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
Apartments lead U.S. home construction for November
The Commerce Department reported that housing starts rose 3.2 percent in November from the previous month, but the increase occurred entirely in apartments. The construction of new single-family houses fell 4.6 percent in November and is down 13.1 percent from a year earlier. Some of the data is likely to have been distorted by extreme weather across the nation. Many builders have also been discouraged by rising mortgage rates, which have dragged down home sales in the past year. Sales of new and existing homes are dropping — including a decrease of nearly 9 percent in October — and home price gains are slowing. After shooting up to close to 5 percent, the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage has fallen back to 4.6 percent recently, but is still up from an average of 3.9 percent last year. The construction of apartment buildings has increased 20 percent nationwide in the past year which could help keep rents in check. However, single-family home building creates more jobs and economic activity and is closely watched by economists.
Source: Daily Local; 12/19/2018
Happy Holidays from the Alliance
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance office will be closed on Dec. 24, 25 and 31, and Jan. 1, in observance of the holidays. Should you need immediate assistance, please consult our website, www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com. The next edition of the weekly news briefs will be sent on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019.
Council Rock approves redistricting plan
The Council Rock School Board recently voted 7-2 to approve a controversial redistricting plan. The plan, worked on for over a year by a 38-member redistricting committee, will move 702 students from one elementary school to another starting next year. The seven board members who voted yes said that no plan would have satisfied everyone, and the approved plan was the best one possible. The board voted to grandfather all current sixth-graders in their current feeder patterns through graduation and had already voted to grandfather all current seventh- through 11th-graders in their current feeder patterns through graduation. No student in those grades will have to attend a different school than they had planned. The district will now focus on making the transition comfortable for affected students. Visit the Council Rock School District Redistricting Hub here.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/17/2018
Federal judge rules PennEast can start taking land
U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti ruled that PennEast can begin taking immediate possession of properties in New Jersey along a 120-mile proposed pipeline that runs from northeastern Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey, and cuts through the far northern corner of Bucks County before crossing into New Jersey. The ruling is a setback for towns, landowners, and environmental groups seeking to stop the company’s use of eminent domain. Landowners would be paid under the ruling. The judge specifies the order isn’t final and that PennEast must first satisfy environmental conditions laid out by federal regulators. New Jersey denied a permit for the project earlier this year, and a construction permit is also pending in Pennsylvania. PennEast had said earlier that it plans to move forward with the long-stalled project.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/17/2018
Doylestown budget approved with tax increase
Doylestown Borough Council approved a 2019 budget with a 2 mill tax increase — the first increase since 2013. Borough officials say the tax increase is necessary to address a growing General Fund operating budget deficit. The increase amounts to an extra $57 for the average homeowner compared to the 2018 rate, bringing the average tax bill to about $434 in 2019. The full budget can be found here.
Source: Doylestown Borough; 12/18/2018
Fitzpatrick, Staats team up against West Rockhill compressor
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8th) and state Rep. Craig Staats (R-145th) are urging federal officials to move a proposed natural gas pipeline compressor station away from a residential area of West Rockhill Township. A Dec. 12 letter from the pair said Adelphia Gateway’s pipeline is good for the economy, but the compressor station could be detrimental for nearby residents. The Quakertown Compressor Station proposed by Adelphia would be an 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot building on a 1.5-acre plot of land. The station would house the engines and other equipment needed to run 250 million cubic feet of natural gas nonstop. Adelphia is seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to convert a former oil pipeline into an 18-inch, 84-mile gas pipeline that will require at least two compressor stations along the route through Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Northampton counties. West Rockhill became a party in the FERC permitting process in July after officials say they were misled on the size of the planned station. Being a party in the application process allows West Rockhill the right of appeal for FERC decisions. There is no set timeline for the regulatory commission to make a decision on the application, but a spokesperson for FERC said they can take between a year to 18 months to conclude.
Source: The Intelligencer; 12/18/2018
State funding to boost Coatesville revitalization
The Wolf administration Monday approved $80,000 in tax credits to help revitalize Coatesville through the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP). It’s part of nearly $18 million in tax credits approved by the administration that will support 136 community revitalization projects across the state. NAP encourages private sector investment into projects that will help improve distressed communities. Coatesville’s downtown commercial district has seen no new development in over 20 years, and many of the properties are in poor condition, decrepit, or blighted and condemned, according to a report prepared for the Wolf administration. “With the Neighborhood Partnership Program contributing funds, the Coatesville 2nd Century Alliance will hire a full-time downtown coordinator to focus solely on the revitalization of the commercial core,” Gov. Wolf said. Funding will also support a facade grant program and a sustainable “clean, safe and green” program to improve the aesthetics of the area. Primary goals of the downtown revitalization strategy include: removal or rehabilitation of 50 percent of the blighted properties within the district; distribution of $50,000 per year in facade grants, resulting in the improvement of 50 percent of the properties in the core; and quarterly business educational workshops with a 20-percent merchant participation rate. Officials say Coatesville’s Gateway Retail and Office is the beginning of a revitalization era.
