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
SRA Municipal Database features new map and FAQ
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance’s Municipal Database now offers an interactive map, displaying 238 municipalities in the Philadelphia suburbs. Click on any municipality to see a link to its entry in the database, which includes information about resale inspection requirements, rental regulations, sign ordinances, tax rates and more. There is also a new section for Frequently Asked Questions about the database, including how to resolve common login problems. The municipal database is a member benefit for the SRA’s three shareholder associations — the Bucks County Association of Realtors®, Montgomery County Association of Realtors® and Suburban West Realtors® Association. Try the new map and learn more at www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com/database.
Flood mapping and insurance bill voted out of committee
H.B. 378, a bill to create the Flood Insurance Premium Assistance Task Force in Pennsylvania, was voted out of the House Insurance Committee with bipartisan support. State Rep. Perry Warren (D-31) introduced the bill. The task force would study the federal Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act’s effect on premiums for flood insurance, the latest FEMA flood maps and the federal discount program to identify areas that need additional assistance to keep flood-insurance premiums affordable. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, Pennsylvania is among the 10 states with the highest flood insurance payouts between January 1978 and March 2011, ranking eighth at $773 million. Warren said that almost every legislative district in the state is impacted by the new flood maps and premium increases. H.B. 378 would require the task force to issue a final report within six months of its creation and examine: programs that could provide discounts; potential programs that create incentives for local governments to undertake flood mitigation efforts; possible changes to state statutes relating to the administration of flood insurance; flood mitigation education; steps the commonwealth should take to inform residents about flood insurance options; and recommendations to increase the number of people who purchase flood insurance.
Source: The Advance of Bucks County; 4/7/2019
Gov. Tom Wolf touts $4.5B plan to help townships at municipal conference
While juggling unfunded mandates, rules and regulations that come from Harrisburg or Washington, townships also have to find a way to pay for flooding and stormwater management, bridge and road maintenance, keeping a roster of volunteers for their fire departments and EMS, fixing blight and bringing high-speed internet in rural areas. According to a speech by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, townships across the state may see $4.5 billion worth of help soon to resolve some of those issues. That help comes in the form of a plan he’s calling “Restore Pennsylvania,” which is a $4.5 billion investment into communities, paid for through a severance tax. During the speech at the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors annual meeting, the governor noted Pennsylvania is the only state in the country without a severance tax for the extraction of resources like natural gas. “We have the bones in our communities for greatness. This is a great commonwealth,” Wolf said. “What we have to do is make sure we’re investing in those bones, in that framework that makes us so great, and we can do this.”
Source: PennLive; 4/15/2019
DEP suspends mining at New Hope Quarry
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has suspended active mining operations at the 165-acre New Hope Quarry in Solebury until the quarry can complete overdue reclamation work, according to a notice sent to New Hope Crushed Stone & Lime Co. Operations at the quarry were halted in August 2017 after DEP said the quarry fell behind on the reclamation plan. The reclamation involves filling the quarry’s pit, grading it to a safe slope and seeding it, and restoring the nearby Primrose Creek. DEP lifted the order after the quarry demonstrated it was working to catch up, but operations have been halted again after the quarry missed a March 19 deadline to complete the work and a “consent order and agreement” to the quarry that was due April 12. “Through conversations with the quarry and the quarry’s consultant, DEP believes [the company] is committed to completing the work,” said Elizabeth Rementer, DEP press secretary. The quarry is allowed to process existing reserves of rock, but is not permitted to actively mine for more until the cessation order is lifted.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 4/23/2019
Falls Township to consider Elcon application at April 30 meeting
The Falls Township Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, April 30, at 7 p.m. to review the application of Elcon Recycling Services to construct a hazardous waste treatment plant on a 23-acre site in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex. The special meeting will be held at Keller Hall at Pennsbury High School West, 608 Olds Blvd. in Fairless Hills. The board has heard years of comments from residents and neighboring community members opposed to the plan. Until Elcon’s recent formal land development plan submission, the Falls supervisors had no jurisdiction to weigh in on the project. The supervisors are required by law to fairly review the project and consider the plan. Click here for information related to the Elcon proposal on the Falls Township website.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 3/25/2019
Doylestown opens bid process for borough real estate
Doylestown Borough has opened the bidding process for two parcels of land, each containing half of a two-story residential twin dwelling — TMP #08-012-005, Lots 2 and 3, located at 440/442 Boro Mill Hill Road. Open houses to view the properties will be held on Wednesday, May 8, and Monday, May 27, from 1 to 4 p.m. The bids will be publicly opened and read on Monday, June 3, at 2 p.m. at Doylestown Borough Hall. Invitation for bids may be viewed here.
