NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs

Bucks County
Bucks sheriff sales go online

Chester County
Chesco to offer webinar on Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program

Delaware County
Brandywine Battlefield property purchased

Montgomery County
Lower Merion extends business privilege/mercantile tax deadline

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia rental and utility assistance program open for tenants and landlords

 

News Briefs Archive April 5, 2021

 

General News

Realtors eligible for vaccination April 12, all Pa. adults eligible April 19
Pennsylvania will make all people 16 and older eligible for the coronavirus vaccine on Monday, April 19, with many able to schedule appointments sooner. Eligible now are law enforcement, firefighters, grocery store workers, and food and agriculture workers. The entire 1B group will be eligible on Monday, April 5, and 1C will be eligible Monday, April 12, according to Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® has confirmed with the state that the real estate industry falls within the 1C category. The plans respond to directives from the federal government and will be supported by new predictability in the federal vaccine allocations and a growing supply of shots. The Pennsylvania Department of Health no longer plans to open two mass clinics in Philadelphia’s collar counties and instead will divide a supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses between the four counties.
Source: Just Listed; 4/1/2021 & Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/31/2021

Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs
Pennsylvania counties have tens of millions of dollars to help renters and landlords impacted by COVID-19.  Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds, which come from state and federal programs, can be used to pay for rent, past-due balances, utility costs and certain other expenses for up to 15 months. Tenants can apply, or landlords can apply on behalf of current tenants. The ERAP program does not have a maximum payment, and it allows for funding of past-due amounts — a notable improvement over last year’s Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency program, which capped rental assistance at $750 a month and required that landlords forgive the difference. Visit the SRA’s ERAP webpage for more information and links to each county’s program site.

CDC extends eviction ban through June; 30% of Pa. households behind on rent
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extended a nationwide ban on evictions through June. “Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. While tenants and advocates for vulnerable populations applaud the move, some local landlords and their representatives are challenging it. The CDC order applies only to evictions for nonpayment — evictions for other lease violations are allowed. First put in place when the pandemic began last year, the moratorium has been extended multiple times. Under CDC rules, renters who earn under $99,000 annually (or $198,000 for couples filing jointly) must certify to their landlords that they are unable to pay their rent because of pandemic-related hardships. They must also have attempted to get government rental assistance to make payments. The order prevents lock-outs, but it does not stop landlords from filing court cases and it does not stop rent from accruing. Nearly one-third of adults in the Philadelphia region and across Pennsylvania are living in households that have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/29/2021

Pennsylvania schools getting $4.9B in federal pandemic aid
Pennsylvania schools will get nearly $5 billion from the federal COVID-19 aid package, the Wolf administration announced. School districts must use at least 20% of the money to address learning loss from the pandemic as well as support the “social, emotional and academic needs of underrepresented students,” including students from low-income families, those with disabilities and English language learners. About $4.5 billion will go directly to public school districts and charter schools. The state education department itself will get about $500 million for various initiatives, and to assist career and technical schools, intermediate units and other education entities that do not get a direct allocation. Read the article in the Bucks County Courier Times for a list of school district and charter allocations. The money comes from the $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure that President Joe Biden signed earlier this month.
Source: Daily Times; 3/30/2021

Bucks County

Lower Makefield to vote on planned Wegmans development
Developers Shady Brook Investors LP and ELU DeLuca Yardley LLC will appear before Lower Makefield supervisors on Wednesday, April 7, seeking preliminary and final plan approval for the mixed-use development referred to as Prickett Preserve at Edgewood. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. and the meeting agenda posted on the Lower Makefield Township website includes instructions on how to participate remotely. Development plans call for a 100,000-square-foot Wegmans, a 3,000-square-foot bank to be leased by JP Morgan Chase, and five other commercial buildings. The developer is also building 200 apartments to be housed in nine three-story buildings. A historic building and barn on the property will be preserved, and a pedestrian trail will be built.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/22/2021

Middletown changes rental inspection program
Middletown Township supervisors recently amended the township ordinance on rental unit inspections. The change merges two existing apartment inspection programs into one streamlined effort, with inspections being performed by the Department of Building and Zoning, or the Department of Fire and Emergency Management. The new ordinance requires all rental dwellings to be inspected every two years, or before a new tenant moves in. The inspection program begins in April.
Source: Middletown Township; 3/2021

