NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
NAR responds to administration proposal to reform Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

Bucks County
Bensalem approves 106 more townhouses at Waterside community 

Chester County
Embreeville Redevelopment zoning hearing postponed 

Delaware County
SEPTA upgrades Secane station

Montgomery County
New Hanover Town Center project raising concern 

Philadelphia County
Center City developers benefit the most from city’s tax abatement 

 

News Briefs Archive April 8, 2019

 

General News

Taxes, fees seen as fix for Pa.'s $450M transit problem
Transit in Pennsylvania is speeding toward a funding chasm, but a group of government and business leaders have fixes in mind: increase income or sales taxes; impose congestion pricing; add fees for Uber and Lyft; or give counties the ability to raise funds for transportation directly. Some of these alone or several combined could generate the $350 million to $450 million a year needed for public transit. The ideas are among nearly four dozen offered by a panel of state officials and business leaders called the Southeast Partnership for Mobility. Their report, which outlines the pros and cons of each proposal, stands to be the first word in a coming legislative funding debate. A major source of transit funding — $450 million a year from the Pennsylvania Turnpike — is threatened by a lawsuit pending in federal court that challenges the funding mechanism’s constitutionality. In any case, that funding is unsustainable, officials said, due to the debt the Turnpike Commission incurs to make those payments and legislation that would shift the funding responsibility in 2022. The turnpike’s debt load is up to $13 billion, driving the costs of tolls up 6 percent each year. Meanwhile, the state estimates that even if the $450 million were sustainable, it isn’t enough. Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards estimated the state needs $650 million a year for capital expenses to properly invest in transit.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/2/2019

Housing Equality Center plans ‘Fair Housing: 50 Years and Beyond’ event for April 11
The Housing Equality Center (HEC) will hold a reception at the 20th Century Club in Lansdowne to commemorate the 1968 Fair Housing Act. “Fair Housing: 50 Years and Beyond” will look back at the historical contributions of area residents in combating housing discrimination and building local support for fair housing, and will celebrate ongoing efforts to promote diverse and welcoming communities throughout our region. The HEC will honor Mayor Mark Barbee of Bridgeport with the inaugural Margaret Hill Collins Award for Fair Housing Advocacy. The reception will take place on Thursday, April 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the 20th Century Club, 84 S. Lansdowne Ave., Lansdowne. Register for the free event online.

Bucks County

Bensalem zoning approvals open Drexel property to housing
Bensalem Township Council voted 3 to 2 in favor of approving two ordinances that will pave the way for possible redevelopment of the former St. Katharine Drexel shrine property. One ordinance created a new mixed-use residential zoning district within the township, and the second applied the new zoning designation to the 44-acre property, which had been previously zoned as institutional. Aquinas Realty Partners hopes to build a 605-unit integrated community made up of 90 market-rate townhouses, 175 senior independent-living units, 80 assisted living or memory care units, and 260 age-restricted apartments. The plans will now move into the land development phase, which could take up to a year for reviews and changes before the plan comes before council for final approval. Aquinas hopes to keep the St. Elizabeth Chapel on the property as a consecrated religious site that is open to the public.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/2/2019

Falls planning commission denies Elcon
The Falls Township Planning Commission voted not to recommend plans for the Elcon Recycling Services proposed hazardous waste treatment facility on 23 acres in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex. The 4-0 vote came after a public comment period with residents urging the commissioners to reject Elcon’s plan and recommend the supervisors do the same. The attorney representing Elcon, Kim Freimuth, of Fox Rothschild, said the company was not seeking a vote from the commission and warned a vote could have legal consequences. Freimuth said the company was in the process of amending the application to address concerns and land development issues. “We’re here to determine whether it’s appropriate for the zoning district and the planning commission. The legal stuff is up to the lawyers,” said Commission Chairman Brian Binney after the meeting. Elcon’s latest submission to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has cleared an initial bar, putting DEP on track to announce its intent to approve or deny in May. The Falls Township Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, April 30, at 7 p.m. at Keller Hall at Pennsbury High School West, 608 Olds Boulevard in Fairless Hills, to review Elcon’s application.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/26/2019

New Hope removes paper license requirement from business tax
New Hope Borough Council recently approved a number of changes to the tax ordinance, including cutting out references to a “paper license” for business owners. The borough first enacted a business privilege tax in 1978 pursuant to the Pennsylvania Local Tax Enabling Act, or Act 511. The ordinance required anyone paying the business privilege tax to also apply for a “business privilege license” that was to be “conspicuously posted in each place of business.” In August, Borough Solicitor T.J. Walsh pointed out that the borough was not technically following its own ordinance because it was not, nor did it ever, present paper licenses to businesses. Another change put into effect switches collection dates for the tax from a fiscal year to a calendar year. This year businesses will need to pay a prorated tax of about $170 in July, and the regular tax amount will be due by March 15, 2020.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/30/2019

