Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Biden administration extends forbearance and foreclosure protections
Big developments move forward in Bucks
Phoenixville to consider repeal of per capita tax
Media’s open space, parks and recreation survey closes soon
Lower Merion ranked among best places to live and work from home
‘Once-in-a-generation’ anti-poverty plan sends $4.5M to community groups
School funding reform advocates unveil new report for Realtors®
The fight to boost education funding brings lots of people together — teachers, superintendents, politicians. But advocates want to add another constituency to the mix: real estate agents. The Pennsylvania chapter of ReadyNation — a nonprofit, bipartisan business membership organization with roughly 2,200 members — unveiled a report, “Real Estate Markets Thrive When PA Schools Work,” at a panel discussion including lawmakers, Realtors® and policy analysts in April at Ridley High School in Delaware County. The report draws on existing analyses to argue that putting more money into education and routing more of those dollars through the state’s new student-weighted Fair Funding Formula would boost test scores, which would in turn increase home values. Many of the districts that benefit most from the new formula sit in the eastern side of the state — where, not coincidentally, state data show that districts are most hard-pressed by local taxes. Freshman state Sen. Tim Kearney (D-26) said people avoid talking about school funding because it’s uncomfortable, but, “We’re committed to having that uncomfortable conversation as we move forward and try to find some level of fairness and justice for our students.”
Source: WHYY; 4/8/2019 & Daily Times 4/5/2019
State House committee hearing on infrastructure
Pennsylvania’s aging infrastructure was the topic of a state House Democratic Policy Committee hearing hosted by state Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) at the Radnor Township Building on April 4. In addition to flooding and potholes, officials decried the prevalence of litter. Ken McClain, PennDOT District 6 executive, said that litter is the second-biggest complaint from residents, behind potholes. Pennsylvania has a $3.5 billion funding gap between identified infrastructure needs and funding, said McClain, whose district includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. Meanwhile, roads and bridges continue to deteriorate because of inadequate funding. The unmet need for 2020 is projected to be $7.2 billion. Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of bridges identified in poor condition in the nation, nearly 2,900.
Source: Daily Times; 4/9/2019
HUD shortens notice for inspections
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a dramatic reduction in the advance notice it provides to public housing authorities (PHAs) and private owners of HUD-subsidized apartment developments before their housing is inspected. HUD will now provide 14 calendar days’ notice before an inspection, a reduction from the current notice, which can frequently extend up to 120 days. The shorter lead time is an effort to encourage property owners to adopt year-round maintenance practices and not have advance notice to undertake “just-in-time” cosmetic repairs. Read the press release here and HUD’s notice here.
Source: HUD.gov; 2/20/2019
Warehouse plan worries Lower Makefield neighbors
The Lower Makefield Township Zoning Hearing Board will hear plans for a 125,000-square-foot warehouse on Tuesday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the township building at 1100 Edgewood Road, Yardley. Developer Shady Brook Investors is asking for approval to build the warehouse on a vacant, nearly 15-acre lot at the corner of Stoney Hill and Township Line roads. The property is zoned Office Research, which allows warehouses and distribution centers with zoning board approval as a special exception. The developer has not announced a possible tenant. Some residents are opposed to the plan, calling it “a potential disaster for travel in the area.” The property abuts Interstate 295 and is less than a half-mile from Route 332 (Newtown Bypass), but opponents to the plan say traffic already regularly backs up in that area. Visit the Lower Makefield website for more information about the plan.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 4/10/2019
Hilltown residents want township to help with nuisance property
Residents of a development in Hilltown Township are asking for the township’s help in dealing with a derelict house in their neighborhood. Residents say a home on Yarrow Court has fallen into disrepair over the past seven years with a hole in the roof, standing water in the basement and an attic full of vultures. Township Manager Lorraine Leslie said the property owners were to present a plan for addressing the issues at the end of March. Hilltown Solicitor Stephen Harris said he would discuss the matter with the township zoning officer to see what can be done to mitigate the situation.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 4/4/2019
Planning commission vacancies in Perkasie
Perkasie Borough is seeking residents interested in volunteering to serve on the Perkasie Borough Planning Commission. It is an opportunity to serve the community and be involved with critical issues of subdivisions, zoning, land use and planning. The commission meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at 7 p.m. Interested residents may contact the borough at 215-257-5065 for more information. An application form is available at www.perkasieborough.org. Applications will be accepted until the positions have been filled.