Hilltown neighbors oppose Ag area
The owner of a nursery in Hilltown Township approached the supervisors about placing the property in the township’s Agricultural Security Area (ASA), which is a zoning designation intended to protect farms and farmland from nonagricultural uses. By having one’s property as part of an ASA, an owner receives protection from certain local ordinances and nuisance lawsuits that affect normal farming activities. Some residents near the property are opposed to the ASA designation because the property is also used for a non-ag business — L&M Paving and Excavation. The property has been the subject of complaints, including noise violations and piles that lack proper visual buffers. Neighboring residents don’t feel the property should be able to get the protections afforded by an ASA.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/25/2021

Newtown, Upper Makefield and Wrightstown to amend joint zoning ordinance
The boards of supervisors of Newtown, Upper Makefield and Wrightstown townships will hold public hearings on a proposed ordinance amending the definition of "family" in the Newtown Area Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO). The amendment would define “family” as follows: “A single housekeeping unit intended to provide a stable, permanent and functional lifestyle including one or more persons related by blood, foster relationship, marriage or adoption, and, in addition, any domestic assistants, caretakers or gratuitous guests thereof, or a group of not more than five persons who need not be so related, who shall reside together a minimum of thirty (30) consecutive days each year and in addition, domestic assistants, caretakers or gratuitous guests thereof, who are living together in a single dwelling unit and maintaining a common household with single cooking facilities. A roomer, boarder, or lodger shall not be considered a member of the family.” The limit of not more than five persons unrelated by blood, foster relationship, marriage or adoption shall not apply to persons protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the legal notice, the townships write that the purpose is to avoid transiency, which disrupts the community, “and not to pass judgment on the life style choices of those who live in the household for an extended period of time." Wrightstown Township will meet virtually on Monday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. Upper Makefield will meet Tuesday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. with meeting details to be determined. Newtown Township will meet Wednesday, April 28, at 7 p.m. with meeting details to be determined.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/30/2021

Chester County 

Plans would connect communities with trails in southern Chester County
The Kennett Area Regional Trails Committee — a collaboration between Kennett Square Borough and East Marlborough, Kennett and New Garden townships — is hoping to create a regional trail network that will boost environmental stewardship, economic and recreational development, and the welfare of residents and visitors. The regional trails would connect to The Circuit, Greater Philadelphia’s multi–use trail network linking people to jobs, communities, parks and waterways. Governments, nonprofits and foundations have collaborated to complete over 300 miles of the envisioned 750-mile regional network. Kennett Area Regional Trails Committee plans to continue moving forward with public outreach and the development of an interactive public trail map.
Source: Daily Local; 3/25/2021

Aqua invests $2.6 million in infrastructure improvement in West Goshen, West Whiteland
Aqua Pennsylvania announced it has invested $2.6 million in infrastructure improvement projects in West Goshen and West Whiteland townships. Crews replaced 7,950 feet of aging 6-inch cement pipe with new 8-inch ductile iron water main on several streets in West Goshen. In West Whiteland, crews replaced 4,600 feet of aging 8- and 6-inch cement pipe with new 8- and 6-inch ductile iron pipe. The work is part of Aqua’s infrastructure improvement program, which in 2020 replaced more than 15 miles of aging water mains in Chester County. Aqua Pennsylvania has more than $33 million planned for investments across the county in 2021.
Source: Daily Local; 3/26/2021

Ground to be broken on Kennett library
Ground will be broken this summer on an $18 million, state-of-the-art library in downtown Kennett Square. Construction is expected to be completed in December of 2022. “This will have a transformative effect on the region for the next 50 years,” said Jeff Yetter, president of the library’s board of trustees. The library, at State and Willow streets, will feature an Avondale Brownstone exterior with an abundance of natural light. It will feature a Bayard Taylor Sitting Room with a fireplace, four classrooms for collaborative learning, an adult and children’s maker space, four private tutor rooms, and eight computer terminals that are accessible. A capital campaign started a year ago has already raised $10 million. Residents can learn more and contribute at the Campaign 4 Kennett Library website.
Source: Daily Local; 3/29/2021

New vaccine registration system launches
Chester County Health Department has launched a new vaccine registration system for its COVID-19 vaccine program. The new system helps people who have registered with the county health department to easily book a vaccine appointment, and ensures appointments are allocated specifically to the individuals who are being contacted. Residents can register for a vaccination on the Chester County website.
Source: Daily Local; 3/30/2021