Lower Makefield passes equality and nondiscrimination resolution
Lower Makefield Township supervisors unanimously approved an equality and nondiscrimination resolution brought to the floor by Chairman Dan Grenier. The resolution states that the township “does not discriminate against any class of individual, including sex, race, color, age, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, marital status, medical condition, veteran status or disability.” It also directs the township manager to develop a manual and training for township employees, “which will include policies related to nondiscrimination, sexual harassment, family medical leave, military service or other similar policies as required by federal and state regulations.” The resolution urges federal and state elected officials to pursue legislation and policies to protect all members of the community, and says if they do not, the township will pursue local approaches for providing these protections, possibly including a township ordinance enforceable by law as opposed to the nonbinding resolution.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 3/27/2019

Bensalem, Doylestown and Warrington awarded trail grants
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) announced a total of $3.67 million in grant awards in the Greater Philadelphia region during a recent board meeting. The grants for 22 trail projects are part of the DVRPC’s Regional Trails Program, which is funded by the William Penn Foundation. Bensalem received $350,000 to help cover construction costs for three segments of a hike-and-bike trail that is part of an East Coast Greenway trail that runs from Maine to Florida. Warrington will get $491,100 to help with construction of a new connector trail from state Route 202 Parkway to Bradford Dam. Doylestown received $30,000 to be used toward the cost of a feasibility study for a trail connecting Central Park to state Route 313 (Swamp Road). Visit www.dvrpc.org for more information on the trail program.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/31/2019

Chester County 

Commissioners continue ‘Coffee and Conversation’ events
The Chester County Commissioners have announced plans for the next two Coffee and Conversation evenings. The informal gatherings will be held in cafés and coffee houses, and residents of all ages are encouraged to attend. The next Coffee and Conversation evening is Monday, April 15, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Steel City Coffee, 203 Bridge St., Phoenixville. The other will be held on Wednesday, May 1, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Malvern Buttery, 233 E. King St., Malvern.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 4/3/2019

Coatesville School District residents decry proposed tax increase
Several Coatesville School District residents spoke out against a proposed property tax increase included in the district’s preliminary budget at a well-attended school board. 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 school board meeting on Feb. 12. “Tax history yields that for the last 10 years school taxes have risen by 42 percent,” said Richard Felice, a resident of the district. In past years, the district has held town hall meetings to discuss the preliminary budget with residents before voting on the final budget. “We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and the time the final budget is due, and the board will continue to do their due diligence,” Board President Robert Fisher said. 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. The next school board meeting is set for Tuesday, April 9, at 6 p.m. at the Coatesville Area Senior High School auditorium.
Source: Daily Local; 3/29/2019

Construction begins on new Kennett Square retail complex
The west end of Kennett Square is booming. Construction has begun on Kennett Square’s newest development, Kennett Crossing, located at 753-754 W. Cypress St. “We are honored to be a part of this new development and excited to see the continued economic growth in Kennett Square,” said Tess Scott of Zommick McMahon Commercial Real Estate. “The collaborated support from Kennett Township and the borough has played an integral part of this new growth.” The development is expected to be finished by October of this year. It will be a modern, state-of-the-art building with stone and stucco exterior, housing 7,500 square feet of retail and office space.
Source: Daily Local; 4/2/2019

Residents say former garden site at Route 1, 52 an eyesore
Hillingham residents say they’re at the limits of their patience. Kennett Township officials say they’re at the limits of their powers. The business was destroyed by a gas explosion and fire years ago, and since then officials say the site, south of Route 1 on the east side of Route 52, has never been cleaned up.  Several Hillingham residents want township officials to step up their efforts to pressure the owners to get the site cleaned up completely. The supervisors and Township Manager Lisa Moore said they’ve tried every tool they have to get the owners to clean the site. Moore said they had fined the owners, issued numerous citation letters and put liens on the property. In response, the owners had begun to clean the site, enough that the courts in authority over the situation regarded it as an adequate effort so far. This tied the township’s hands as far as further steps, Moore said. The owners seemed to have essentially abandoned the property and were reportedly trying to start another business elsewhere.
Source: Daily Local; 3/30/2019

Delaware County

Middletown puts Elwyn acreage purchase on ballot
This primary election, Middletown Township voters will decide whether to add an average $8.47 a month to their tax bill so the 81-acre Sleighton Farms property can be saved as open space for a passive park. In February, township council members unanimously approved an agreement of sale to purchase about 81 acres of open space from Elwyn Inc., which is in the midst of shrinking its footprint in the township and moving its administrative staff to Camden, N.J. The agreement is contingent upon voters approving a referendum to buy the land. If purchased, the township will have 640 acres of open space — including the 2005 condemnation of another 22 acres of the former Sleighton School that was used for active recreation, and the voter-approved acquisitions of 150 acres each from the Linvill and Darlington families and the 76 acres of the Smedley family property. On May 21, Middletown voters will vote yes or no on a question to authorize the township to allocate $8 million for the purchase and related costs to acquire the Sleighton property. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, community members are invited to visit the property for an onsite Open House where township council and staff will be available to answer questions. In addition, the township has more information about the referendum for view on its website. Feedback is also being accepted via email at council@middletowntownship.org.
Source: Daily Times; 4/3/2019