Source: Perkasie News Herald; 4/2/2019
Lower Makefield to consider tree protection ordinance
Lower Makefield Township supervisors will hold a public hearing and consider for adoption an ordinance establishing Chapter 185, “Trees,” and Article 1, “Heritage Trees.” The proposed ordinance defines heritage trees — considered an important community resource because of their unique or noteworthy characteristics, such as size, age, species or historical significance — and will require property owners opting into the program to use all reasonable efforts to maintain and preserve them. The hearing will be held Wednesday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the township building, 1100 Edgewood Road, Yardley. Read the proposed ordinance (PDF) on the township website.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 4/9/2019
East Marlborough adds permit for door-to-door solicitors
Like many other municipalities across the country, East Marlborough Township has found it must reluctantly open the door to solicitors who want to ply their trades within its boundaries. Forced by case law that says they can’t outright ban door-to-door salespersons, the supervisors responded to a legal challenge to their solicitation ordinance by repealing it and adopting a new one that regulates the practice to the degree allowable. Under the new ordinance, solicitors must apply for a permit with the township police department and pass a background check. Developments with private roads can still bar them entry, but those with public roads must allow them in. Homeowners can post signs saying, “No solicitation,” the supervisors said, and solicitors must respect them. The ordinance regulates most commercial door-to-door sales, but includes a variety of exemptions for nonprofit organizations and political activity.
Source: Daily Local; 4/8/2019
Phoenixville Rail Project moves forward
The Phoenixville Rail Project initiated by Mayor Peter Urscheler’s Task Force Review Committee moved closer toward realization after a series of public meetings. Phoenixville Borough Council, Phoenixville School District and Schuylkill Township have approved measures to appoint representatives to the multi-jurisdictional review committee to arrange for the financing of the train project. The group seeks to make a public presentation to all of the entities involved and will meet on Wednesday, April 24, with the Chester County Commissioners to seek a representative for the county. The Task Force Review Committee, with the representatives from the affected municipalities and the school district, will discuss the project plan and the value capture financing, a type of public financing that recovers value that public infrastructure generates for private landowners. The review committee will discuss the rail project’s creation, boundaries and development within the district, including:
The Review Committee will then order a project plan that will include each tax increment district, and submit the plan to the governing body of the municipality and to the governing body of any other municipality or school district that levies property taxes within the boundaries of the proposed district.
Source: Vista Today; 4/9/2019
County officials renew commitment to ending homelessness
Following the recent report of a four-year decline of homelessness in Chester County, county commissioners recognized the impactful work of local service partners who participate in the Decade to Doorways initiative, the county’s 10-year plan to prevent and end homelessness. The program is a collaboration of consumers, government entities, service providers, educators, healthcare practitioners, faith communities, funders, businesses, and residents aiming to effectively end homelessness by 2022. The commissioners and organization representatives discussed the future of the program, focusing on breaking the stigma of the homeless experience and developing compassion and support for men, women and children experiencing homelessness. Noting the county’s growing population, Commissioner Michelle Kichline said, “Chester County is deeply committed to a ‘housing first’ approach, with a priority to provide more affordably priced housing.”
Source: Daily Local; 4/10/2019
Taxes going up 2 percent in Kennett Consolidated School District
The Kennett Consolidated School District board approved a final 2019–2020 budget of $88.2 million. The budget includes a tax increase of 2.07 percent, or about an extra $115 a year for the average household in the district. This increase is lower than the one proposed in the preliminary budget last April, which would have included a 2.27 percent increase and an extra payment of $123 on the average residential property. Board Treasurer Michael Finnegan said at the time that the tax increase was made necessary primarily by salaries and benefits, especially by large hikes in the teacher retirement fund contributions the state requires from school districts.