Spring-Ford School District eyes $4.5 million deficit
Spring-Ford School District’s preliminary budget for 2021-2022 includes a $4.5 million deficit. A majority of school board members recently said they would support a 3% tax increase to help close the budget gap. The budget deficit would require a 3.99% tax increase to balance, so the district is trying to cut one million from the budget to make up the difference. School Board President Colleen Zasowski said she would like to see the tax increase brought below 3%, but she was the only board member to advocate for doing so. The school district must finalize the budget by the end of June.
Source: Times Herald & Digital Notebook Blog; 3/24/2021

Delaware County

Chadds Ford dedicates funds for open space
Chadds Ford Township supervisors last week authorized the distribution of more than $2 million to preserve 71 acres along Oakland Road. The total project cost of $3.6 million is being funded mostly by grants, plus a small portion from the township's open space fund. The land, located at 6 Oakland Road, was previously approved for a planned residential development, but that fell through. The site will now be the Brinton Run Preserve. According to Township Manager Maryann Furlong, Chadds Ford has been working with North America Land Trust (NALT) to secure the property since the summer of 2019. The legal owner of the property reached out to NALT to explore the possibility of a conservation purchase. The township will hold the conservation easement and trail agreement to ensure the land will be protected in perpetuity. The township will hire the Brandywine Conservancy to monitor the easement.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 3/29/2021

Comcast program connects low-income residents to the internet
Comcast’s Internet Essentials program has allowed 60,000 individuals in Delaware County, and more than 840,000 in the Greater Philadelphia area, to be connected to the internet. The program provides $9.95-a-month, plus tax, connectivity to residents who meet salary guidelines, such as eligibility in the National School Lunch Program, Housing Assistance, SNAP, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. Comcast plans to invest $1 billion over the next 10 years to reach 50 million more students and individuals to help bridge the digital divide.
Source: Daily Times; 3/31/2021

Chadds Ford marijuana ordinance ‘close’
A medical marijuana ordinance is “close” to becoming a reality in Chadds Ford, according to Craig Huffman, chairman of the township planning commission. “We just need to figure out the distance from residential property,” Huffman said after an hour-long conversation on the proposed ordinance during the March 24 commission meeting. The commission might be ready to recommend passage at its April meeting. The draft of the Chadds Ford ordinance under discussion calls for dispensaries being located in the B-1 Business District. There are only two areas zoned that way, located along the Route 202 corridor, north of Route 1. One is north of State Farm drive and the other is north of Oakland Road. Chadds Ford already allows for medical marijuana dispensaries in the B-Business Zoning District as a pharmaceutical use. Other areas of the discussion centered on limiting the size of dispensaries to 3,000 to 5,000 square feet. In Pennsylvania, municipalities must accommodate all legal business activities in their zoning codes. With medical marijuana legal in Pennsylvania, many municipalities in the area have already amended their codes for that purpose.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 3/25/2021

Keystone First Wellness Center is open and vaccinating
Since its opening on Feb. 25, the Keystone First Wellness Center in Chester has served as a COVID-19 vaccination site for more than 1,000 residents of Chester and the surrounding community. Through a partnership with Keystone First, Delaware County has been able to target an underserved community and some of the most vulnerable residents. The center offers transportation for residents, if needed. Keystone First will soon offer expanded resources at the new facility for improving community members’ overall health and well-being. Delaware County Council has expressed gratitude for the partnership and Keystone First’s commitment to the Chester community.
Source: Delaware County; 3/26/2021

Delco rental assistance applications open
Delaware County has created a website for tenants and landlords interested in applying for the Emergency Assistance Rental Program (ERAP). Applications started to be accepted on April 1 at the Delco ERA website. A hotline is available at 484-729-4200, and an in-person application process is also planned. Delaware County Council hired Philadelphia-based Capital Access Inc. to administer the $37 million that the county will receive for the ERAP from federal and state sources. The money is geared to provide six months of rent, plus utilities, for those having trouble paying their rent or facing eviction. County officials indicated there were 800 to 1,000 ejectment proceedings in the Common Pleas and magisterial courts and anticipated that this program could help approximately 5,000 county renters overall. Delaware County solicitor William Martin recommended that potential applicants file their 2020 federal tax returns to prepare. “Part of the program involves an income verification step because you need to be below 80% of adjusted median income to be qualified,” Martin said. An executed lease document is also helpful for the process. In addition to rent, the program will fund the largest past-due utility bill for any particular applicant.
Source: Daily Times; 3/24/2021

