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 February 18, 2019

 

General News

Wolf tries again to impose fees for state police
A new budget season heralds yet another plan to fund Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) coverage for municipalities that do not have their own dedicated police departments. In his prior two budget plans, Gov. Tom Wolf put forward a flat $25 per capita fee for those municipalities, but the proposal was dead on arrival with lawmakers. In the 2019 budget proposal, Wolf is changing things up with a fee that would range from $8 per person for municipalities with less than 2,000 residents to $166 per person for those with 20,000 or more people. There are 2,571 municipalities in Pennsylvania, and 1,711 of them rely on full- or part-time state police coverage, according to PSP spokesman Ryan Tarkowski. Of those, 1,297 rely on full-time coverage and 414 rely on part-time coverage. A state police 2016-2018 strategic plan indicates troopers provide full-time or part-time police service to approximately 66 percent of the state’s municipalities, 60 percent of the roadways, 82 percent of the total land area, and 26 percent of the total population.
Source: Daily Times; 2/10/2019

Study: Housing is key to improving the American economy
For much of the industrial 20th century, housing, especially suburban housing, helped to drive the American economy by stimulating demand for cars and other durable goods, creating jobs for American workers and setting in motion a virtuous cycle of economic growth. In today’s knowledge economy, housing is playing a very different role. A growing group of economists is pointing to insufficient housing stock, especially affordable housing, in the expensive and productive locations that now drive the economy. A new study by The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution documents the dimensions of the housing-productivity nexus today and outlines a variety of possible solutions for all three levels of government. The study suggests that increasing the affordable housing supply is just one part of dealing with America’s housing crisis and related economic problems. Policies to increase supply by developers and demand by less-advantaged residents need to be seen as complementary strategies.
Source: CityLab; 2/5/2019

Support legislation to create First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account program
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® is encouraging members of the PA House and Senate to support state legislation that would create a First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account. Learn more about the proposed program and easily contact your legislator at www.FirstHomePA.com

Source: PARJustListed.com; 2/6/2019

Bucks County

DEP to host public meeting regarding proposed Elcon facility in Falls
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will host a public meeting regarding Elcon Recycling Services’ proposed plans to construct and operate a hazardous waste facility to treat and store liquid waste at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Falls Township. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 5, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Sheraton Bucks County Hotel, 400 Oxford Valley Road, Langhorne. The purpose of the meeting is to answer questions regarding permit applications for the project. More information on the project can be found by visiting www.dep.pa.gov/elcon.
Source: Pennsylvania DEP; 2/6/2019

West Rockhill to consider adoption of comprehensive plan update
West Rockhill supervisors will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. at the township office, 1025 Ridge Road, to consider the adoption of a comprehensive plan update. The document sets forth the land use, zoning and development goals for the township for the next 10 years, and acts as the basis for the passage of amendments to the West Rockhill Township Zoning Ordinance and the Township Subdivision and Land Development Ordinances. The draft update is available for review at the township office during normal business hours.
Source: The Intelligencer; 2/6/2019

Council Rock reserves option to raise taxes above Act 1 index
The Council Rock School Board voted unanimously to approve a motion that would provide the option of raising taxes above the Act 1 index for the 2019-2020 school year by seeking an exception for special education expenditures. The Act 1 index set for Council Rock is 2.3 percent for 2019-2020, and under state law the school district must let the public know by Feb. 10 whether it intends to raise taxes above the index. If the budget is passed with a special education exception of 0.64 percent, the total tax increase would be 2.94 percent — adding $141 in taxes for a home assessed at the median value in the district. Superintendent Robert Fraser said the tax increase has not been approved, and the district is merely “reserving the right to go above the Act 1 Index with exceptions.” The projected $246 million budget for the district includes a $3.2 million deficit. Administrators are scheduled to release a detailed spending plan in March. The school board is scheduled to take action on a preliminary budget in April with final budget adoption in May.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 2/11/2019

Bucks County hotel occupancy up 4 percent in 2018
Hotel occupancy in Bucks County was up almost 4 percent in 2018, according to Visit Bucks County (VBC), the official tourism promotion agency for the county. According to the VBC website, more than 8 million visitors have had a nearly $1 billion impact on the local economy, supporting an estimated 28,000 jobs. VBC is financed entirely by a 5 percent local hotel tax.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 2/7/2019

