Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Pennsylvania to cover the cost of stamps for mail-in ballots
Hilltown delays vote on 194-unit, age-restricted development
County makes legal moves before PUC hearings
Rutledge finances force out Keffer as administrator
Comprehensive plan meeting scheduled in Abington
Grassroots group placing homeless families in PHA properties; PHA wants them out
Bubble or just overheated — a look at home prices
Home prices across the nation are at or above their pre-recession levels and are rising faster than the rate of inflation. The price for homes is approaching 2006 levels, just before the foreclosure crisis and Great Recession. There are key differences between the surge in housing prices in 2018 and the bubble burst of 2006 — like significantly fewer speculative housing starts today compared to the mid-2000s — and understanding the differences is critical to knowing how high housing costs may affect the economy. Click here for the CityLab article.
Source: CityLab; 8/7/2018
Who rents their home in America?
Homeownership trends in America have remained largely the same since 1960 — with a few shifts here and there through the years, according to a CityLab analysis. Homeowners outnumber renters two-to-one according to U.S. Census data. People in their 20s, residents of cities and lower-income Americans are more likely to rent. Households earning less than $50,000 per year have a homeownership rate of around 45 percent, but there is a close to 80 percent homeownership rate for households earning more than $50,000. Click here for the full analysis.
Source: CityLab; 8/8/2018
Lower Makefield approves short-term rental rules
Lower Makefield Township recently adopted regulations for homeowners wishing to rent out space in their homes using online booking agencies. Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of an ordinance regulating short-term rentals and requiring property owners using websites like Airbnb to get township approval or face a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail. The permit allows owners to rent their entire home, or up to two bedrooms in a single property. Homeowners do not need to occupy the property if renting the entire house, but they cannot book any single renter for less than seven days. They also cannot rent out to the same person more than 30 days in a single year. Owners must submit a floor plan when applying for the permit, which is only good for the calendar year in which it is issued, and only one type of accommodation will be allowed at a single property. If a homeowner receives a permit to rent an entire home but later wants to rent only a single bedroom, they would need to apply for a new permit. Township officials said the permit fee amounts were pending supervisor approval in an upcoming resolution.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/5/2018
Bristol Borough zoners reject condo proposal for former school/convent site
The Bristol Borough zoning hearing board unanimously denied a proposal to repurpose the former St. Ann’s School and Convent into 22 condominium units. Northampton-based BG Holding Ltd. had requested a variance from local code to allow the condos in the borough’s R-2 residential district on Jefferson Avenue, bordered by Logan, Pear and Pond streets. The plans called for 16 condos in the three-story former school and six on the two-story convent next door with 54 parking spaces in an onsite parking garage. The parking spaces were one less than the borough’s code requirement for two off-street spaces per unit, plus an additional off-street space for every two units to account for guests and visitors. Vlad Brodsky, principal of BG Holding, offered to reduce the school to 15 units, lowering the parking requirement from 55 to 52 spaces and removing the need for a second variance. Brodsky also commented that the condos would improve the quality of the neighborhood. About 30 residents in attendance remarked to the board that the project could bring additional traffic to an already congested area. Borough solicitor William Salerno, speaking on behalf of Council President Ralph DiGuiseppe, also made a statement opposing the condos on the grounds that they packed too much into that part of town. Last year, borough zoners denied plans for a day school and “overnight accommodations for intellectually challenged individuals” at the site.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 8/1/2018
Lower Southampton considers next steps for zoning records
