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
Governor outlines budget proposal
Gov. Tom Wolf recently unveiled his state budget proposal, which he called a “blueprint for unleashing a new wave of prosperity for our commonwealth.” The plan does not increase tax rates on sales or income, two of the state’s largest sources of revenue. It does seek approval of a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production, a state police fee, a municipal waste fee and a restructure of corporate income taxes. The plan would create a major new program for college scholarships in Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities, require public schools to provide full-day kindergarten, pump $1 billion into cleaning up lead, asbestos and other environmental hazards in public school buildings, and divert $200 million from slot-machine tax revenue that has subsidized the state’s horse-racing industry since 2006. Wolf also laid out a plan that would affect how charter schools are funded — a proposal that would save traditional school districts approximately $280 million annually. Wolf said some charter schools were “little more than fronts for private management companies, and the only innovations they’re coming up with involve finding new ways to take money out of the pockets of property taxpayers.” Click here for more details.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/4/2020
In Philly suburbs, premium rentals are on the rise
Prices have consistently risen for premium apartments and condo rentals in recent years in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The median rent increase is due in part to the growth of the education, medical and technology sectors that have driven employment for young professionals, according to Barry Ludwig, of the Conshohocken-based appraisal firm Ludwig Corp. The median monthly price of one-bedroom apartments has reached $1,800 in some of Philadelphia’s border towns, according to the real estate tracker Rentometer. In comparison, the nearby Philadelphia neighborhoods of Manayunk and Roxborough have respective median rental rates of $1,410 and $1,088 for one-bedroom apartments. Developers have responded to the influx of well-paid, young professionals by rapidly building luxury apartment complexes, where studios can often start between $1,300 and $1,400, and two-bedrooms can easily run $2,000 or more. Construction has been active in towns including Upper Merion, Lansdale, Exton and the Bala Cynwyd section of Lower Merion, where officials have developed economic revitalization plans to reawaken blighted or languid neighborhoods or add density.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/4/2020
First-Time Homebuyers Savings bill passes Senate
Senate Bill 309, which would create a First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account program in PA, was unanimously passed in the Pennsylvania Senate. The bill will now be considered by the House, which passed a similar bill, HB 128, last year. Under the program, Pennsylvania taxpayers would be able to save up to $50,000 over 10 years toward the costs associated with purchasing a new home, and money deposited into the savings accounts can be deducted from state income tax. Parents and grandparents would be able to open accounts to benefit their children and grandchildren. Read more about the program at the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors’ First Home PA website.
Preliminary Council Rock budget includes tax increase
The Council Rock School Board approved a $256 million preliminary budget for the 2020-2021 school year with a 3.1% tax increase. Pennsylvania school districts are bound by state law to either approve a preliminary budget in January or pass resolutions pledging not to exceed the Act 1 maximum tax increase. The maximum increase allowed for Council Rock next year is 2.6%, but the school board has the option to apply to the state for exceptions for special education and pension expenses. According to School Board President Andy Block, Council Rock’s board chose the preliminary budget option to give officials the flexibility to pass a higher tax increase, if needed. The district business director, Bill Stone, emphasized that the eventual tax increase, if any, may not be that high. The current property tax rate in Council Rock is 126.301 mills, which amounts to a property tax bill of about $5,050 on a home assessed at the district average of $40,000.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/30/2020
Morrisville seeks resident input on comprehensive plan
Morrisville Borough is seeking input from residents on its updated comprehensive plan through an online survey. The surveys are limited to one per household and must be completed by Feb. 20. Feedback generated through the survey will help shape development in the borough over the next decade and beyond. Morrisville last updated its comprehensive plan in 2008. Take the 24-question survey here.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/30/2020
Bucks County tourism is fueling local economy
Bucks County celebrated a record year of overnight hotel stays in 2019. According to the Visit Bucks County, the official tourism promotion agency, tourists are continuing to come to the county for dining and entertainment, and they’re staying longer. The news follows 2018’s record-breaking $1.1 billion total economic impact from tourists visiting the county. Visit Bucks County president and COO Paul Bencivengo said the 8.1 million people who visited Bucks County support a hospitality workforce of 28,000 people. Bencivengo said there will be plenty of reasons for tourism to continue to thrive in 2020, from well-known sites like Sesame Place, Parx Casino and Peddler’s Village to culinary travel, including the Bucks County Ale Trail with nearly two dozen breweries.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/30/2020
Northampton Master Trail Bicycle Facilities Plan info session planned
Bucks County Planning Commission staff and Northampton Township supervisors will be available to answer questions and take public input on the Master Trail Bicycle Facilities Plan. The public information session is planned for Tuesday, Feb. 18, from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Free Library of Northampton Township, 25 Upper Holland Road, Richboro. Plan information can be found on the Northampton Township website under the information tab, and maps are available for viewing at the Library and Administration Building.