Problem trees spark debate in Radnor
Radnor Township Commissioners voted unanimously to have staff develop a tree maintenance and care program. Commissioner John Nagle estimated that about half the township’s trees could be deemed hazardous, owing in part to the age of the trees and the use of road salt. “I think we need a policy that looks at the risk as compared to the area,” he said. “If it’s an area where the ball field is, of course you want to address that. If it is in a stand of woods, maybe not so much.” Township Manager Robert Zienkowski noted that last fall, when the budget was discussed, members of the shade tree commission proposed $1 million a year to care for trees in the township. Also, two residents have performed an inventory on all the township’s street trees, some of which are “in dire shape.” Zienkowski said he hopes with the recommendation of various township groups that a comprehensive tree plan can be presented during the budget process this year.
Source: Daily Times; 4/2/2019

Upper Chi gets $675K from state for streetscapes project
Upper Chichester Township is one of 106 municipalities in the state to receive a new project approval via the Multimodal Transportation Fund. The $675,000 award will be put toward the Chichester Avenue Streetscape project. The grant and other grants and PennDOT projects represent a nearly $3 million investment in the township along the Chichester Avenue corridor. Construction is expected to begin late in the summer and take place over the next few years. The grant will be used for the replacement of sidewalks on Chichester Avenue between Johnson and Pleasant avenues, a decorative sidewalk, crosswalks and landscaping, pedestrian lighting, signage, street sign replacements, bus shelter and bus stop improvements, guide rails, and security fencing replacements.
Source: Daily Times; 4/1/2019

Media residents express concerns regarding parking shortage
At a recent Media Borough Council meeting, residents and business owners expressed frustration about a lack of parking, but council members said they have no short-term solutions. Council President Brian Hall replied to the first few speakers during the public comment period by saying parking is a challenging and wide-ranging matter. One cause is success, he said — Media has received numerous accolades as a place to live, do business or visit for an array of events. “There is little we can do to increase the supply of parking in a borough that is just three quarters of a square mile,” said Hall. While parking has been tight in the past, the recent demolition of the county’s buildings and parking structure has employees looking elsewhere on borough streets. In many cases, residential areas are protected by parking restrictions. The major impact has been in the center of the borough, which is comprised of retail businesses, professional offices and the county’s government center. The estimate of parking needs for the county offices is approximately 800 spaces. When all of the county’s garage spaces were previously available, the deficit was still about half that need. Hall and other borough council members encouraged those concerned to attend county council meetings as well as addressing those in county positions to consider some remedies. Prior to the building failure and demolition, county officials had presented a concept plan for a new office and parking structure. They have not returned to the borough with updated or new plans for more than a year.
Source: Daily Times; 4/1/2019

Why the middle class in Delaware County is having trouble making ends meet
Public Citizens for Children & Youth, a nonprofit advocacy organization, released a study titled “Underwater: What’s Sinking Families in Delaware County” that analyzed the elements of financial stress plaguing families in Delaware County and the pressures placed on local school districts. With education often a link to upward mobility, underfunded districts and an unlevel playing field only add to the struggles. “Delco has got a warning sign on it,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of PCCY. After looking at the costs of child care, health care, housing, utilities, food, transportation and taxes, the study found that a family of four making $75,000 annually faces a $2,100 hole, and a family making $50,000 a year is under by $3,150, even with subsidies. It did not include items such as clothes, braces, school supplies, toys, birthday presents, or car or home repairs. The organization plans to do similar analyses of Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
Source: Daily Times; 3/31/2019

Montgomery County

Pottstown Investors Conference set for April 12
The third annual Pottstown Investors Conference will be held Friday, April 12, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in The Hill School’s Center for the Arts, 760 Beech St., Pottstown. The event is a partnership of the Hobart’s Run neighborhood revitalization initiative and The Hill School and is geared toward real estate investors, developers, business owners and entrepreneurs interested in Pottstown. Attendees will hear about Pottstown and its revitalization efforts from some of its business owners and government officials. The day will conclude with a tour of some potential investment properties in Pottstown. “We do want to focus on inspiring investment,” said Twila Fisher, manager of community and economic development for The Hill School. Nearly 200 people participated in the first two Pottstown Investor Conferences, and Fisher said a goal of the event is to make more aware of what Pottstown has to offer. There is no charge for the event, but participants are asked to pre-register by calling 610-705-1018 or by visiting The Hill School website.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 4/1/2019

