NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Municipal primary election is on Tuesday, May 21

Bucks County
Haycock opposes state code-enforcement proposal

Chester County
Route 352 and King Road meeting set for June 5

Delaware County
Middletown to have open space referendum

Montgomery County
Pottstown school board considers music cuts to balance budget

Philadelphia County
City officials announce down payment assistance program for first-time home buyers
 

 

News Briefs Archive April 1, 2019

 

General News

NAR pushes for bipartisan GSE reform
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) continued its push to drive Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) reform as NAR President-Elect Vince Malta testified before the Senate Banking Committee. The hearing comes after Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) unveiled an outline for GSE reform legislation in February. Realtors® have been encouraged by intensifying housing finance conversations on Capitol Hill, particularly as the group urges Congress to drive reforms. “Bipartisan congressional action on GSE reform is the only way to secure an explicit government guarantee, which is a critical component of a robust U.S. housing market," Malta, a 43-year veteran of the real estate industry, said in his testimony to the committee. At its GSE Reform Policy Forum earlier this year, NAR proposed its own comprehensive vision for housing finance reform, which focuses on leveraging successful reforms and innovations implemented since the financial crisis. These efforts are designed to: promote competition in the secondary market; preserve the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage; minimize costs to consumers; maximize access for creditworthy borrowers; and, most importantly, protect U.S. taxpayers.
Source: Nar.realtor; 3/27/2019

Philly region to see nearly 2,700 new hotel rooms
Sixteen new hotels are opening 2,665 rooms in Philadelphia and the surrounding four counties by early 2020. Half are opening in the suburbs. In 2018, hotel demand in Center City grew by 5.6 percent, the most in seven years, with a hotel nights occupancy rate of 79.6 percent. Now, the growth is spreading to the suburbs. Hotel supply surpassed 13.7 million room nights in 2018, logging a 2 percent increase over 2017 in the five-county region. Hotel occupancy in the region hit 72.3 percent, up 3 percent from 2017, according to STR, a hotel market data research firm. The suburbs are adding nearly 800 rooms. These include the 98-room Holiday Inn & Suites Philadelphia W in Drexel Hill, the 112-room Homewood Suites by Hilton Horsham Willow Grove in Horsham, and the 122-room Wood Spring Suites in Plymouth Meeting. “Suburbs can be very profitable areas for hotels," said Robert R. Nelson, associate professor of hospitality business management at the University of Delaware. "Compared to Center City locations, there are typically lower barriers to entry, more developable land, and lower prices for commercially zoned property.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/27/2019

What is the Restore Pennsylvania infrastructure proposal?
In January, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a $4.5 billion, four-year Restore Pennsylvania initiative to fund high-impact community and environmental infrastructure projects that he said will help catapult Pennsylvania ahead of every state in the country in terms of technology, development and infrastructure. Restore Pennsylvania has 5 priority areas: high-speed internet access; storm preparedness and disaster recovery; downstream manufacturing, business development and energy Infrastructure; demolition, revitalization and renewal; and transportation capital projects. The proposal would be funded by a severance tax on natural gas production, over and above the existing Act 13 drilling impact fee. It is estimated that a severance tax could generate $300 million a year. Gov. Wolf said this proposal is separate from the budget because it is not intended to make up for funding deficits in the regular budget. Click here (PDF) for the proposal.
Source: PA Environment Digest; 2/2019

Bucks County

Bedminster eyes short-term rental regulations
Bedminster Township supervisors are planning a public hearing to consider an amendment to the township zoning ordinance to add “provisions for the establishment of an Accessory Short-Term Rental Use.” The proposed amendment includes clarifying home occupation use of residences as “an accessory use that shall be clearly subordinate to the existing residential use of the property,” with accessory referring only to a detached dwelling used by the owners as their primary residence. It also refers in particular to the renting out of one or more rooms “through websites such as Airbnb or VRBO.” Proposed restrictions include: the owner must be present overnight on the same property during the course of short-term rental; the rental period is limited to less than 15 consecutive nights and less than a total of 50 nights per year; and the total rental period will be limited to no more than 24 separate rentals for a maximum of 150 days per year. Annual permits will be required and will be subject to revocation for three or more zoning and/or criminal violations during a 12-month period. A public hearing will be conducted at the April 10 or May 8 supervisors meeting. Visit the Bedminster Township website for current meeting agendas.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/21/2019