Source: Northampton Township; 1/30/2020
Planners consider 66-unit housing development in Downingtown
A land development project calling for the construction of 66 homes in the Johnsontown section of the borough is continuing to face hurdles. In April, developer Francis Taraschi presented a plan for Trestle View Village, including 79 new townhouses, but after feedback from the borough, he reduced the number to 66. Taraschi said his aim is the revitalization of Johnsontown, adding that the development would blend well with the existing community. The planning commission rejected the notion of a special zoning overlay for the R-3 district and instead recommended the developer pursue a conditional use variance. The commission is also seeking additional recommendations from borough staff, and from public works regarding water and sewer impacts.
Source: Daily Local; 2/4/2020
Ex-planner chosen to fill East Vincent supervisor vacancy
During a special meeting on Jan. 27, East Vincent supervisors selected Christopher Canale to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Mark Dunphy, who was the chairman of the board of supervisors. The board cited Canale’s previous service on the planning commission and his knowledge of the township in their decision. Edmund Dracup assumed the role of chairman. Dunphy’s resignation was the second one for the board in a month.
Source: Daily Local; 2/3/2020
Chesco earns national award for financial reporting
For the 38th consecutive year, the Chester County Controller’s Office has received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. The certificate was presented to county controller Margaret Reif and her staff for the 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (PDF). The award marks the 38th consecutive year that Chester County has earned the accolade. Chester County is one of less than 60 counties out of more than 3,000 nationwide to be recognized for 38 years or more.
Source: Daily Local; 2/1/2020
Preliminary T-E schools budget includes 2.6% tax hike
The Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board voted to adopt the 2020-2021 preliminary budget, which includes a tax increase of 2.6% to help close the projected operating deficit of approximately $7.7 million. The proposed increase is the maximum allowed without exceptions under state’s Act 1 legislation. The preliminary budget can be viewed on the district website. It will be discussed at the finance committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. in the district administration offices, 940 W. Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne. Preliminary approval is only the first step in the budget process. The board will continue to deliberate the budget and property tax rate until final adoption in June. All school board committee meetings are open to the public and have public comment periods. Public comments may also be submitted to the district business manager, Arthur McDonnell, at email@example.com or to the school board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Daily Local; 1/31/2020
East Marlborough gets new township manager
Neil Lovekin, formerly Malvern Borough’s assistant manager, was approved by the East Marlborough Township supervisors as the new township manager. He replaces Laurie Prysock, who left in December 2019. Lovekin will officially start on Monday, Feb. 10. Hannah Christopher, who has served as the interim manager since Prysock’s departure, will continue as township treasurer. In other business, the supervisors appointed Marnie Conley and Robert Jerger to serve on the township planning commission, after having decided last month to increase its size from five members to seven.
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 2/4/2020
Radnor commissioners nix televising financial advisory group’s meetings
In a reversal of an earlier policy, the Radnor Board of Commissioners voted not to televise or videotape the work sessions of the Citizens’ Audit Review and Financial Advisory Committee (CARFAC). Commissioners Vice President Lisa Borowski, who two years ago voted for a bipartisan motion to televise CARFAC meetings for transparency, changed her position and recently asked the board to allow the committee to conduct its workshop meetings off-camera, citing the difficulty in filling seats on the committee. When the commissioners first voted to televise its workshops, all nine members of the group of financial experts quit. Only five people have since been recruited to the reconstituted committee. The CARFAC work sessions will remain open to the public to attend in person. Borowski said CARFAC’s quarterly meetings will still be videotaped, but its work sessions will not be. She said she has spoken to residents who would be interested in serving on the committee if the work sessions are not televised. CARFAC advises the BOC on the township’s $42 million budget.