Chester County 

New task force to define Devon Center
Easttown Township is using a $29,500 grant from Chester County to explore parameters for the proposed Devon Center plan. The 11-member Devon Center Task Force met in January and heard a presentation from developer Eli Kahn for a new hotel, apartment building, 400-car garage and retail space near the Devon Horse Show grounds. Properties targeted in the plan include 119 Lancaster Ave., 130 Lancaster Ave. and land on Dorset Road. Kahn has shared preliminary sketches with the task force but has not officially submitted his plans, which will require zoning changes, to the township. The task force will likely recommend various zoning changes by the end of the year, according to Eugene Briggs Jr., Easttown Township assistant manager and director of planning and zoning. The task force’s recommendations would then go to the township supervisors for approval. The Devon Center Task Force is slated to meet next on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. at the township building.
Source: Daily Local; 2/13/2019

Transportation center, parking garage set to transform Oxford
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the long-anticipated multimodal transportation center, garage and borough building in downtown Oxford. “Once complete, the new facility will resolve a parking shortage that has limited our ability to fully utilize the beautiful historic buildings that line Third and Market streets,” Council President Sue Lombardi said. Located off Second Street, between Locust Street and Octorara Alley, the structure will house about 300 parking spaces and a transportation hub for SCOOT bus service. The $7 million cost of the structure will be covered in part by a $1.07 million grant from the county and a $540,000 grant from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development. An additional $1.2 million for the project will come from funds given several years ago by an anonymous donor. The ultimate cost to the borough is projected to be between $1.2 million and $2.2 million, depending on the success of two outstanding grant applications. The 3,000-square-foot borough hall portion of the structure will be on the Octorara Alley side of the building and will include offices, a meeting room and a caucus room.
Source: Daily Local; 2/11/2019

Chester County acquires 80 acres to extend Nottingham Park
Chester County Commissioners announced the acquisition of 80 acres of preserved land adjacent to Nottingham County Park, which will extend the size of the park by more than 10 percent. The additional acreage was conveyed at no cost to Chester County by The Nature Conservancy, which has owned the land for 20 years. “Nottingham Park was the first-ever Chester County Park, and it now welcomes around 155,000 visitors a year, who use the park’s fitness trail, pavilions and playgrounds,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline. “The park is also recognized as a National Natural Landmark because it contains one of the largest serpentine barrens on the East Coast.” The Nature Conservancy purchased the 80-acre tract of land in 1998 for $275,000, using conservancy, state and county funding for the original purchase. In reviewing its property portfolio, the conservancy determined that transferring the land to the county would allow for integrated and improved management across the conservation area. The addition of the 80 acres brings Nottingham County Park’s total size to 731 acres.
Source: Daily Local; 2/13/2019

Upper Uwchlan to consider regulations for on-lot sewage systems
The Upper Uwchlan Township Board of Supervisors will consider for adoption an ordinance regulating on-lot sewage systems. The draft ordinance calls for the pumping, inspection and maintenance of individual on-lot sewer systems every three years. It will be considered at public meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. at the township building, 140 Pottstown Pike, Chester Springs.
Source: Daily Local; 2/11/2019

Delaware County

Radnor planners nix proposed lighting ordinance
The Radnor Township Planning Commission unanimously rejected a proposed outdoor lighting ordinance that the board of commissioners asked it to review. The planning commission then unanimously voted to examine the township’s present lighting ordinances, focusing on light pollution from institutional and commercial facilities. The commission also said the ordinances should be specific to each district and allow for more efficient enforcement. Mary Eberle, a township solicitor, said the rejected draft ordinance was “too boilerplate.” The existing code, she said, is too vague in places to be easily enforced, such as using the word “reduce” — rather than “eliminate” — for light spillage beyond a property line.
Source: Daily Times; 2/10/2019