Lower Southampton Township recently paid Keystone Municipal Services $5,000 to review a sample of subdivision and land development files and zoning permits following the retirement of zoning officer Carol Drioli. At the time, supervisors stated the review was to identify where improvements could be made in the zoning department and to verify compliance with state building codes. Keystone randomly chose seven subdivision and land development applications and 19 zoning and building permit applications between 2015 and last year, and found many contained sloppy record keeping, including the failure to keep all building, zoning and land development records associated with a property together. Supervisor Kim Koutsouradis said that Keystone Municipal Services president Richard O’Brien has told him years of poor record keeping would “greatly” impact the cost of a further review. Although concerned about the cost of analysis, Koutsouradis would also like to know if the mistakes revealed by Keystone are anomalies and if the township could face any liability. O’Brien had reported to the board last month that the review didn’t find any “malfeasance.” Local municipal subdivision and land development ordinances are guided by the state Municipal Planning Code, which requires municipalities to maintain records of all permits issued and land development plans. The township’s new zoning officer, William Oettinger, stated that he handles the first review of all permit applications and his office is now following the Keystone report recommendations regarding record keeping for new permit applications.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/5/2018
Rockhill Quarry fight heads to federal court
East Rockhill Township and representatives for the Rockhill Quarry will meet before a federal judge in Philadelphia in mid-August for what is known as a Rule 16 conference. Federal rules state the purpose of the conference can include everything from facilitating a settlement to discouraging wasteful pretrial activities and improving the quality of a trial through more thorough preparation. The conference will focus on East Rockhill’s request for an injunction related to the quarry, which would prevent quarry operator Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp. and site owner Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania from building or operating an asphalt plant at the site until gaining approvals and permits from the township. The injunction request also asks a judge to rule that the quarry be prevented from making any more land development improvements until it receives approval from East Rockhill. Township solicitor Patrick Armstrong said a resolution may not result immediately from the Rule 16 conference. Township zoning hearing board meetings have focused on the quarry operator’s and owner’s appeal of a township zoning officer decision that special exception approval is needed to operate the quarry, which had been inactive since the early 1980s. Nearby residents are concerned about dangerous truck traffic, noise, groundwater depletion and diminished property values.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/30/2018
Public to get access to Bryn Coed Farms in West Vincent
Plans to open large portions of Bryn Coed Farms to the public are proceeding on schedule, officials with Natural Lands and West Vincent Township have announced. Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands, said the organization would most likely have a dry run or soft opening this fall for the public preserve that spans West Vincent, East Vincent and West Pikeland in northern Chester County. Last week, the land conservation group transferred 72 acres of the Bryn Coed property to West Vincent for use as a township park with passive recreation, including hiking trails that will connect to the Natural Lands preserve. The township’s park system doubled in size with the newly acquired land, which is nestled in the middle of the 1,500-acre Bryn Coed property, along St. Matthews Road. Natural Lands, which purchased the property from the Dietrich family in June 2017 to protect it from development, sold the future park land to the township for $950,000, which came from township’s dedicated open space fund, according to a press release. Plans for the township’s new passive recreation park include the construction of a loop trail that will connect to the larger 10-mile trail system that Natural Lands is establishing on its adjacent 520-acre Bryn Coed nature preserve. Two trail connections between the park and the preserve are slated to open to the public in late fall 2018. The third trail connection is projected to open to the public in 2019. The township also plans to raze several long-abandoned structures constructed in the 1960s for Bryn Coed’s dairy operation.
Source: Daily Local; 8/2/2018
Officials reconsider plan to run sewer line from Oxford to Nottingham
The plan to run a dry sewer line to Nottingham may have new life after it appeared dead last month due to increased costs. The plan originally called for a dry pipeline to be run from the current end of service near the edge of Oxford Borough, along Old Baltimore Pike, using the same trench that the Chester Water Authority was digging for its new line that eventually reaches Rising Sun, Maryland. Rising Sun objected to having a water and sewer line in the same trench, and the cost to dig a separate trench would be in excess of $1 million. A newer proposal has been presented to use directional drilling as a cheaper solution to install a six-inch diameter pipeline on the opposite side of the street from the waterline. The cost of using this method would be approximately $600,000, and developers and tapping fees in East Nottingham Township would cover the cost of the line. Many of the details have yet to be finalized.