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 4/9/2019
Aqua Pa. sues to block Chester Water Authority deal with city
Aqua Pennsylvania is suing the Chester Water Authority and the city of Chester over the impact a 10 percent CWA rate hike will have on Aqua customers. Aqua pays the CWA approximately $750,000 annually for four interconnects in their system. Often, utilities will have connections for each other for various reasons, ranging from emergencies to everyday operational need. In January, the CWA board unanimously approved raising rates 10 percent to provide for a $60.2 million settlement with the city of Chester. City officials, in exchange, agreed not to raise a claim to terminate or acquire any project of CWA for 40 years and that the assets of CWA would be placed into a trust for that same time period. According to Aqua officials, this hike would result in $75,000 being directly passed onto their customers with no corresponding benefits. Aqua filed the lawsuit in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
Source: Daily Times; 4/5/2019
Hundreds turn out in Clifton to protest possible loss of athletic fields
Hundreds of Clifton Heights residents, dressed in the community colors of orange and black, lined Springfield Road Sunday to protest Upper Darby School District’s proposal to build a middle school on Clifton Heights Athletic Field. The “Storm the Field” protest was organized by residents to preserve the borough’s only open green space, which hosts community activities like Police Athletic League football, baseball, cheerleading, other youth sports, auto shows and the annual Fourth of July fireworks. “We are here for the youth of our town … so they have open space years from now,” organizer Dave DiPhillipo said through a loudspeaker to the crowd. “This is not about anger or hate, or taxes. You are taking our heart. Without this space, Clifton isn’t Clifton.” DiPhillipo called on the school district to look for alternatives, including examining former brownfield sites that could be utilized. The Upper Darby School Board last month approved architectural drawings and traffic studies, the first step in the process of selecting a site for a new middle school. Last week, Clifton Heights solicitor Frank Catania, who formerly was solicitor for the school district, presented documents that could bolster Clifton’s case — including a deed for part of the 13 acre-tract that cited “the condition that the aforesaid premises be used by said Borough of Clifton Heights for recreational and/ or municipal purposes and for no other purpose.” The district leases the fields to Clifton Heights, and information related to a plan to terminate that lease was recently posted on the Upper Darby School District webpage, but it was soon removed.
Source: Daily Times; 4/8/2019
Delaware County’s tourism bureau revamps website
Destination Delco, the official tourism promotion agency of Delaware County, has launched a redesigned website, featuring streamlined design, improved functionality and enriched content areas. “We are thrilled to debut the new website to potential visitors, hospitality and industry partners, media and local residents who are looking to learn more about everything Delaware County has to offer,” said Steve Byrne, Destination Delco’s executive director.
Source: Vista Today; 4/8/2019
Lansdowne to consider beekeeping ordinance
Lansdowne Borough Council will consider an ordinance to permit the keeping of beehives in the borough, subject to certain conditions and regulations. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Wednesday, April 17, at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 12 E. Baltimore Ave.
Source: Daily Times; 4/8/2019
Brandywine Conservancy looks to the future
The Brandywine Conservancy brought the public into a discussion of a long-range master plan with a town-hall-style meeting at Chadds Ford Elementary School. Virginia Logan, the conservancy’s executive director, was joined by representatives from two architecture firms to share a general concept for the plan, which will span the next 30 years. No specifics were discussed, as organizers sought public input to help them develop the plan. They asked what draws people to the Brandywine, what improvements they’d like to see, and how the conservancy’s future can align with municipal goals.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 4/9/2019
Lower Salford approves homes and Wawa
Final land development plans have been approved by Lower Salford Board of Supervisors for homes and a Wawa. The supervisors approved phase 2 of the Mainland Pointe development, which includes five apartment buildings with 12 units each, 18 single-family homes, and one commercial building. Plans for a Wawa with 12 fuel dispensers at the intersection of Sumneytown Pike (Main Street) and an extension of Quarry Road were also approved. An application for a new traffic signal at Sumneytown Pike and Quarry Road also got the green light from the supervisors. The Wawa will not be allowed to open until the traffic signal is in operation, said Supervisor Chris Canavan.
Source: The Reporter; 4/8/2019
North Penn gets state approval for tax hike exceptions
North Penn School District’s business director, Steve Skrocki, updated the school board on the latest budget projections and news from the state on tax hike exceptions. A Pennsylvania law — Act 1 of 2006 — limits the tax increase allowed for a school district unless it holds a referendum or requests exceptions for certain qualifying expenses, such as special education and retirement contributions. If approved, the school district still has the option not to use the exceptions. Current budget projections take into account a tax increase at the Act 1 maximum of 2.3 percent but without added exceptions and predict a deficit of about $3.4 million. The next finance committee meeting of the board will be held on Tuesday, May 7, before the board is asked to adopt a proposed final budget on May 16 and grant final approval on June 20. Visit the North Penn School District website for more information.
Source: The Reporter; 4/3/2019
Pottstown approves outdoor dining, discusses noise
Pottstown Borough Council voted to allow outdoor dining areas and the consumption of alcohol in the downtown area of the borough. The borough’s downtown plan calls for mixed-use development, with businesses on ground floors and residential areas on upper floors. The previous ordinance did not allow for outdoor dining, and the change was made to spur redevelopment by capitalizing on the growing popularity of outdoor cafes. The ordinance to allow for outdoor dining passed unanimously, but council spent time debating when the borough’s noise ordinance should apply. Solicitor Charles Garner Jr. suggested starting a noise prohibition in the downtown area at 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and at midnight on weekends and holidays. Council debated and settled on a weekday deadline of 10 p.m. for the downtown district instead. Garner will prepare an amended noise ordinance for review at the next council meeting.