DEP continues to monitor Rockhill Quarry for asbestos
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is continuing to look into asbestos concerns at the Rockhill Quarry in East Rockhill. DEP issued an order halting operations at the quarry last December after naturally occurring asbestos was found at the site. A DEP statement was posted to East Rockhill’s township website that said it is waiting for the quarry operator to submit a final plan for monitoring air quality and mitigating dust from its operations through an “enhanced asbestos assessment plan.” Earlier this month, a federal judge denied East Rockhill’s request for an injunction on the quarry’s activities but remanded a dispute over the quarry’s proposed asphalt plant to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. DEP has said that the quarry must make revisions to its Surface Mining Permit before a proposed rock crusher and asphalt plant can go into operation. The asphalt plant is of great concern to residents, who fear air pollution, groundwater degradation and well water depletion will lead to health concerns and diminished property values. The quarry owner and permit holder Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania has also proposed revisions to its existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which will be subject to public notice and public participation. Click here for the Rockhill Quarry information section of the East Rockhill Township website.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/21/2019

New ‘demonstration’ sludge conversion facility coming to Morrisville
Ecoremedy, a Pennsylvania-based engineering and technology firm that specializes in renewable energy power generation, will build, own and operate a sludge conversion facility at the Morrisville Municipal Authority (MMA) treatment plant. The project will convert sludge to biochar — a valuable form of nutrient-rich ash. MMA’s regional wastewater treatment facility processes about 5,000 wet tons of residual organic biosolids every year, which are hauled to a nearby landfill for disposal. Ecoremedy’s process recovers all available thermal energy in the biosolids and uses it to evaporate moisture from the biosolids to produce the biochar, which according to Ecoremedy President Dave Mooney, can be used in any number of applications. Ecoremedy is picking up the cost of both the capital and operating expenses of “demonstration project” in Morrisville, meant to show the potential of its patented conversion process. The project will no doubt be watched very closely by municipalities across the nation who are searching for affordable options when disposing of sludge. Ecoremedy has successfully used this technology in the agricultural industry to convert manure-based materials from agricultural applications into clean energy and value-added products. This is the company’s first foray into the municipal sector.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 3/18/2019

State gives Warminster, Warrington $8M to tackle water contamination costs
Gov. Tom Wolf’s office announced that the Warminster Municipal Authority and Warrington Township Water & Sewer Department will receive a combined $8 million in state funding to address chemical contamination in their water supply wells. Warminster Municipal Authority serves about 40,000 people and will receive $5 million in funding, while Warrington Township Water & Sewer Department, which serves about 21,000 people, will receive $3 million. The funding comes through the Commonwealth Financing Authority’s H2O PA Program that provides for “single-year or multi-year grants to municipalities or municipal authorities to assist with the construction of drinking water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer projects,” according to the state website. The chemical contamination of the wells is from PFAS chemicals used in firefighting foams at area military bases. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available on their websites as a public resource — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/27/2019

Chester County 

Coatesville school board mulls 6.2 percent tax hike
The Coatesville Area School Board is considering raising taxes in the budget for the next school year. The board voted to adopt a preliminary budget for the 2019-2020 school year set at approximately $188 million with a tax increase of 6.12 percent, or 2.25 mills, at a special school board meeting on Feb. 12. The final budget must be adopted by the end of June, but the school board can still make amendments to the budget before that time. In the past, the district has cited nondiscretionary expenses, including special education placements, charter school tuition and pension costs, as major driving factors necessitating a tax increase. In last year’s budget deliberations, a tax increase of 8.4 percent was originally proposed but ultimately lowered to a 5.27 percent hike in the final budget.
Source: Daily Local; 3/25/2019

South Coventry Township to consider changes to sidewalk ordinance
South Coventry Township will consider changes to the current sidewalk and pathways ordinance. The proposed amendment clarifies the duty of the adjoining or abutting land owners to repair, maintain or keep safe public sidewalks within the township. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Monday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the South Coventry Township Building, 1371 New Philadelphia Road, Pottstown.
Source: Mercury; 3/25/2019

