellow = reserved):
Considering that the Land Store map is grossly out-of-date (it only shows three of my 12 islands, and one of them is in its old location), some of us assumed that maybe all that yellow was just vestiges of long-expired reservations- but we were wrong. Residents are still being extorted by reservation holders, and new sim orders are still being denied due to existing reservations.
It's important to note that a single reserved spot on the grid effectively blocks expansion into any of the cells immediately surrounding it, both adjacent and diagonal, so all those thousands of yellow cells on the grid are actually preventing expansion into many more thousands of cells than it would appear just by glancing on the map.
So what's going on?
Well, despite the fact that all mention of reservations has been wiped from the Second Life Knowledge Base, the reservations program is still alive and well (and making Linden Lab a lot of money). I spoke with someone on the Concierge team today and learned that some of the reservations that show up on the map are indeed expired, and will not be honored if an estate owner wishes to expand in their direction. However, the majority of reservations still registered in the Land Store are actively being maintained by paying residents. You see, once you have a reservation, it's yours as long as you keep renewing your reservation fee every three months. The existing (valid) reservations will only expire once the holder decides to let the "subscription" lapse.
What can estate owners do about it?
First off, if you are an estate owner and someone who owns a reservation near you offers to sell the reservation to you, don't feel compelled to take the offer unless you consider it reasonable. If they're offering the reservation at extortion-level prices, you should Abuse Report the individual and include any IMs or other correspondence with the person in your report. It's one thing to decide you no longer want to keep the reservation and offer to give it up, but another to use it to intentionally extract cash out of established residents.
If you wish to expand and there are reservation slots or built islands that might block your way (remember, reservations block diagonals now, too), contact Concierge or add a note to your support ticket about the reservation in question and ask them to confirm whether it's still valid. They will allow you to expand if the reservation holder's no longer paying for it.
If you determine that all the reservations surrounding you are, in fact, active and valid, you have the option of moving your entire estate- and lucky for you, if your estate is surrounded in such a way that expansion is impossible, Linden Lab will waive the $150 USD per-island move fee and relocate your entire estate somewhere that you'll have more breathing room for free. It's not documented in the Knowledge Base, but it's true, and has been done several times already. The $150 fee is not so much a profit center as it is a disincentive to moving islands around arbitrarily. They want to limit the amount of busywork they have to do on island moves, so they charge a fee to ensure you only move your islands when you really need to. It would be silly for them to charge $150 per island to a resident with 10 islands (who's paying Linden Lab as much as $35,400 a year on island fees), because if that resident simply decided "well, I don't want to pay $1,500 to move, so I guess I just won't buy any more islands," that would hurt Linden Lab in the long run.
So, next time you're in the Land Store and groaning over how hard it is to find anyplace to plant an island, know that you're not completely out of options.