Marcus Hook passes 2019 budget with no tax increase
For the sixth straight year, Marcus Hook Borough Council is holding the line on the borough’s real estate taxes, with no increase this year. Council adopted the borough’s 2019 budget on Dec. 3 with no tax increase and no change in services. The borough’s tax rate will remain at 12.35 mills. Under the 2019 budget, general fund revenues coming into the borough are estimated at $3.48 million, representing a 1.6 percent increase from 2018. Expenses are projected to run about $3.76 million, an increase of 12 percent.
Source: Daily Times; 2/9/2019

Morrone pushes for progress on county building project
Last summer, Delaware County moved ahead with demolishing the Toal and Sweeney county office buildings after a concrete wall inside a garage there separated from its welds. No one was hurt, but many were inconvenienced, as potential jurors had to find alternate parking arrangements and county employees had to be relocated. Delaware County Councilwoman Morrone praised the progress made so far and implored her colleagues to continue moving forward. “We have a mud pit across the street and no plans to replace that structure,” she said. County officials anticipate that the project could require 18 months to design and another 18 months to build, and that doesn’t include the process to obtain the appropriate approvals, which could extend the project to four or five years in total.
Source: Daily Times; 2/13/2019

Chadds Ford ponders future of its village
Chadds Ford supervisors held an informational meeting in response to residents’ concerns about possible zoning changes in the “village” section of the township, following a sketch plan that showed a multi-use development between the Barn Shops and Webb Road. Supervisors’ Chairman Frank Murphy told the standing-room-only crowd that there was no formal plan under consideration, but that the board wanted to hear from residents and business owners on what they’d like to see happen in the village. Business owners and nonprofit groups called for more vibrancy in the township’s village area. A few people in attendance said they wanted no zoning changes and no increased density of homes. Land planner Tom Comitta said it would be up to the business community to find unique opportunities that could only be found in the village to combat what he called the “Amazon-ization and Walmart-ization of society.”
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 2/8/2019

Montgomery County

Land owners fight Lower Merion School District over use of eminent domain
Owners of a property on County Line Road in Villanova have filed preliminary objections to Lower Merion School District’s plan to take their land through eminent domain. In the filing, they accuse the district of abusing the eminent domain law by grabbing the property when Villanova University had already made an offer to purchase the site. According to the filing, an attorney for the district told the owners’ attorney that if they did not agree to the school district’s purchase offer, they would be without a place to live and would have to move out quickly, and their granddaughter, who lives with them, would no longer be able to attend the school district. The dispute goes back to December, when the school district announced it would use eminent domain to take the 1835 County Line Road property, along with a property at 1800 W. Montgomery Ave., to be used for playing fields for a planned middle school at 1860 Montgomery Ave. The district responded by saying it offered more money than Villanova University did and that the owners would be able to live in the property rent- and property-tax-free until the district needs the property in 2023.
Source: Daily Times; 2/13/2019

Bridgeport LERTA designation aims to boost business
Bridgeport Borough recently approved a Local Economic Redevelopment Tax Abatement (LERTA) designation aimed at incentivizing development in the borough. Pennsylvania’s LERTA act enables municipal authorities to temporarily allow property owners to continue paying tax on pre-improvement assessments instead of higher assessments resulting from new construction or renovation. The LERTA was approved by the three local taxing bodies: the borough, Upper Merion School District and Montgomery County. Bridgeport opted for a program in which the abatement amount will diminish by 20 percent over five years, with the owner paying the full real estate tax in the sixth year. Bridgeport’s LERTA District consists of 233 parcels with a current aggregate assessed value of $25.2 million. It is located on or adjacent to Route 23 (Fourth Street) and bookends the portion of Route 202 (DeKalb Street) that runs through the borough. The LERTA applies to nonresidential properties that meet stipulated zoning and redevelopment criteria applied to “new construction” in “deteriorated areas.” Borough Manager Keith Truman said the borough is hoping to take advantage of a hot housing market and businesses that don’t want to pay premium prices for square footage in King of Prussia. Bridgeport Council President Kyle Shenk said, “This project demonstrates our commitment to the long-term progress of our borough and is proof that Bridgeport is a prime location to love, start a business and raise a family.”
Source: Times Herald; 2/11/2019