Source: Avon Grove Sun; 7/26/2018
Phoenixville Borough aims to update tree ordinance
Phoenixville Borough Council will update Chapter 25 of the borough code pertaining to trees. A complete copy of the 24-page proposed ordinance amendment, which will repeal and replace the previous tree ordinance, is posted on the Borough’s website here. The ordinance states that, “Phoenixville is committed to enhancing the urban forest for the many benefits that trees provide,” including reducing air temperature, reducing heating and cooling costs, which results in lower greenhouse gas emissions, improving property values, enhancing physical and psychological health, and reducing air pollutants. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m. at Phoenixville Borough Hall, 351 Bridge St.
Source: Daily Local; 8/6/2018
Atglen Borough to hold meeting on comprehensive plan
Atglen Borough Planning Commission has scheduled a public meeting to discuss its comprehensive plan for Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held at Atglen Borough Hall, 120 Main St.
Source: Daily Local; 8/7/2018
Middletown Township Sewer Authority to require sanitary sewer certificate
Effective Sept. 1, the Middletown Township Sewer Authority (MTSA) will implement a new sanitary sewer certification program that requires the inspection and certification of building sewers and the payment of all sewer rentals and tapping fees prior to the sale, transfer or refinance of any property by a property owner. This program expands existing remedial efforts to reduce treatment costs caused by inflow and infiltration (I&I), which are unwanted sources of storm water that enter the sewer system. I&I water is not polluted or contaminated and does not need to be treated, and it adversely impacts the treatment process at wastewater plants. Since Middletown Township sewage flows are metered and treatment charges are assessed by volume, MTSA makes every effort to keep the sewer flows as low as possible. Prior to the transfer or refinance of any property in Middletown Township, an inspection of the building sewer must be completed, and a Sanitary Sewer Certificate must be issued by MTSA. The inspection and certification require a minimum of two weeks to complete. The complete list of requirements of the sewer certification program may be found on MTSA’s website here. All lateral inspection applications received before Sept. 1. with a settlement closing date before Oct. 1 will not require a camera inspection.
Source: Middletown Township; 8/6/2018
Chadds Ford supervisors approve sewer plant upgrade
Chadds Ford Township supervisors approved a request for upgrading a sewer. Supervisors Frank Murphy and Samantha Reiner gave approval for The Henderson Group to upgrade the Knights Bridge Wastewater Treatment Plant on Brandywine Drive, which processes the sewage from Henderson’s property in Painters Crossing, other nearby properties and the Chadds Ford Business Campus. As previously reported, plans for the upgrade include doubling the plant’s capacity and covering the new facility to cut down on odors. Harvey Lane resident Eric Gartner thanked Henderson’s general counsel John Coyle for listening to his concerns about improving the quality of the stream that runs through his property, Gartner previously explained that the faults of the old plant killed off the stream, leaving it lifeless. Work on site will likely begin in the spring of 2019.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 8/2/2018
Residents appeal Drexeline Plaza zoning variances
Upper Darby’s approval to redevelop almost all of the 17.5-acre Drexeline Shopping Center in Upper Darby to a mixed-use area is being appealed by three township residents. Bonnie Hallam, Janice Haman and Donald Fields filed a civil appeal in the county Common Pleas Court on July 27 asking to reverse the June 28 decision of the Upper Darby Township Zoning Hearing Board that provided 11 variances, a special exception and any other variance or relief for MCBH Drexeline Plaza LP to update the 68-year-old shopping center at Township Line and State roads, currently in a C-2 Traditional General Commercial District. MCBH is planning to construct a 142-unit apartment building, an 800-unit self-storage building, a Wawa, an expanded 75,000-square-foot Shop Rite supermarket, a medical center and an underground parking garage for 190 vehicles and a walking trail along the Darby Creek. During a number of public meetings on the project, it was reported that some of the buildings on the land will need to be knocked down or rebuilt. The appellants are targeting variances related to environmental impact that were granted by the three-person zoning board, specifically about stream buffers along the Darby Creek at the back of the property and use of impervious space dictated by code. The appeal later claims that the board “abused its discretion and/or committed errors of law” in three areas as it pertains to environmental concerns: not weighting a letter submitted by the Darby Creek Valley Association about storm water runoff in the area; the contradiction of findings of fact and evidence in developing the project requiring 70 percent or less of impervious land; and eliminating entirely the 50-foot buffer on either side of the Darby Creek.