Officials discuss new Downingtown train station plans
Neil Fisher, vice president of development for The Hankin Group, updated Downingtown Borough Council recently regarding plans for residential units, commercial space, an extension of two public trails, and the location for the new Downingtown AMTRAK/ SEPTA Train Station. Fisher said the plans for the Transit Oriented Development began about four years ago when Hankin sought to obtain the property for the housing and commercial project. The developer obtained the 21 different parcels that comprise the property. In the past year they have been working with the borough planning commission on conditional use plans and land development plans. Hankin met with council members to receive the final approval for the development plans. The property, located in Downingtown Borough and East Caln Township, is about 60 acres. The plans include extending two trails in the area, one in Johnstown Park and the trail system that links to the proposed extension of the Chester-Valley Trail system.
Source: Daily Local; 3/26/2019

Rep. Shusterman announces town hall meeting
State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157) announced she will host her inaugural town hall meeting on Monday, April 1, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Tredyffrin Public Library, 582 Upper Gulph Road, Stafford. The meeting will focus on legislative priorities and constituent services, with an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. For more information, contact Shusterman’s office at 484-200-8260 or visit www.pahouse.com/Shusterman.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/25/2019

Delaware County

Universal Studios-style theme park proposed for Aston
Sun Center Studios has set its sights on building an estimated $200 million version of Universal Studios at its base in Aston. Sun Center opened at the end of 2011 as the state’s first purpose-built film and television production studio facility. For its next phase, it has proposed a 90,000-square-foot indoor-themed tourist attraction and special events facility that will also have an outdoor attraction component with retail, dining, live entertainment and water fountain show, according to an application it filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. A 175-key hotel and underground parking garage are also part of Sun Center’s expansion plans. The company is seeking $7.5 million in taxpayer-backed funds from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) to support the project. The money would be used to develop the construction of the public entertainment component of the development. Jeffrey B. Rotwitt, CEO of Sun Center, wasn’t available to comment on the proposed plans.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 3/27/2019

Marple, Lansdowne voters to decide liquor question
Voters in two Delaware County municipalities will decide whether to allow booze into their boundaries in the May 21 primary election. Proponents gathered enough signatures in Lansdowne and Marple to get a referendum question on the ballot asking whether to allow beer, alcohol and hard liquor in their municipalities. Both of these towns already allow alcohol in a limited scope, but if voters approve these measures, alcohol would be permitted in an expanded number of retail establishments, following an approval process through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and, in some cases, either the township or borough. Currently, there are 683 municipalities in Pennsylvania that are either completely or partially dry. Ten other Delaware County municipalities have some level of alcohol restriction. They include Aldan, Brookhaven, Colwyn, Parkside, Rutledge, Sharon Hill, Swarthmore, Upland, Yeadon and Bethel. Only Sharon Hill is completely dry.
Source: Daily Times; 3/27/2019

Clifton Heights fights back in battle over new school on borough fields
Clifton Heights Borough Council is taking exception to Upper Darby School District’s plans to build a school on the beloved athletic field on Springfield Road. Officials adopted two resolutions demanding a borough citizen be seated on the school board within 45 days and an environmental impact statement be filed if a construction application is presented. A grass-roots group of opponents to the school board’s plans has started a Facebook group called “Save Clifton's Only Green Space” and is planning a protest at the field on April 7. The Upper Darby School Board is considering the Clifton site for a new middle school, and recently approved architectural studies on the site.
Source: Daily Times; 3/24/2019

Eddystone to determine boundaries of LERTA
Eddystone Borough will hold a hearing to determine the boundaries of a deteriorated area in accordance with the Pennsylvania Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA). The hearing is in response to the application by Alliance HSP Eddystone Warehouse LLC for LERTA Designation. The property under consideration is 1500 E. 2nd St. The hearing will take place on Monday, April 1, at 7 p.m. at Eddystone Borough Hall, 1300 E. 12th St. The regularly scheduled 7 p.m. workshop meeting will be held at 6 p.m.
Source: Daily Times; 3/24/2019

Philly Fed continues focus on revitalizing Chester
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s Community Development and Regional Outreach Department, Widener and the Riverfront Alliance presented a five-hour symposium, “Capital in Communities: Revitalization in Chester,” to discuss existing capital in the city, economic opportunities and how the Community Reinvestment Act can apply to new private investment. The symposium was attended by about 75 speakers and guests. Sydney Diavua, a community engagement associate at the Philadelphia Fed, cited local resources like the waterfront and the arts corridor. “Now that we know what the resources are, here are some of the different grant opportunities, partnerships with financial institutions, federal programs you can pay attention to,” she said.
Source: Daily Times; 3/25/2019