Source: Doylestown Borough; 4/16/2019
Bridgeton Township purchases Casilo Quarry
Bridgeton Township and the Tinicum Conservancy announced the purchase of the 103-acre Casilo Quarry near the Delaware River in Upper Bucks County. The $553,000 purchase price will be paid through a combination of county, state and township funding. Wegard Holby, chair of the Bridgeton Board of Supervisors, said the property has been largely untouched since the end of its quarrying days, about 40 years ago. A post on the Tinicum Conservancy Facebook page said: “The site is framed by the dramatic and rugged palisades to the west and the Delaware River bottom lands to the east. Abandoned for more than 40 years, it has become a refuge for a wide variety of wildlife, including otter, coyotes, frogs, salamander and reptiles. Small ponds — remnants of the original sand and gravel pits — dot the property.” The next steps for the property are still to be decided, with Holby and the conservancy agreeing there will be a planning process to create a balance between environmental protection of the property and public use.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 4/12/2019
Bedminster Township ordinance will create accessory short-term rental use
Bedminster Township supervisors will consider for possible adoption an ordinance amending the Bedminster Township Zoning ordinance at the regular meeting on Wednesday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m., at the Bedminster Township Public Meeting Room, 3112 Bedminster Road. The proposed amendment will: create a new C12 short-term rental accessory use; set forth regulations for the new use, concerning, among other things, location, length of rentals, number of bedrooms, supervision, violations, parking and permitting; and provide that the new C12 use is allowed by right in all zoning districts. Copies of the full text of this ordinance are available for inspection at the Bedminster Township Annex Building, 432 Elephant Road, Perkasie.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/22/2019
Commissioners approve $3.8M in open space grant awards
The Chester County Commissioners announced $3.8 million in open space preservation grants. The county funds will help leverage an additional $5.7 million of outside funding. “We are pleased to join with our municipalities and land trusts in this investment to provide safe recreational opportunities for the public, protect the environment and preserve Chester County’s sense of place,” the commissioners said in a statement.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Open Space Preservation in Chester County. On Nov. 7, 1989, through voter referendum, citizens prioritized funding for the preservation of open space and allowed for Chester County to create one of the most comprehensive open space preservation programs in the nation.
Source: Daily Times; 4/23/2019
Ground broken for 225-unit housing complex in Downingtown
Downingtown Borough’s newest community, East Village by Southdown Homes, officially broke ground this week. The developers promise resort-style amenities and golf course views, all within walking distance to local dining and shopping. There will be 225 homes, including single-family homes, carriage homes and townhomes. The community site is located off Country Club Drive, near Bishop Shanahan High School. “This is the next step in economic progress in Downingtown,” said Josh Maxwell, Downingtown mayor. “Downingtown is now one-third under 35 years old, and property values in Downingtown are going up about 4.7 percent a year. Homes are people’s biggest investments, and we are thrilled to have [Southdown Homes] invest in our borough, improving our economic climate.” Townhomes start in the low $300,000s, twin homes are $400,000 and up, and single-family homes are priced in the $400,000 range. The development will feature walking trails, a clubhouse with a fitness center, first-floor master bedrooms and two-car garages. Southdown Homes officials said the sales trailer will open in the summer 2019, with the first homes being finished in late 2019 or early 2020. Those interested in further information can visit www.eastvillagedowningtown.com.
Source: Daily Local; 4/22/2019
Oxford adopts $70.5 million budget; tax hike uncertain
The Oxford Area School Board unanimously approved the proposed final general fund budget for the 2019-2020 school year. The new $70.5 million budget is $1.27 million higher than the current year, an increase of 1.83 percent. School directors have not determined if there will be an increase in tax millage rates. “This might necessitate a 1% increase in the property tax rate, but we still have to decide on this,” Board Member and Finance Committee Chair Robert Tenga said. A one-percent tax increase would translate to a tax increase of approximately $39 for the average taxpayer in the district. The tax rate will be set and the budget will be up for final adoption along at the board’s Tuesday, May 28, meeting.