Upper Pottsgrove considers selling sewer system
Upper Pottsgrove Township has been approached by Aqua PA and Pennsylvania American Water about the possibility of buying the township’s sewer system. Private utility companies like Aqua and PA American Water have been on a buying spree since the passage of Act 12 in 2016. Act 12 changes the way the systems are valued and allows municipalities to charge much more to sell the system than they previously did. The average annual sewer bill for Upper Pottsgrove residents is about $860, one of the highest in the area. According to John Bealer, a former township commissioner, about 35 percent of the quarterly sewer bill goes to debt service on a $9 million sewer system extension that expanded sewer service to homes with failing septic fields. Upper Pottsgrove does not have a sewage treatment plant — it sends sewage to the Pottstown Wastewater Treatment Plant that is owned and operated by the Pottstown Borough Authority. Township commissioners met in a closed-door executive session at the end of the meeting to discuss the matter.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 4/3/2019

Entire Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority board resigns
The Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority (PDIDA) board resigned en masse in a letter to the borough manager in February. The move follows the departure of Sheila Dugan, the PDIDA executive director, earlier in Februrary. At that time, PDIDA Board Chairman Burke Meyers said the board was considering “moving in a new direction” and Dugan’s duties would be divided up and undertaken by the various board members. But on Feb. 26, Pottstown Borough Manager Justin Keller received a letter from the entire board announcing the resignation of all members. “We believe there is a better use of our collective time and energy than serving on the PDIDA board. We believe this will provide all of us with better opportunities to have more meaningful community impact,” read the letter. PDIDA was founded in 1987 after being approved by the property owners in the business district along High Street from York to Evans streets. An assessment is levied on those properties that fund the activities of the PDIDA, including the downtown farm market and other events. Last November, Pottstown Borough Council reauthorized PDIDA for a single year. Keller said that businesses have stepped up to take a more active role on some of PDIDA responsibilities. “They are filling the void until PDIDA figures out where it wants to go,” said Keller.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/25/2019

Cirque du Soleil returns to Montco in July
Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board announced Cirque du Soleil is returning to Montgomery County in July. The success of Cirque du Soleil’s Volta show, which drew more than 86,000 attendees last year, is the reason for the return this summer, one year earlier than what was originally planned, according to Mike Bowman, president & CEO of the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. This year’s show, Amaluna, will run for an engagement of 40 performances at the Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, premiering July 24.
Source: Main Line Media News; 4/2/2019

Philadelphia

Philadelphia seeks to heal old Eastwick wound with a ‘village in the city’
More than 60 years after a failed urban renewal project in Eastwick displaced 8,636 people for development that never happened, Philadelphia officials have released final recommendations to turn the resulting vacant land into a “village in the city.” The 94-page feasibility study took over two years of intense and productive collaboration between the city and the community. The study began in 2016 when the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority commissioned a team of consultants led by Interface Studio to work with residents to determine a shared vision for the nearly 200 acres that had sat empty since the city’s last attempt to develop it in 1961. The study envisions Eastwick as a “village in the city” that balances development and economic growth around a Main Street, while preserving open space for flood mitigation. The Southwest Philly site — a marshy area nestled between Darby Creek and Cobbs Creek, near the airport — floods frequently, with some residents reporting flooding as many as 10 times over the past 20 years. The plan came out of a public process that involved three community meetings and several workshops with neighborhood stakeholders and the rest of the team — Bishop Land Design, University of Orange, Real Estate Strategies and WSP engineers.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/27/2019

Rooms for rent: Inside Philadelphia’s shadow housing market
Called boardinghouses, rooms for rent or just a cheap place to stay, rooming houses are defined by city officials as rent-by-the-room establishments where more than three people unrelated by blood or marriage live and share bathroom and (sometimes) kitchen facilities. The city does not know how many are currently operating, but, over the past decade, the Department of Licenses and Inspections has approved permits for 82 facilities across the city. They occupy a perilous niche in the city’s housing landscape — unwelcome and banned in most city neighborhoods, yet in demand from renters in need of affordable and accessible options. Policymakers continue to dodge difficult conversations about the city’s untold thousands of rooming houses, how to better regulate them or even bring their owners out of the shadows. Meanwhile, the cost of housing continues to rise, and people keep looking for rooms they can afford. “There are far more rooming houses in the city of Philadelphia than people have any idea of, especially now with prices going up beyond what many people can pay,” said Karla Cruel, a longtime legal aid attorney in Philadelphia. “By making it so difficult to create rooming houses, it makes landlords go underground. And illegal rooming houses make it much easier to oppress and manipulate people and put them in really dangerous situations.” Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/28/2019


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