Source: Reading Eagle; 4/9/2019
Raven’s Claw development may finally be finished after 19 years
Limerick Township supervisors recently discussed a subdivision plan for the last undeveloped parcel in the Raven’s Claw subdivision. Raven’s Claw is a housing development with a golf course that was begun nearly 19 years ago. The township had to step in to finish roads and sidewalks after the developer left them unfinished. The seven-lot subdivision received a variance from the zoning hearing board to allow the homes to be built. The parcel had originally been held for a health club when the Raven’s Claw project was approved, but it was never built. The supervisors voted unanimously to extend the deadline for preliminary/final site plan approval to July 22.
Source: Times Herald; 4/8/2019
Tax bills set to increase — again — for homeowners as Philly releases new assessments
More than 345,000 residential properties — three-quarters of the total — are getting assessment increases next year, according to the city’s 2020 assigned market values. Citywide, the median assessment of single-family homes will increase by 3.1 percent, according to an Inquirer analysis. Several neighborhoods, including Rhawnhurst, Queen Village, Eastwick, Bella Vista and Southwest Philadelphia, will have median increases of more than 8 percent. The 2020 values, which are being mailed to property owners this week, come as the city’s Office of Property Assessment (OPA) is still dealing with fallout from last year’s residential revaluation that increased the assessment of the median single-family home increased by 10.5 percent. “If this is going to constantly keep escalating at these levels, we’re never going to get to the point of affordability of people being able to stay in the neighborhoods they grew up in,” Councilman Mark Squilla said at a budget hearing. Unlike all other counties in the state, Philadelphia is not required to change tax rates when assessments increase to make the changes revenue-neutral. That means every increase is a tax hike; the city estimates it will receive an additional $53 million in property tax revenue as a result of the 2020 revaluations. That amount includes increases in nonresidential properties. Other changes include a 6.5 percent increase to the total value of commercial and industrial property assessments, according to OPA, and an 8.1 percent increase for condos. City spokesperson Mike Dunn said in an email that the 2020 assessment “resulted in moderate changes." More than 95 percent of residential assessment increases will be less than 10 percent, Dunn said. He encouraged property owners who disagree with their values to file appeals. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/11/2019
Task force unveils new approach to preserving unrecognized Philly history
A package of legislative and regulatory reforms introduced by Mayor Jim Kenney and other city leaders aims to lessen the burden on private property owners and encourage preservation in Philadelphia neighborhoods, including many with unrecognized and increasingly vulnerable treasures. The move comes after years of heated debate and neighborhood conflict over reconciling the city’s historic character with its latest development boom. “[We will] elevate the one thing that Philadelphia has that no other city can imagine, and that's our fabulous history,” Kenney said. Among the most notable proposals was one that seeks to create new tiers of historic districts. A tiered system would allow the city to protect more properties while lessening the burden on owners of old buildings that can be costly to maintain, officials said. Approaching preservation with an eye to equity was one of the goals of the task force, and the tiered system could be a way to help property owners on limited incomes protect their assets without going broke. Other proposals outlined by officials include a citywide survey to identify Philadelphia’s unprotected historic resources and a zoning bonus to allow developers to build larger and denser structures in exchange for paying into a new historic preservation fund. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 4/4/2019
Could a driveway kill the Italian Market?
The entrance to an underground parking garage has become the latest flashpoint in a fiery battle over the future of the Italian Market. The driveway in question would be part of a six-story apartment building planned for the corner of 9th Street and Washington Avenue, at the southeast corner of the historic outdoor food market. The developer, Midwood Investment and Development company, is proposing an underground garage with an exit onto 9th Street, including curb cuts that neighbors say would disrupt the market’s pedestrian-friendly nature and make it hard to close the market to automobile traffic on weekends. One of the oldest public food markets in the United States, the Italian Market has found itself under increasing pressure as the surrounding neighborhoods gentrify, bringing tax increases, complaints about cleanliness and other quality-of-life concerns. Some market business owners want to create a Business Improvement District (BID) to support the market as it strives to meet changing demands from neighbors. BID supporters say the organization could be a way to help businesses remain viable at a time when rising property values could tempt property owners to follow neighborhood trends toward high-end residential development like the Midwood building.
Source: Plan Philly; 4/3/2019