Source: Daily Local; 12/18/2018
Hearing on zoning ordinance postponed in Caln
A too-large crowd turned out for a Caln Township public hearing about a proposed zoning ordinance that would affect the age-qualified overlay district and impact proposed commercial and residential development projects. “We can’t hold the meeting here tonight because it’s a fire hazard,” township solicitor Kristin Camp said. A developer has plans to propose the construction of a four-story apartment building with parking beneath and about 120 single-family homes for people aged 55 and older. Additionally, developers are proposing to build commercial uses on the property known as Lloyd Farm on Route 322 (Manor Avenue). Regal Builders has purchased the property located behind St. Joseph’s Parish from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. A concerned neighbor had posted fliers around town to inform people about attending a public meeting. Some residents have concerns about how development will impact traffic. The public hearing, when rescheduled, will be conducted by the Caln Township commissioners. A map and the text of the amendment will be available on the township website.
Source: Daily Local; 12/16/2018
County ‘Quality of Life’ survey finds high marks from residents
The Chester County Commissioners announced the results of a citizen “Quality of Life” survey, undertaken as part of the review process for the strategic plan. In 2018, residents continue to give Chester County high ratings in terms of it being an excellent or good place to raise a family (94 percent), with 91 percent of respondents rating it as an excellent or good place to obtain a good education. The survey reported a significant increase in those who found the county an “excellent or good” place to find a good job (moving from 62 percent in 2013 to 79 percent in 2018). Open space, scenery and rural areas continue to be noted by respondents as the best thing about life in Chester County, and this year’s survey highlighted “maintenance of water quality” and “providing quality services while maintaining low taxes” as the two most important issues facing Chester County. The survey was conducted by West Chester University’s Center for Social and Economic Policy Research during September, with results based on a random sample of 1,256 responses evenly represented from all areas of the county. “We know that people have a positive impression of Chester County, both as a place to live and with regard to county services, and it is reassuring to see that validated through a survey such as this,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline.
Source: Daily Local 12/17/2018
There’s no place to walk in much of Chester County
Newlin Township resident John O’Neal has noticed a lack of crosswalks and pedestrian walkways along many roadways in rural Chester County. “We don’t see shoulders very often in Newlin Township,” O’Neal said. “The primary problem is the old roads.” Over the years, the state has taken responsibility for many of the old, narrow roads. Walkers are forced to trek in the travel lane. “The lack of shoulder forces a pedestrian to walk on the pavement,” O’Neal said. “The number of places where PennDOT and local authorities don’t even have room to paint the fog line on the pavement is staggering. “In large part this is because the road agencies do not do any shoulder maintenance. Snow grit is put on the roadways year after year and builds up allowing vegetation to grow over the pavement. O’Neal noted that vehicles should yield the right of way to pedestrians in marked or unmarked crosswalks at non-controlled intersections. “Marked and signed pedestrian crossings do provide a safer environment for pedestrians overall,” said PennDot deputy communications director Brad Rudolph. “Shoulders, while not specifically intended for pedestrian use, do provide an area for pedestrians to walk along a highway outside of the cartway and thus separated from the area where vehicles are traveling.”
Source: Daily Local; 12/16/2018
Public hears results of pipeline risk study
Representatives of the firm that completed a risk assessment study of a hypothetical leak in the areas near gas transmission pipelines in Delaware County spoke directly to the public about the study’s conclusions. The final report from Texas-based G2 Integrated Solutions, commissioned by the county for $115,000, determined that the individual risks of living by one of the pipelines falls within a range of other common risk sources, such as traffic accidents, house fires or falls down stairs. “It can be stated that the individual risk levels estimated for both the Mariner East 2 pipeline and the Adelphia pipeline fall within a range of other common risk sources,” according to the report. The report focused on the risks of living within 1,500 meters of the still-developing 11-mile stretch of the 20-inch diameter Mariner East 2 pipeline, and within 500 meters of the 12-mile long, 18-inch diameter Adelphia pipeline, both of which will carry natural gas to a refinery in Marcus Hook. The report drew on pipeline release and accident frequency statistics from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, determining the magnitude of harmful consequences and impact, and calculating and comparing individual risk results to other common risk sources. Some members of the public expressed dissatisfaction with the limited scope of the report.
