NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
$11B budget package passes state legislature

Bucks County
Bucks County releases preliminary budget

Chester County
Valley Township to consider vacant property registration ordinance

Delaware County
Delco 2021 budget calls for no tax hike, significant job cuts

Montgomery County
Schwenksville eyes 22% tax increase

Philadelphia County
City council passes bill to curb real estate scammers

 

News Briefs Archive February 3, 2020

 

General News

Reminder: Act 133 doesn't cover pre-existing violations
Act 133 prevents municipalities from withholding resale certificates based on code issues discovered during point-of-sale inspections, but it does not apply to pre-existing violations. Such violations might include building code violations issued before the sale process, or missing or open permits. For this reason, listing agents should be proactive about finding out early on whether there are municipal code violations or permit issues standing against a client’s property. For minor violations, the resolution may be as easy as mowing the lawn or installing smoke detectors. For bigger issues, it might be necessary to work with the municipality toward a solution. For example, for unpermitted renovations, a township might take a hard line and require the unpermitted work be removed or done over, or it might simply conduct the permitting and inspection process retroactively. In any case, it’s best to discover such issues sooner than later. Read more about Act 133 on the SRA website.

Greater Philadelphia hosted more than 583K Airbnb guests in 2019
Philadelphians raked in some serious Airbnb dollars in 2019. The online home-sharing marketplace found that hosts in Greater Philadelphia made $75.6 million last year from 583,100 guests. It’s a 20% increase over 2018, when hosts in the five-county region made $62.8 million. Philadelphia was by far the highest-earning county for Airbnb hosts in Pennsylvania, raking in $66.8 million from 524,500 guests. Allegheny County was a distant second, with hosts earning $20.2 million in income last year. Here’s how suburban counties fared:

  • Bucks County: $2.3 million in host income, 14,900 guest arrivals
  • Chester County: $2.1 million in host income, 14,700 guest arrivals
  • Delaware County: $1.2 million in host income, 9,300 guest arrivals
  • Montgomery County: $3.2 million in host income, 19,700 guest arrivals

Read the full article here.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 1/24/2020

Bucks County

Warminster tax increase awaiting court approval
Warminster Township residents will find out after a Feb. 13 hearing if a 64% tax increase included in a recently re-opened 2020 budget will be approved. The increase would bring in an estimated $2 million for Warminster’s troubled finances. The previous board of supervisors approved a 2020 budget in December that did not include a tax increase, and instead assumed the sale of the township water and sewer systems would help the township through its financial difficulties. A new board, elected in 2019 and seated in January, is largely opposed to selling the township’s assets. The board re-opened the budget and adopted a new proposed budget that raises property taxes to the legal limit for a second-class township, prompting the hearing. The proposed budget calls for an increase to Warminster’s general fund property tax rate from 11.09 mills to 19 mills — a roughly 71% increase. A mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The proposed tax rate hike is estimated to cost township homeowners with a property assessed at $25,500 an additional $280 for 2020. Other dedicated tax rates — including ambulance, fire, library, parks and recreation, and debt funds — would remain the same. The proposed budget can be found on the Warminster Township website.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/24/2020

Newtown Township reschedules Toll development hearing to Feb. 12
The public hearing scheduled for Toll Brothers’ conditional-use application to build 41 luxury homes off Route 413 in Newtown Township has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 12. Toll is seeking to build on 152 acres off of Route 413 (Durham Road) and Twinning Bridge Road adjoining the municipal complex and All Saints Cemetery. The developer initially proposed 173 homes in a variety of styles on the property, which would have required the supervisors to amend the Conservation Management (CM) zoning district to allow the use. Toll amended the application and downsized the number of proposed homes for the property last October, which would be a “by-right use” allowed under current residential zoning. However, a conditional-use hearing is still necessary because Toll wants to use a “cluster” option when designing the property. Visit the Newtown Township website for more information.
Source: The Advance of Bucks County; 1/19/2020

Lower Makefield planners OK townhouses at Marazzo site
The Lower Makefield Township Planning Commission gave preliminary and final land development approval to DeLuca Homes to construct 11 single-family townhomes at the site of Marazzo’s Manor Lane Florist at the intersection of Yardley-Morrisville and Sutphin Pine roads. The age-restricted, two-story attached townhouses will be about 2,800 square feet, with a first-floor master bedroom and two-car garage. The developer will need to resubmit documents to the township for review prior to the plans going before the township’s board of supervisors for final approval.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/29/2020