Montgomery County

Planning commission releases 2018 annual report
The Montgomery County Planning Commission has released its 2018 annual report. In addition to highlighting the year’s achievements, the report focuses on how long-range goals in the Montco 2040: A Shared Vision plan are being implemented. The report also provides information on work accomplished through the county’s professional planning services, data on county development proposals, education and outreach efforts, and presents the 2018 Montgomery Award winners.
Source: Montgomery County Planning Commission; 3/20/2019

Pottstown to consider zoning change to permit outdoor dining
Pottstown Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Meeting Room, Pottstown Borough Hall, 100 E. High St., to consider an ordinance that would amend borough zoning to permit outdoor dining areas. The proposed ordinance would “create a reimagined and revitalized Downtown (Conservation) District through the preservation and enhancement of the Borough’s historic central business district by providing for a wide range of retail, business, professional, governmental, and urban residential uses.” The zoning amendment will also provide definitions for certain uses, which shall be relocated out of the Downtown (Conservation) District but permitted in other specific districts. A complete copy of the proposed ordinance may be viewed at Pottstown Borough Hall during normal business hours.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/20/2019

One Ardmore Place parking garage is open in Lower Merion
The new public parking garage at One Ardmore Place on Cricket Avenue in Ardmore is now open. The entrance is located on Haws Terrace, accessed from Cricket Avenue directly across from Cricket Terrace, behind existing Lancaster Avenue retail stores. The garage will be free of charge for a limited time. After that time, paid hours will be Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and free on Sundays. The parking rate is 50 cents per hour. A grand opening for the One Ardmore Place building, with apartments and retail space, will be held on Tuesday, April 16.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 3/21/2019

Rep. Shusterman announces town hall meeting
State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157) announced she will host her inaugural town hall meeting on Monday, April 1, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Tredyffrin Public Library, 582 Upper Gulph Road, Stafford. The meeting will focus on legislative priorities and constituent services, with an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. For more information, contact Shusterman’s office at 484-200-8260 or visit www.pahouse.com/Shusterman.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/25/2019

Redevelopment coming for large parcel of Norristown State Hospital grounds
The Pennsylvania Department of General Services has decided it will turn over ownership of 78 acres of the Norristown State Hospital campus to Norristown Borough or the “party of its choosing” following a feasibility study on repurposing the land. Conveyance of the property will require legislative approval. The feasibility study determined that a senior living center would be the best use for the property, with the expectation of generating more than $710,000 in revenue for local schools and governments annually.
Source: Whyy.org; 3/20/2019

Philadelphia

Kenney orders competitive city land sales
Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration issued a directive to all city council offices outlining reforms to Philadelphia’s controversial and dysfunctional process for selling unused city-owned land. Many of these sales have been effectively frozen since January, following reports that political interference had become endemic in the city’s sale process. Kenney has directed future sales of public land to default to competitive sales, except in special circumstances. The reform notably discourages the practice of land sales that move forward at the direction of a council member, a practice revealed in recent coverage of elected officials steering valuable land to their associates. Only the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, one of four different agencies that handle the sale of public land, explicitly prohibited direct sales prior to this directive. The new sale policies call for the sale of most property to be publicly advertised for at least 30 days. Interested parties will also be required to submit a redevelopment plan to be scored for “community impact, minority participation, developer experience, project feasibility and offer price,” according to the administration. Noncompetitive sales will still be allowed for affordable housing, land assembly, community gardens, side yards and several other uses.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/21/2019

Pew: Philadelphians pay more taxes than most big city residents
Philadelphians pay more money per capita in taxes than residents of all but four major U.S. cities, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative. The analysis, called “The Cost of Local Government in Philadelphia,” explored the variety and amount of taxes Philadelphians pay compared to the 30 largest cities in the country by population. Based on budget figures from 2015, the report did not include more recent revenue from Mayor Jim Kenney’s soda tax — which could fizzle if a recently introduced city council bill succeeds. “We wanted to see, one, if Philadelphia’s reputation as a city with a high tax burden was valid, and two, what spending and other factors were driving that tax burden,” said Philadelphia Research Initiative project director Larry Eichel. A variety of geographic, social and governmental features push Philadelphia to spend on its residents. The city’s modest tax base — the amount of wealth and resources a city can tap into — also contributes to higher tax rates. The report included revenues and costs associated with the school district, city government, and local agencies, such as SEPTA.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/20/2019



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