Source: Daily Times; 12/19/2018
Upper Providence approves budget, tax hike
Upper Providence Township Council unanimously approved the 2019 budget, unchanged from the preliminary figures, including a tax hike. With no one from the public present for the hearing, the board swiftly went over the key points of the balanced $6.2 million document, which has a 2.2 percent tax increase. The total tax rate for all funds is 4.16 mills, which equates to $969 for the average assessed property of about $233,000. This equates to an increase of $21 per year.
Source: Daily Times; 12/17/2018
Springfield taxes remain stable, trash fee hiked
Taxes are remaining steady in Springfield Township, but the trash fee is going up. Commissioners approved the final 2019 budget of $18.2 million with no substantive changes from the proposed figures. The property tax is 5.81 mills, which equates to $872 for the average property assessment of $150,000. Commissioner Edward Kelly motioned for the second and final ordinance approval. An ordinance also was approved to increase the trash fee by $35, to $250 for 2019. This is due to an increase of more than 60 percent in trash disposal fees levied by Delaware County through the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority. Residents have some options for savings, including a 2 percent discount if property taxes are paid in full within two months after the date of the tax notice. Residents may also be eligible for a 2 percent reduction of sewer fees if paid within 60 days of the date of the bill. Information can be obtained from the township office.
Source: Daily Times; 12/13/2018
Chadds Ford Planning Commission discusses a hotel proposal
The Chadds Ford Planning Commission discussed a land development application for a Fairfield Inn hotel proposed for Brandywine Summit, 1786-1792 Wilmington Pike, just north of Keystone Plaza. That property backs up against Longview Road. There are already three office buildings on the site and a previous approval allows for an additional 68,000-square-foot office building. According to Planning Commission Chairman Craig Huffman, “there’s a long way to go” before the plan can be fully considered. Specifics of the plan mentioned thus far are that the building would be four stories — 40 feet high — and have 85 rooms. There would be no restaurant. Residents from Longview Road and Summit Drive spoke out against the plan, citing increased traffic and the possibility of looking out to see the rear of the hotel through an inadequate buffer.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 12/13/2018
Lower Merion school tax battle sent back to state court
In 2016, attorney Arthur Wolk and two other residents filed a lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District, claiming the district used misleading numbers to convince residents that a 4.4 percent tax increase was necessary. Wolk won a verdict in a lower court when Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Smyth ordered the school district to rescind the 4.4 percent tax increase, which Smyth called illegal, and limit the increase to no more than 2.4 percent. State Commonwealth Court ruled the district couldn’t appeal based on a procedural quirk. But in a unanimous decision this week, the state Supreme Court found the appeal to be valid and sent the case back down to be heard on its merits. Wolk said he was disappointed but plans on continuing the fight: “Justice may be delayed for Lower Merion taxpayers who deserve so much better, but the cause endures and the hope remains that we have a school district that chooses transparency instead of deceit as its standard operating procedure.” Most statewide school advocacy groups support Lower Merion, fearing a decision against the district would increase lawsuits against other districts that raise taxes above the Act 1 index despite having fund balances. The loser of the next round will most likely appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Source: Whyy.org; 12/13/2018 & Main Line Times; 12/12/2018
Upper Gwynedd manager ‘has left’
The Upper Gwynedd Township Board of Commissioners announced that Township Manager Mike Lapinski “has left” that position. Board President Ken Kroberger said: “He is no longer here. That’s all I can tell you. I can tell you also that there’s no separation agreement or anything else like that. He’s no longer here.” Lapinski was named permanent township manager in June, after the retirement of Len Perrone, the previous manager. Prior to that, Lapinski had been assistant township manager since May 2013. Alex Kaker, current assistant township manager, has been filling the role of acting township manager since early December, when Lapinski departed. Kroberger said that Kaker, finance director Dave Brill, administrative assistant Deanna Logan and other employees have stepped in to help. “They’ve all formed a very nice team approach to taking care of everything,” said Kroberger. Also announced was the part-time hiring of former Lower Gwynedd Township Manager Larry Communale. Communale will work roughly 24 hours a week for about two months to assist staff until a permanent manager search is completed.
Source: The Reporter; 12/19/2018
Souderton taxes to increase 4.9 percent
Souderton Borough Council approved the budget for 2019 with a 4.9 percent tax increase. The borough tax rate will be 5.78 mills, with 5.2 mills set aside for the general fund, 0.33 mills for the library tax and 0.25 mills for the fire protection tax. The owner of a home assessed at the borough average of $150,000 can expect a borough property tax bill of $867. One mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Source: Souderton Independent; 12/11/2018
Council vacancy in West Conshohocken Borough
The Borough of West Conshohocken is looking to fill a vacant council seat for a term extending until the first Monday in January 2020. Persons who are a registered elector and have resided in West Conshohocken continuously for at least one year immediately prior to being appointed are eligible. Interested persons may send a letter of interest and resume to: West Conshohocken Borough Manager, 112 Ford St., West Conshohocken, PA 19428. This information must be received no later than Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, at 3 p.m.