Sellersville approves age-restricted apartments
Sellersville Borough Council recently voted to approve a 50-unit, age-restricted (55+) apartment building on the site of the former AMETEK parking lot at Diamond Street and East Clymer Avenue. The development was proposed by Grace Inspired Ministries, the parent company of The Community at Rockhill and The Lutheran Community at Telford, nearby retirement communities that serve nearly 800 residents. In a statement, Grace Inspired Ministries said the new Sellersville community will follow the same mission as the others, “to provide purpose, dignity and compassion for both residents and individuals served.” Borough Manager David Rivet said construction could begin as early as this year if final plans are submitted and approved by borough authorities.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 1/16/2020

Chester County 

Roundtable looks at affordable housing, transit in Chester County
Chester County is one of only two counties in Pennsylvania where the population is growing. While that's good economic news, it can make it hard to find affordable housing. That's why U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-6) held a roundtable on affordable housing and transportation prior to a recent town hall meeting at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville. Many of the mid-level and lower-paying jobs are in parts of the county where the housing is too expensive for those workers to live, Houlahan said. She listed a number of bipartisan bills she has supported in an effort to ease that strain, including the "aptly named 'Build More Housing Near Transit Act.'" These bills indicate the need to "think about these issues holistically, not in a vacuum," Houlahan said. Phoenixville has done that, according to Borough Manager E. Jean Krack. As the borough has revitalized, it has recognized the necessity of having a mix of housing options to ensure residents aren’t forced out by higher housing prices and rents. "Phoenixville's approach has been exemplary, and a number of other towns in the county are starting to take notice," said Pat Bokovitz, director of the Chester County Department of Community Development. Read more here.
Source: The Mercury; 1/26/2020

East Marlborough considering an increase in planning commission size     
The East Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance to increase the number of members on the planning commission to seven members. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Monday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. at the East Marlborough Township Building, 721 Unionville Road, Kennett Square.
Source: Daily Local; 1/24/2020

Three township employees laid off in Kennett shakeup
Three Kennett Township employees have been terminated, and its police chief, who has been on administrative leave for six months, is under investigation. The staff shakeup comes on the heels of the arrest late last year of the then township manager, Lisa Moore, who is criminally charged with embezzling $3.2 million. Eden Ratliff, the township manager who was hired in September, said the employee firings are part of an ongoing plan to reshape the structure of the township and better meet current and future needs. “The township also conducted a thorough review to determine the best path forward to restore trust and confidence in all parts of township operations and services,” Ratliff said. “We believe that putting in place a new team will be an important and vital step toward that objective.” In addition, he said, officials are realigning the functioning of the township to make it more efficient and responsive. Supervisors will provide more information about the changes to staffing, structure and operations at their meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. in the township building, 801 Burrows Run Road.
Source: Daily Times; 1/29/2020

Digital billboard company makes pitch to East Whiteland residents
About 100 people came to a meeting held by Catalyst Outdoor to hear a presentation regarding digital billboards that the company hopes to place in East Whiteland Township. Township supervisors are holding conditional use hearings for three digital billboards to be constructed along Route 30. Ari Christakis, vice president for development at Catalyst, which uses the name East Whiteland Outdoor locally, revealed that he has been conducting behind-the-scenes talks with the supervisors to put the billboards in other locations, including along Route 202. The company has also proposed to install a roughly $5 million pedestrian bridge at the Chester Valley Trail over Route 29. That bridge would have digital billboards on both sides facing the road. By a show of hands, many of the residents who turned out signaled they were opposed to having digital billboards installed in the township, which is rapidly becoming less of a rural oasis and more like other suburbs in the Philadelphia area.
Source: Daily Local; 1/26/2020

Regional police department settling into new $5M New Garden facility
The four principal values of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department (SCCRPD) are human life, integrity, justice and duty — and those words adorn the lobby of the department’s new $5 million headquarters in New Garden. The SCCRPD opened its doors at 8934 Gap Newport Pike (Route 41) in September 2019. The one-story building spans 11,700 square feet, sits on approximately 2.5 acres, and houses 18 full-time law enforcement officers and six part-time officers. It is equipped with a unisex locker room for officers, three prison cells with controlled access, and secure holding areas for evidence and record-keeping. No taxes were raised for the construction of the new police headquarters. The New Garden Township Board of Supervisors took out a construction loan, which will be repaid in full upon the completion of the township’s ongoing sewer system sale to Aqua America. Originally, the plan was to pay for the $5 million police building with funds from the acquisition, but that the sale has been delayed a few times. Once the sale is finalized, New Garden will receive $29.5 million in total from Aqua.
Source: Daily Local; 1/29/2020