Source: Daily Times; 2/4/2020
Delco may spend $50M to $70M for new equipment for first responders
As Delaware County officials look to replace a 911 radio system that is more than 20 years old and fraught with security and interference problems, a consultant who evaluated the current system said upgrade costs would run between $51.6 million and $69.8 million. “It’s more than we obviously would like it to be,” County Council Chairman Brian Zidek said. “But the realities are: Number one, this has to be done, and number two, things cost what they cost.” Zidek said he imagined that council would put the project out to bid to make the costs as low as possible. When Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, it dictated that those in public safety would have to vacate the 500 MHz system by 2023 so that the Federal Communications Commission could begin to auction off the T-Band spectrum starting in February 2021. To date, no federal funding has been allocated for such a move. In the meantime, Delaware County’s system has been riddled with challenges from times when emergency personnel using portable radios were unable to reach the county 911 center. The problems were often caused by an atmospheric phenomenon called “ducting,” but there were also instances of the airwaves being hacked by civilians. County emergency services director Timothy Boyce explained that the communications system is actually a patchwork made from individual systems that the county took over decades ago.
Source: Daily Times; 2/3/2020
More developments in case of Concord Township’s denial of Pulte Homes
The legal pendulum has swung back to Concord Township’s favor in the municipality’s fight against a developer who wants to build a 257-unit residential community. Pulte Homes proposes to build 254 townhomes and three single-family dwellings on the Spring Lake Tract behind Whole Foods. Concord’s council unanimously turned down Pulte’s conditional use request in August of 2018. After an appeal, Judge John Whelan remanded the matter back to the township in 2019. The township again voted it down, and the developer again appealed. On Jan. 15 of this year, Whelan ruled to overturn the denial. In the latest turn, however, the judge vacated that order on Jan. 29, following a request to reconsider written by Hugh Donaghue, Concord’s solicitor. Donaghue said that the township “properly rejected Pulte’s conditional use application as submitted, as it failed to meet the objective requirements of the Conditional Use Ordinance that requires a signalized intersection, public roads on all boundaries and 2.5 parking spaces per dwelling unit.” The solicitor also cited the opinion of the township fire marshal that the plan is inconsistent “with the promotion of the health, safety and general welfare,” and the opinion of the land planner that the property is too small for the requested number of residential units.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 1/29/2020
Countywide reassessment update: new values being mailed soon
Delaware County is reassessing all 200,000 residential and commercial properties within its borders. The new values will take effect for the 2021 tax year. In coming weeks, property owners will receive a notice of their new tentative appraised values. If the assessments appear reasonable to them, no further action is required. If they think the proposed value is not an accurate appraisal of market value, they can follow the provided instructions on how to arrange an informal review of the value with Tyler. These reviews give the property owner a simple and efficient means for resolving any discrepancies. If property owners are not satisfied with the results of the informal review or if they do not schedule an informal review, they will be able to appeal to the Board Assessment of Appeals. A reference sheet posted on the Alliance website provides an overview of the project and answers some broad questions about it, including why it's happening and how might it affect property owners. The county's project website also has useful information about the project timeline and the process used to determine the new values.
‘Transformative’ development proposed in Bridgeport
Bridgeport Borough Council heard from developer PRDC Properties about a proposed project at the former sites of the Diamond State Fibre Factory and the Continental Business Center. PRDC is proposing 338 townhomes, 250 apartments, 12 condominiums and 7,000 square feet of retail space on the 35-acre riverfront parcel. PRDC CEO David Perlman was joined by attorney Anthony Harris and engineer Nate Burns in presenting the preliminary plans to council. The trio also answered questions from the council and the public about flood concerns, parking, traffic, and the price points and square footage of the apartment units. “This transformative development on the waterfront will bring new opportunities and energy to the borough,” Perlman said. The four-phase project is expected to take between four and five years to complete. If preliminary plans are approved, work on the site could begin as early as March.