Source: Daily Local; 4/20/2019
Developer envisions 79 new homes in Downingtown
Officials from Trestle View Village attended a Downingtown Borough Council meeting to present their vision for 79 new homes in the Johnsontown section of the Borough. Downingtown Borough Manager Steve Sullins explained to council members that the developer would either need to work within the R-3 zoning or seek to do an overlay district which would amend the zoning of that property. He added that the developer gave a brief presentation to the Downingtown Planning Commission and would still need to go through the land development part of the process. If they seek a zoning change, the matter would require a vote by borough in the future. Francis Taraschi, Trestle View Village owner, wants to revitalize Johnsontown, the area where he and a number of his relatives grew up. He had informed the planning commission that he and his associates wanted input from the council members before proceeding with the housing plans. He hopes to connect Johnsontown by adding sidewalks on Willow Road and also reserve about 32 percent of the project for open space for residents to enjoy. He also believes it will connect the neighborhood to nearby restaurants and parks.
Source: Daily Local; 4/24/2019
Willistown to consider bird ordinance
Willistown Township will consider amendments to Chapter 139 of the zoning ordinance to create standards for the keeping of guineafowl, peacocks and roosters. The animals are currently prohibited except in the RU Zoning District on lots of 10 or more acres when associated with a farm use. The proposed amendments would state that any structure or building for the housing of guineafowl, peacocks or roosters shall be no less than 500 feet from any occupied structure on a neighboring lot. Nonconforming animals may not be replaced, and the nonconformity must be resolved within five years from the date of enactment of the ordinance. The ordinance will be considered for adoption at a meeting on Monday, May 13, at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of Sugartown Elementary School, 611 Sugartown Road, Malvern.
Source: Daily Local; 4/22/2019
Reassessment fight over Haverford properties continues, as countywide reassessment looms
As Delaware County moves forward with its comprehensive reassessment project, Commonwealth Court has asked a Delaware County judge, Joseph Burr, to clarify his position involving an assessment appeal out of Haverford dating back five years on two properties with a combined market value in excess of $2.5 million. The assessments increased in 2014 from about $7,700 each to more than $800,000 each, based on “new construction.” The owners filed a suit questioning the county’s methodology for assessing home values based on 1998 as the tax-base year — the homes had not yet been built in 1998. Judge Burr, who heard the case, set a series of new assessment values for the properties for the years 2014 to 2018. The owners appealed those values, as well, this time to Commonwealth Court. The higher court has now asked Burr to restate the reasoning behind those valuations. Joseph Toddy, the attorney representing the taxing entities (Delaware County and the Haverford School District), said, “We’re trying to argue that new properties ... need to be valued at their actual market value.” Burr is the same judge who, in March 2017, ordered a countywide reassessment after determining the existing assessment process violates the state constitution’s uniformity clause, which says “all taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax.” The countywide reassessment is currently in its valuation analysis stage, with informational mailers being circulated and appraisers visiting neighborhoods. Notices with new assessment values will be mailed to taxpayers next February and March, with informal reviews and appeals to be scheduled after that. The new assessed values will take effect January 2021. To learn more about the countywide reassessment project, visit http://delcorealestate.codelaware.pa.us/delcoreassessment/.
Source: Daily Times; 4/24/2019
Architect outlines vision for walkable Wayne
Maurice Weintraub, an architect and planner, has advocated for years for a new streetscape for Wayne to make the downtown business district more walkable. Weintraub said he hopes that Radnor Township officials and the business community might be interested in developing and implementing a master plan that would make Wayne a more walkable small town, with a distinct “Main Street,” despite being divided by busy Lancaster Avenue (Route 30). “My goal for Wayne is to be more pedestrian friendly,” he said. A group of business owners from the Wayne Business Association (WBA) have approached the Radnor Board of Commissioners to ask that the township spruce up downtown Wayne so that it can be more competitive with shopping meccas like King of Prussia, Devon Yard and Ardmore. A master plan would permit the township to prioritize its needs and make those improvements first. The Village of Wayne should have a clearly defined beginning and end, Weintraub said, with the commercial strip shopping areas on either side, and the buildings should be close to the sidewalk and street to make a walkable corridor. The board already approved the WBA request to replant corners in Wayne, and work is underway at the corners of Wayne and Lancaster avenues.
Source: Daily Times; 4/24/2019
Wallingford development proposal stirring concerns
Nether Providence Township officials could decide in a matter of weeks whether to allow a developer to embark on the review process for its plans for a 32-unit duplex complex on Wallingford Avenue. The proposal has generated concerns among some neighbors in the South Media section about housing density, stormwater runoff, increased traffic and other issues. Board of Commissioners President Matthew Sullivan said at a recent meeting the five-acre tract would need to be rezoned and undergo other evaluations before it could reach the approval stage. Sullivan’s comments came two weeks after the board approved a proposal by Malvern-based Progressive New Homes to construct 10 single family homes on the property, which is located adjacent to Sapovits Park. That application was considered a “by-right” submittal, meaning it was permitted under existing zoning requirements for that area of the township. In a presentation on April 11, Sarah Peck, the company’s owner, said some community members asked her to consider a development that did not consist of single-family homes and offered more affordability. As a result, her firm developed a plan featuring 16 duplexes, with units upstairs and downstairs.