Delaware County

Delco posts job openings, will focus on ethics
Job openings are being posted on the Delaware County website for the first time ever. The county council also recently unanimously approved the hiring of Stacy Heisey-Terrell for human resources services at a rate of $75 an hour to help establish a protocol for best practices in hiring for open county positions. In another change, Council Chairman Brian Zidek announced that council members and department directors will undergo ethics training and adhere to a new set of standards, including: not accepting any gifts or meals, except in limited circumstances; not serving as paid staff for any political candidate or organization; and disclosing and obtaining approval of any additional paid position or consulting work. In line with that, council plans to host its first ethics and reform public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m. in the County Council Public Meeting Room at 201 W. Front St. in Media.
Source: Daily Times; 1/24/2020

Delco Council OKs $1M for 9-1-1 center upgrade; total tab likely to approach $30M
Delaware County Council approved more than $1 million for upgrades to the county emergency services communications six days before a meeting that will outline the need for at least $20 million more for a system overhaul. County Councilman Kevin Madden said, “It’s unacceptable to have our first-responders and our law enforcement ... out there not being able to effectively utilize the radio in a life or death situation.” On one Saturday in September, the county 9-1-1 center noted four or five separate instances during which emergency personnel were unable to reach the county 9-1-1 center with their portable radios because of a situation called “ducting.” Under certain weather conditions like heavy cloud cover, signals from TV stations bounce back, and portable radios like those carried by police and firefighters have a hard time getting through.
Source: Daily Times; 1/26/2020

Nether Providence pushes forward with plans to raze Summit School
The Nether Providence Township Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to award contracts for a project to replace the deteriorating Summit School building on Plush Mill Road with green space. Diamond Huntbach Construction of Philadelphia will be paid $188,500 to abate asbestos in the building prior to demolition. Meanwhile, JMC Contractors Inc. of Glen Mills will receive roughly $174,000 to tear down the structure. Last September, Nether Providence announced that it had been awarded a $500,000 state grant for redevelopment of the site. The bulk of the grant, which is coming from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, was intended for demolition, but the cost estimates came in lower than expected. Assistant Township Manager Dave Grady said last year that the original grant application included building demolition, improvements to the parking lots, a walking trail, a snack bar and a small amphitheater. But he also said there was insufficient funding available at this time for those features. The township acquired the property from the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District in 2016 for $925,000. Financing for the transaction included a $325,000 from a loan from the township’s sewer fund.
Source: Daily Times; 1/26/2020

Haverford billboard fight resumes in court
A decade-long battle between Haverford Township and the Bartkowski Investment Group (BIG) over the proposed placement of billboards in heavily trafficked corridors of Lancaster Avenue and Haverford Pike has returned to court. Haverford has been fighting the proposal since 2009, when BIG originally hoped to place billboards measuring 672 square feet, and as high as 77 feet in the air, at five locations. Revised plans call for four slightly smaller billboards, measuring 432 to 553 square feet, at 600 and 658 Lancaster Ave. and 1157 and 2040 West Chester Pike. Thaddeus Bartkowski, owner of BIG, testified that the locations were chosen due to high traffic volumes, the location of hundreds of nearby businesses that could potentially advertise, zoning necessary for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation approval and a lack of advertising competition. The township zoning hearing board initially rejected the plans in 2012, prompting BIG to file an appeal in Delaware County Common Pleas Court. BIG took the fight to Commonwealth Court after the Common Pleas Court sided with the zoning board. Haverford Commissioner Andy Lewis said he expects arguments could go into February or even March, and that he does not expect it to end there. Whichever side loses will almost certainly appeal, he said, but he reiterated that the township is in it for the long haul.
Source: Daily Times; 1/24/2020