Norristown talks redevelopment
The Norristown Department of Planning and Municipal Development held a symposium on the federal Qualified Opportunity Zone (QOZ) program, a component of the 2017 tax overhaul designed to spur long-term investment in underdeveloped urban and rural communities through capital gains tax abatement. Norristown’s opportunity zone is a roughly one-square-mile tract that shares the southernmost part of the municipality’s eastern border and is bound by the Schuylkill River to the south, Stony Creek to the west, and Airy and East Moore streets to the north. There are about 300 QOZ tracts across Pennsylvania. Eligible tracts are required to have a poverty rate of at least 20 percent and/or median family incomes no higher than 80 percent of the statewide or metropolitan average. Norristown Director of Planning and Municipal Development Jayne Musonye said that QOZ investments can be combined with other tax incentive and grant programs offered in the municipality, such as the Historic Façade Improvement Program, the Main Street Economic Development Initiative, Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance and the HUB-Zone and Keystone Opportunity Zone programs.
Source: Times Herald; 2/5/2019

Influx of development triggers discussion in New Hanover
New Hanover Township has more than 20 active development projects making their way through the planning process. The large number of projects has triggered discussions about their impacts on traffic, stormwater and other topics. A resident of the township recently told the supervisors that, after 21 years in town, “I’m finally starting to feel a quality-of-life change here in the township. Traffic is a major problem.” The Mercury reported in November that the U.S. Census Bureau currently estimates New Hanover’s population at 12,243, and with 26 development projects in various stages of the approval process, the population could rise by nearly 6,000 — a 41 percent population increase. New Hanover is considering adding a traffic impact fee on developers to help with traffic improvements. Development in New Hanover and Douglass is also driving changes at the Boyertown Area School District. About 60 percent of the student population now lives in Montgomery County, but only two of the district’s seven elementary schools are located in Montgomery County. Previously, the populations were reversed, and 60 percent of the district’s population lived in Berks County. Boyertown is conducting a demographic study to handle the change. Visit the Active Plans page of the New Hanover Township website to see the development projects being proposed.
Source: Daily Local; 2/11/2019

Philadelphia

Philadelphia could expand residential tax-abatement program
Philadelphia City Council wants to expand a tax break for longtime homeowners facing steep increases in their property taxes. Revenue Commissioner Frank Breslin says 16,000 homeowners are enrolled in the Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP), which is open to homeowners who have seen their tax assessments triple and have been in their homes at least 10 years. The program has a cap — once the frozen tax bills total $20 million, no more homeowners can apply. Council wants to raise the cap to $25 million, so more homeowners can participate. The proposed expansion has Breslin concerned. “This really creates inequities, and the ramifications only get greater as the difference between what people are paying increases,” he said. Monty Wilson, an attorney with Community Legal Services, said homeowners throughout the city are struggling to pay their taxes. “Property tax problems are the number one issue that comes into our office at CLS,” Wilson said. “They beat out welfare issues, they beat out employment issues, they beat out people seeking representation vs. [Department of Human Services]. This is a growing issue.” Under the proposal, the tax must have increased by 150 percent in a year for homeowners who have owned their properties for a decade or more, and the freeze stays in place only until the property is sold.
Source: WHYY; 2/13/2019

Why your neighborhood school probably doesn't have a playground
Two-thirds of Philadelphia School District elementary schools don’t have playgrounds. At these public schools, students run around on cracked pavement, among parked cars and between dumpsters. A map of the district’s play structures reveals distinct patterns — playgrounds are more common in Center City and neighborhoods closer to downtown. Gentrifying neighborhoods and those with a strong history of community-based activism and development are more likely to have them. The monkey bars and jungle gyms commonplace at suburban schools tend to be missing in neighborhoods with high rates of concentrated poverty, and areas with the fewest playgrounds tend to be areas predominantly home to communities of color. There is no substantial line item in the Philadelphia School District’s annual budget to support playgrounds. Instead, a piecemeal system of public-private partnerships funds the handful of schoolyard-improvement projects that move forward every year — an approach incapable of addressing many of the inequalities baked into the cash-strapped system. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 2/6/2019


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