Source: Daily Times; 4/19/2019
Radnor, Newtown residents oppose ‘Taj Mahal’ athletic field in their backyards
Two grass athletic fields sit on a bucolic corner that straddles Newtown and Radnor townships will soon be fitted with lights, turf and reorganized parking, if a developer and private school get their way. Neighbors in both townships say they don’t want to live feet away from “a commercial athletic enterprise" — a field that they’ve been told may be used not only by Delaware County Christian School sports teams but also by outside leagues who rent the space. “Here we are with a school in a largely residential area that has enjoyed a bucolic and wonderful coexistence with its neighborhood,” Newtown Square resident Patti Wilson said. “Do we have to have Taj Mahal athletic fields? And do we need to be running them 24/7?” To Main Line developers, top-notch athletic facilities have become a necessity if schools want to keep up with the competition. Three miles from Delaware County Christian, Episcopal Academy sits on a new $213 million campus with a pool, competition gym, field house, 10 squash courts, 14 tennis courts and nine full-sized fields, two of which have turf and lights. On the other side of Newtown Township, Marple Newtown High School has for years been looking to upgrade its fields, add turf and build a field house. Delaware County Christian School, a private school with 600 students in grades pre-K through 12, has five fields on two campuses — a lower-school property on Waterloo Road in Devon and the Newtown Square campus for middle and high school students. The school has more than a dozen varsity sports teams.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/23/2019
Clifton Heights increases zoning fees
Clifton Heights Borough Council unanimously approved increased fees for zoning hearings. Borough Manager John Perfetti recommended bumping the $500 fee for a hearing to $750 for residential properties and $1,500 for commercial properties. The increase was attributed to the cost of the solicitor for the hearings, hiring a stenographer and engineering fees that are “escalating to the point where it costs too much out of pocket,” according to Perfetti.
Source: Daily Times; 4/19/2019
Cyber charter reform bills could save county school districts $19.6 million
The Montgomery County Intermediate Unit (MCIU) estimates that, as a whole, county school districts could save approximately $19.6 million each year if a pair of cyber charter school reform bills now under consideration in Harrisburg become law. The nearly identical bills in the House and Senate would put the burden of tuition on the parents if their local school district operates a comparable cyber charter school program of its own. Over 34,000 students in Pennsylvania attend cyber charter schools, which are authorized by the state Department of Education. Brick-and-mortar charter schools are authorized by local school districts. To date, none of Pennsylvania’s independent cyber charter schools have reached a School Performance Profile score of 70 or better, which is considered adequate by the state, and all of the independent cyber charters had graduation rates below 86.6 percent, the state average. According to Phoenixville School Board Member Kevin Pattinson, “Not a single independent cyber charter school has met any state-mandated progress, with the exception of those operated by school districts themselves.” Supporters of the reform note that under current PA law, school districts must pay the same tuition per student to cyber charter schools that they must pay to brick-and-mortar charter schools. However, cyber charter school expenses are significantly less than schools with physical classrooms that need to be heated, lit and staffed with a teacher. According to the MCIU report, per-student costs in Montgomery County range from $12,592 to $20,357 per student. By contrast, it only costs Montgomery County school districts an average of $4,713 to educate each of its cyber students. Should the bills be enacted, Montgomery County taxpayers would collectively save $19.6 million each year, with Pottstown saving the second-highest amount at $2.2 million per year, which would have completely eliminated the need for the 3.5 percent tax hike it enacted last year. Click here for the full article and graphic that presents estimated school district savings if the bills are enacted.
Source: Times Herald; 4/23/2019
Norristown eyes 5% amusement tax
Norristown Municipal Council recently voted 5-1 to move forward with a proposed 5% amusement tax that would go into effect in January. Norristown has 90 days to advertise the specifics of the tax to the public. The new amusement tax would draw from attendance at local attractions, such as the Elmwood Park Zoo and Theatre Horizon. It is not clear how much revenue the tax would collect — official estimates shared during a March borough council meeting based on a higher 10% tax showed that the zoo alone could raise nearly $493,000 annually. Council also voted to authorize the Norristown Chamber of Commerce to create a task force to investigate an alternative revenue-raising plan that could be implemented instead of the tax.