Source: Daily Times; 8/6/2018
Ridley Township targets door-to-door solicitors with new rules
Ridley Township’s Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance putting into place new rules and regulations governing peddling and soliciting in the township. The new ordinance establishes prohibitions for entry upon “no soliciting” signed premises, for aggressive peddling or soliciting, and addresses procedures and criteria for eligibility of a new permit under suspension or revocation. Also spelled out in the ordinance are rules of conduct for solicitation/peddling and appeal procedures for suspension or revocation. The ordinance sets a fee schedule — the fee for a single peddling/solicitation (P/S) permit will be $250, plus $100 for each additional permit. The fee exempts charitable, religious or philanthropic organizations whose proceeds are applied to their cause, but they must register daily with the township police department. Any school, political or civic organization, or service club whose principal office is located in the township, will not be required to register. Daily registration with the police department is required for every person licensed to solicit or peddle. Township Manager Ed Pisani said there have been some complaints about aggressive peddling or soliciting, and the new ordinance addresses that by immediately revoking a permit.
Source: Chester Spirit; 8/1/2018
Growing Bridgeport Together promotes revitalization
Bridgeport residents John and Diane Gundrum would often attend borough council meetings to provide suggestions on how to make Bridgeport Borough “come alive again.” After one meeting, the council president approached the couple and suggested they start an organization where their beliefs, ideas and goals for the borough could be heard. In January, the pair founded Growing Bridgeport Together, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting programs and events involving community organizations, artists and musicians for the development and improvement of the community. Their first event, Twilight on the River, debuted in May with more than 1,200 attendees. Twilight on the River is held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month from May through October, from 4:30 to 8 p.m. at 98 Dekalb Pike along the Schuylkill River. Individuals interested in joining Growing Bridgeport Together should contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Source: Times Herald; 8/2/2018
Pennsburg hears from residents about invasive bamboo
A Pennsburg Borough resident appeared at a recent council meeting on behalf of himself and other neighbors asking the council to help control the spread of bamboo from a neighboring property. The resident passed out thick pieces of bamboo cut from a 17-foot stalk on his property and photos of the plant, which can grow a foot a day, poking through a piece of plywood. According to a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Natural Resources fact sheet, golden bamboo spreads quickly by underground rhizomes and will often find its way out of confinement. Council directed solicitor Matthew Hovey to create an ordinance allowing municipal officials to deal with invasive grasses. Once written, the proposed ordinance will need to be advertised and a public hearing will need to be held before it is adopted.