Source: Times Herald; 2/3/2020
Royersford moving ahead with sale of sewer system
Royersford Borough Council is moving ahead with its intention to sell the borough sewer system to Pennsylvania American Water for $13 million. The offer includes a two-year rate freeze for customers. The deal must be approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and the process may not be completed until the fall, said Borough Manager Michael Leonard. The sale falls under Pennsylvania Act 12, which allows municipalities that own water and wastewater systems to sell their systems to public utilities at fair market valuation. According to Leonard, Royersford officials have been debating the sale of the sewer system for a long time amid rising maintenance costs and a high rate of uncollected sewer bills. The cost of sewer operations and maintenance account for $1 million of the borough’s $3 million annual budget.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 2/3/2020
Development plans reviewed in Franconia
The Franconia Township Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval to one proposed development and will allow two others to move ahead with requests for zoning changes. A 22-home plan by WB Homes called Bayard Estates, located at the intersection of Indian Creek and Cowpath roads, received preliminary approval, though additional approvals are still needed from other agencies. Pulte Homes’ plans for 88 homes on a 55-acre tract at the intersection of Beck and Cowpath roads were also reviewed. The plan calls for 47 townhouses and 41 single-family homes, and one entrance from Beck Road with a connection to the Banbury Crossing development. The existing zoning for the land would support 35 single homes but would include at least 13 driveways onto Buck Road, said Joe Kuhls, attorney for Pulte. Kuhls said he will work with the township staff to prepare a proposed rezoning for the tracts. Another zoning request had Carl Wiener, the attorney for the Souderton Mennonite Campus of Living Branches, proposing to rezone property on the Reliance Road side of the campus from residential to institutional to make way for expansion. Wiener said he will work with township solicitor Frank Bartle to prepare a proposed zoning code amendment.
Source: Souderton Independent; 2/4/2020
Lower Merion will not change school start times this fall
Lower Merion School District officials will not make any changes to school start times for the upcoming school year — but they haven’t ruled out changing them in the future. Under a proposal expected to be up for consideration this spring, elementary schools would start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:35 p.m., middle schools would run from 9:05 a.m. to 4:05 p.m., and high schools would start at 8:25 a.m. and end at 3:25 p.m. The decision to delay implementation of the new start times came after “considerable opposition” to the current proposal from elementary school parents. However, during the public comment portion of the meeting, several students and residents questioned the delay in implementation, saying that there is no perfect solution and people are going to have to make sacrifices. Superintendent Robert Copeland recommended to the board that any changes not be implemented until at least the fall of 2021.
Source: Main Line Times; 2/4/2020
What to do if you suspect illegal or negligent construction
Negligent and illegal construction can destroy nearby properties in Philadelphia — and it’s a growing problem in a city experiencing unprecedented levels of building in rowhouse neighborhoods. The Philadelphia residents behind the Riverwards L+I Coalition began organizing last year, after a contractor working without proper permits improperly excavated a basement and caused the rowhouse next door to collapse. Two months later, a nearby house on Tulip Street collapsed, again caused by unpermitted workers digging out basements improperly and destroying the shared walls that keep rowhouses standing. In the first four months of 2019, illegal construction had damaged more properties than is typical in a full year. In an interview last spring, Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections Dave Perri attributed the wreckage to climate change and the persistent drive to maximize livable square footage in dense rowhouse neighborhoods. At a recent public forum co-hosted by PlanPhilly, Riverwards L&I Coalition members offered advice on how to identify problem construction and take action. Read more in this essay adapted from a presentation given by the group.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/28/2020
How a scammer used Airbnb to lease out a Philly apartment he didn’t own
Renter Ross Nazimov thought that he had found a great deal on a room in a brand-new, two-bedroom apartment in Fishtown, with a roommate who assured him he was rarely home. In November, he paid a $500 deposit, moved in, unpacked his few possessions, and began snapping photos of the place, astounded by his good luck. It turned out to be a scam that is popping up on crime blotters across the country. In a more sophisticated grift than the average fake rental listing made with copied photos, someone had rented the place for two nights on Airbnb — and then posted an ad on Craigslist, posing as the owner. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/30/2020