Source: Whyy.org; 4/22/2019
Upper Gwynedd welcomes new manager
Upper Gwynedd Township’s new township manager, Sandra Brookley Zadell, is scheduled to start work on Monday, April 29. Zadell was selected as township manager in late March and will be the township’s fourth manager in 16 months. Longtime manager Len Perrone retired at the end of 2017, and Mike Lapinski, the assistant manager, was named permanent manager in June 2018. Lapinski left without public explanation at the end of 2018. Assistant manager Alex Kaker was then named interim manager, with assistance from former Lower Gwynedd Manager Larry Communale, until a replacement could be hired. Zadell was formerly the manager in Chalfont Borough and, before that, she was assistant manager in Doylestown Township.
Source: The Reporter; 4/18/2019
Upper Moreland to consider landscaping requirements for commercial properties
Upper Moreland Township commissioners will consider for adoption an ordinance amendment to address landscaping maintenance requirements for owners of multiple dwellings and commercial properties. A public hearing will be held on Monday, May 6, at 7 p.m. at the township building, located at 117 Park Ave., Willow Grove. The proposed amendment will extend the obligation of owners of multiple dwellings and commercial properties to maintain required landscaping, and prior to the issuance of any building permit in any multiple dwelling, commercial or industrial district, the applicant shall submit, together with plans for the proposed development, a planting or landscape plan, prepared by a registered professional landscape architect. A full copy of the proposed ordinance is available for review at the township building.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/19/2019
Philly’s 2020 assessments are out
Hundreds of thousands of Philadelphia homeowners are learning this month that their taxes will increase in 2020, after the city released new property assessments that increased values for three-quarters of residential properties. The Office of Property Assessment has assigned 2020 market values, which will be used to calculate next year’s taxes, to every property in the city. More than 389,000 properties will see increases, while about 81,000 assessments will decrease. But none of the notices arriving in residents’ mailboxes this week and next week will indicate the new value’s impact on taxpayers’ bank accounts. Chief Assessment Officer Michael Piper told City Council at a hearing this month that his office used to include predicted tax bills in assessment notices and online, but stopped doing so. That’s because there is supposed to be a divide between the Office of Property Assessment (OPA), which calculates property values, and the Revenue Department, which collects taxes. The Philadelphia Inquirer provides information on how to calculate your tax bill on your own here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/17/2019
Elected officials' roles in setting property taxes
Many Philadelphia homeowners received property tax increases this year — even through the city’s tax rate has not changed. In Philadelphia, an increase in the assessed property value also raises the tax on the property. In advance of the May primary election for mayor and city council positions, voters should understand their elected officials’ roles in the assessment and property tax system. Philadelphia’s annual budget begins with a proposal from the mayor, followed by hearings and deliberations by city council, who is tasked with passing a budget for the mayor to sign into law. Mayor Jim Kenney proposed a property tax increase in March 2018, but in April it was disclosed that a reassessment of all residential properties in the city would result in tax increases for many, even if the tax rate did not change. As a result, council members did not approve the proposed property tax rate increase. As the process gears up again this year, the Kenney administration has not proposed a property tax rate increase but because of the recently released 2020 assessments, hundreds of thousands of properties will have property tax increases and about 80,000 will see a decrease. If the tax rate remains unchanged, it is estimated that the city will raise an additional $53 million simply from the assessment change. City council is tasked with setting the tax rate, which can be reconsidered every year. Councilman Allan Domb said council should be more transparent about that, rather than pointing fingers at the Office of Property Assessment (OPA) for its valuations. “If we don’t change the rate and we raise the assessments, it’s really a tax increase,” said Domb. Options available to the city’s elected officials include considering revenue-neutral assessments by adjusting the tax rate, but Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Kenney, said Philadelphia’s regular reassessments “lessen the impact of rising market values in any given year,” and reduce the need for revenue neutrality.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/23/2019
Street cleaning pilot has launched in six neighborhoods
Philadelphia officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney, announced the launch of a mechanical street cleaning pilot program, which will target six neighborhoods stretching from Southwest Philadelphia to Kensington. The pilot, running weekly from April through November, will include mechanical-broom cleaning, as well as backpack and hand blowers, officials said. Residents will be encouraged, but not required, to move their vehicles, Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams said. The six neighborhoods targeted for the program are:
“Watching our city get dumped on day after day seriously burns me up,” Kenney said in statement. “It is the reason why I have fought to bring back a residential mechanical sweeping program.” Philadelphia is one of the only large cities without a residential street sweeping program, though it wasn’t always that way. Until budget cuts about a decade ago, every city block was swept weekly. Resurrecting such a service would cost $5.2 million annually as well as a $12 million in equipment costs, the Inquirer reported last February.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/16/2019