Montgomery County

Royersford to consider eliminating per capita tax
Royersford Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, April 13, to vote on a proposal to eliminate the per capita tax. The tax is fixed at $10 for any person with an income exceeding $12,000, or a joint income over $24,000. According to tax collector Amy Billetta, the $10 tax brought in less than $10,000, even though more than $22,000 in tax bills were issued. Return mail and unpaid collections were incurring postal costs that Billetta said were “more expensive and time-consuming than it was worth.” Borough Council President Anil Dahm said the borough’s improved financial position — due to higher earned income tax revenues, grants received, increased businesses, “fiscal savvy by our borough manager” and “wise decisions by this current borough council” — make the per capita tax something that can be eliminated.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/31/2021

Spring-Ford School District eyes $4.5 million deficit
Spring-Ford School District’s preliminary budget for 2021-2022 includes a $4.5 million deficit. A majority of school board members recently said they would support a 3% tax increase to help close the budget gap. The budget deficit would require a 3.99% tax increase to balance, so the district is trying to cut one million from the budget to make up the difference. School Board President Colleen Zasowski said she would like to see the tax increase brought below 3%, but she was the only board member to advocate for doing so. The school district must finalize the budget by the end of June.
Source: Times Herald & Digital Notebook Blog; 3/24/2021

Upper Merion to amend zoning related to fences
Upper Merion Township supervisors will hold a public hearing during their meeting on Thursday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m., to consider and take action on a proposed ordinance amending fence regulations. The proposed amendment will add restrictions for the erection of fences within a required front yard, provide for exceptions, establish appearance regulations and prohibit certain types of fences. The proposed ordinance and instructions for meeting attendance can be found on the Upper Merion Township website.
Source: Times Herald; 3/30/2021

Norristown gets updates on stormwater
Norristown Municipal Council recently heard from Bruce Hulshizer, of Herbert, Rowland & Grubic Inc., the engineering firm tasked with crafting recommendations to revamp the municipality’s existing stormwater management practices to comply with state standards. One of the first recommendations was for the municipality to form a stormwater committee — which has since been done, with 16 members made up of residents, legislators and business professionals. Hulshizer said public outreach and participation are key factors needed to further stormwater mitigation measures. Hulshizer presented two ideas for how to cover the cost of such a program: a tax-based option or a fee. A tax-based option would mean that tax-exempt entities would pay nothing, even though their properties generate runoff. A stormwater fee would spread the cost out across homeowners and tax-exempt entities, and would require the municipality to establish a stormwater authority.
Source: Times Herald; 3/18/2021

Philadelphia

Philly council calls for hearings after sudden switch to online sheriff sales
Philadelphia City Council members are calling for hearings over a decision to move sheriff sales to a completely virtual system. Councilmember Cherelle Parker is expected to introduce a resolution next week calling for hearings examining the move from the previous system — live auctions of distressed real estate held in West Philadelphia and officiated by the sheriff’s office — to online bidding handled by a third-party auction company called Bid4Assets. The change is slated to occur when the sales resume on Wednesday, April 6, after a yearlong hold instituted to protect property owners during the coronavirus pandemic. Housing advocates have raised concerns that opening the auctions to nonlocal bidders will increase real estate speculation. Sheriff Rochelle Bilal has said that the move to online sales will save the sheriff’s office $17,000 a month by eliminating rental costs, employee lunches and other operational costs linked to in-person bidding. “The move to virtual will be permanent, based on cost savings alone,” Bilal said during a virtual press briefing. Only vacant properties will be up for sale on April 6, Bilal said. Read the full article at Plan Philly.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/29/2021

Roxborough is attracting new developers, renters and home buyers
Roxborough is outpacing Philadelphia as a whole in percentage of growth of residents and new housing units. Census estimates show the number of rental units in the 19128 ZIP code have increased by about 19%. The 19128 area encompasses Roxborough, Upper Roxborough and parts of Manayunk. Development has increased due to changes in zoning, along with Philadelphia’s 2035 comprehensive plan that envisions a more developed Roxborough. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/24/2021

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