Source: Town and Country Newspaper; 8/2/2018
Upper Dublin debates merits of old agreement
Upper Dublin Township’s plans for a new library in the Fort Washington Office Park have come up against a nearly 70-year-old agreement between the original real estate developer and the township. Signed in 1954, the document promises to keep traffic from the office park off township streets. A second ordinance signed in 1999 further protects Camp Hill Street. Homeowners in the area surrounding the library’s future home are wielding the agreement against a proposal that suggests building a driveway from the library onto Highland Avenue or potentially allowing turns onto Camp Hill Road — both seemingly prohibited by the document. Township officials are unsure how binding a document whose authors are long gone is and say impact on congestion in the area will be minimal. Commissioners plan to propose solutions that are sensitive to both sides of the issue at a board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/6/2018
Hilton breaks ground for new hotel in Lower Providence
The expansion of Audubon Square continues with the groundbreaking at 825 Forge Ave. for a Tru by Hilton hotel. The 121-room, five-story hotel is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019 and joins another Hilton property, Homewood Suites, at that location. Tony D’Orsogna of Audubon Land Development, said the Tru hotel fills a void in the mid-scale category: “It will add to the lodging offerings in the Valley Forge area and provide a new option for travelers who believe that being cost conscious and having a great stay don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
Source: Daily Local News; 7/31/2018
City planners increasingly want to talk with you, not at you
Public planning meetings can be contentious, to say the least. If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending a public meeting yourself, NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” did a pretty good job of capturing the anger, absurdity and attention deficit that can animate the typical town hall presentation: Government officials present some anodyne proposal — whether to protect a bike lane, for example, or upgrade an elementary school playground — and a parade of people march up to a microphone to scream obscenities at them, interspersed by another, competing parade of people screaming obscenities at the first parade. Rather than sit through another rerun of this acrimonious production, urban planners in Philadelphia are increasingly trying to shape the meeting format to fit the subject matter in an effort to facilitate better, less-shouty deliberations among the assembled masses who attend such engagement sessions. “Generally, when we’re doing a larger community event where we’re expecting large numbers, we’ll do an open-house format with poster boards,” said Kelly Yemen, director of Complete Streets at the city’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems. “It does help [us] have more conversations with more people about the project. So, rather than one or two loud voices, we can talk to multiple people throughout the evening and really have time to dig into specific issues.” In the open-house format, residents' concerns and questions are easily voiced in a one-on-one setting, and misconceptions are gently corrected in semi-private with no embarrassing public call-out.
Source: Plan Philly; 8/1/2018
In gentrifying neighborhoods, culture clash gets ugly
For as long as there have been neighbors, there have been feuds. But Philadelphia’s fast-changing, densely built rowhouse communities — where next-door neighbors share a party wall but sometimes very little else — can be particularly fraught. As students pile in alongside third-generation homeowners and young professionals purchase new construction at quadruple the price of the house next door, conflicts too often blossom into all-out wars. The pace of change in areas like Powelton Village is understandably disconcerting: Property values in the zip code more than doubled in a decade. Researchers have found areas like this to be particularly prone to hostilities. One analysis found that 311 calls complaining about neighbors — including about noise, public drinking or neighbors blocking a driveway — increased by 26 percent in such transitional areas. Researchers have also noted sometimes drastic increases in 911 calls and 311 calls in gentrifying communities, as behavior that was once normal is criminalized. “There’s a lack of familiarity [between neighbors from disparate backgrounds],” said Joscha Legewie, a Harvard sociologist who analyzed 4.7 million 311 service requests to look at mixed areas in between black and white neighborhoods in New York. “There may be different ways of life, and communication barriers.” Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/2/2018
Philadelphia will issue municipal ID cards starting next year
Philadelphia in January 2019 will begin offering residents municipal identification cards, joining a couple dozen cities and counties across the country with similar programs, including Chicago, New York City, Newark, San Francisco and Detroit. Because of immigration status, financial limitations, youth or other reasons, some people cannot obtain valid ID cards from the state or federal governments, or else run into obstacles when they try to do so. A municipal ID card is an alternative. In Philadelphia, it would help residents to access basic services, such as groceries from food pantries, treatment for drug addiction, and entry to City Hall and the Municipal Services Building. Municipal IDs have been controversial. Immigration advocates say they are concerned about how cities will use the required personal information; opponents say the cards give undocumented immigrants access to services to which they should not be entitled. But local government officials say the cards are necessities. “There’s been a need for quite some time,” said Joanna Otero-Cruz, Philadelphia’s deputy managing director of community services, who also oversees the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “We’re a poor city. And so we need to be able to address what are the barriers to get people their basic needs.” To get municipal ID cards, residents generally need to prove who they are through documents such as birth certificates, passports or foreign national identity cards, and their city residency through utility bills, deeds, leases or letters from homeless shelters. The city is still considering which documents to accept and how to address privacy concerns.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/6/2018