Source: West Conshohocken Borough; 12/13/2018
PlanPhilly analysis shows DA forfeiture program a complex issue
A PlanPhilly analysis of 1,682 deed records linked to properties seized and then auctioned by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office between 1993 and 2018 uncovered a complex legacy. Authorities promised that forfeiture based on drug activity would improve communities, but the failure of law enforcement to plan for the reuse of the properties meant that many wound up in the hand of absentee landlords or investors without the resources to improve the properties. On many drug-ridden streets where confiscation of real estate occurred frequently, drug dealing is still rampant. Records also showed that members of Philadelphia law enforcement directly benefitted from these sales, with the investigation finding at least 11 properties that were sold to city police officers trying their hands at real estate investment. The full number of sales to police officers could be higher, but the DA’s office reported that the office had not kept records of who bought auctioned property and the Philadelphia Police Department refused to disclose any information about the sale of forfeited property to officers. University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Lou Rulli said, “This disturbing revelation underscores one of the many serious flaws in civil forfeiture — law enforcement is able to directly benefit from the actions they take to seize property, often from lawful homeowners who have done no wrong.” Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner ran for office as a critic of civil forfeiture, but his office admits the practice is not over. “We have not suspended all forfeiture, but we have aggressively narrowed the size and scope,” said Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman. “You actually have to be convicted and the property has to be connected to the crime or purchased with proceeds connected to the crime. There could be very small exceptions to this rule, but that’s generally it.” Read the full story here.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 12/10/2018
Council committee approves sale of would-be new police headquarters despite steep losses
This week, a city council committee advanced a bill selling off the old Provident Insurance building at 46th and Market streets — but that doesn't mean they were happy about it. The building was supposed to become the new Philadelphia Police headquarters until the city changed course and picked a different location. Under former Mayor Michael Nutter, the city bought the building for $4 million and spent about $50 million renovating it. Then, Mayor Jim Kenney decided to put the headquarters in the old Philadelphia Inquirer building on Broad Street and sell the West Philadelphia property. After a bidding process, the price was set at $10 million, an amount that Councilman Alan Domb questioned: "We have comps that range from $120 a foot to $280. This is selling at $17 a foot. We are supposed to be stewards of the taxpayers' money. We're losing $42 million." Administration officials assured Domb it was the best deal they could broker. He seemed unconvinced, but joined the rest of the committee to move the sale forward. Buyer Andrew Eisenstein said the project, a health campus run by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Health Management Corporation, would benefit the community. "We're looking to create close to 1,000 jobs and provide those needed services," Eisenstein said.
Source: KYW 1060; 12/8/2018
How can Philly enforce building codes when 40K rental properties don’t have licenses?
As Philadelphia aims to crack down on illegal lock-outs and negligent landlords, it’s also reckoning with a major blind spot: Close to 40,000 rental properties are unlicensed. Some property owners claim the city makes it nearly impossible to get and hold on to those licenses, given that a property needs to be violation-free to qualify. The unlicensed landlords cannot legally evict a building's residents. The rules are in place for a reason — to prevent housing stock from falling into disrepair and tenants from living in squalid conditions. In Philadelphia, courts recently started requiring proof of a rental license to file an eviction, which has caused an uptick in illegal lock-outs, Rachel Garland, an attorney with Community Legal Services who has been working with tenants said. “Some landlords are choosing to comply and some are trying to find backdoor means or using intimidation tactics to get tenants out," she said. In all, the city estimates 20 percent of the 260,000 rental units are unlicensed. That presents a tricky problem for officials trying to enforce building codes: How can they hold landlords operating off the books accountable when they don’t know who they are? “To be clear, that 40,000, they run the gamut," said Rebecca Swanson, planning director of the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I). "From somebody who just has a house and moves to the suburbs and doesn’t want to sell yet and it’s a beautiful house that they keep up ... all the way down to our slumlords who own a ton of properties and are purposefully flouting the law.” Swanson said L&I is working with PECO to get lists of properties with multiple meters, which usually indicates a rental building. They can cross-check that list with licenses on file. The city also plans to target landlords who own several unlicensed properties under multiple LPs or LLCs. Previously, matching up who owned what has been difficult, but Swanson said a new data system and pending legislation could make it easier.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/8/2018