FOP cuts ties with Colwyn, residents question police presence
A years-long conversation between Colwyn Borough and the local police union has come to an end. The borough council unanimously approved an executed settlement agreement with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27 of Delaware County that borough Solicitor Ken Schuster called, “very, very favorable” to the borough. “There were no wage increases. They did away with longevity, there’s no pension obligation, no medial benefit, there’s a removal of the chief’s position from the bargaining agreement, and none of these rights apply to part-time officers,” said Schuster at the meeting. “The FOP is no longer interested in representing the police officers in the borough of Colwyn, so it’s a very favorable contract.” The agreement details the department’s employment of less than 10 police officers, all part-time, in the borough of 2,500 residents. Borough officials said negotiations have been ongoing since 2014, and the agreement will last until Dec. 31, 2023. Residents at the council meeting complained to council that police are nowhere to be found, especially during overnight hours.
Source: Daily Times; 1/29/2020

Montgomery County

Horsham enforcing residential property transfer inspection program
Horsham Township has begun enforcement of a residential property transfer inspection program it adopted in March 2019. The legal notices advertising the scheduled vote to adopt the ordinance stated that the township was considering adopting the 2015 International Property Maintenance Code, but it did not mention property inspections. The inspection program will focus on the condition of the property’s sidewalks, curbs and driveway aprons, as well as the visibility of house numbers from the street. The inspector does not need access to the interior of the residence. Also, the buyer and seller must complete an affidavit at closing saying that there are working smoke detectors properly located within the dwelling. The fee is $50 if the application is submitted more than 30 days before settlement or $100 if submitted within 30 days of settlement. Further information can be found on the Property Transfer Certification application.
Source: Horsham Township; 1/2020

Upper Pottsgrove moves to scrap planning commission
Upper Pottsgrove Township commissioners will vote on Monday, Feb. 3, on an ordinance that would eliminate the township planning commission. Currently, the planning commission reviews development proposals and makes recommendations to the township commissioners for both preliminary and final site plan approval. The power of final approval rests with the township board of commissioners. The pending action of the board of commissioners would remove all current planning commission members and allow the township commissioners to appoint members to a new planning committee, which would be directly answerable to them, a move allowed by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code. Township Commissioners’ Chair Trace Slinkerd wrote that the majority of the current planning commission does not “support the governing board.” The move to eliminate the planning commission comes after a four-month effort last year to get planning commission Chairman Elwood Taylor to resign. Township commissioners passed a resolution in August barring any sitting commissioner from serving on any other township or non-profit board or commission that interacted with the township. Taylor, who at the time was serving as both a township commissioner and chairman of the planning commission, filed a legal appeal attempting to block that resolution. Taylor has been a member of the planning commission for more than 25 years and served as a township commissioner for a total of 20 years. Taylor refused to resign from the planning commission, and township commissioners convened a hearing in October to have him removed. The board never followed through with a formal vote on Taylor’s removal after he lost a reelection bid in November. Taylor has one year left on his planning commission term. Taylor has filed a legal appeal of the resolution which prevents township commissioners from serving on other boards. The move to scrap the planning commission comes as Upper Pottsgrove is in the midst of managing one of the largest residential development projects in the township’s recent history. Read more here.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/28/2020

Norristown approves senior housing development, townhomes
Norristown Municipal Council has approved the final land development plan for Phase II of Montgomery Park, a senior housing development on the old Montgomery Hospital site. The new four-story building on Powell Street will have 42 age-restricted apartments. A separate health and wellness building is also planned for the site. Council also approved preliminary land development plans for a 30-townhouse development on a 2.5-acre empty lot at 200 E. Logan St. The townhouses, built by New Century Builders & Developers, will be in five groups of six units each and will include attached single-car garages. The developer hopes to begin construction later this year.
Source: Times Herald; 1/24/2020

Fate of proposed 779-unit New Hanover Town Square development still unclear
New Hanover Township supervisors and the township planning commission held a joint meeting to discuss the New Hanover Town Center project proposed for 209 acres bounded by Swamp Pike in the north, Route 663 in the east and Township Line Road to the west. The project has been revised five times since 2017, and the latest plan calls for 189 single-family homes, 290 townhomes, 103 “atrium” homes, 94 twin homes and mixed-use buildings with apartments over commercial space. About 100 residents were also in attendance — many of whom hoped to hear more about the impact the project will have on traffic, stormwater and school taxes. Township Manager Jamie Gwynn steadily questioned the need for each of the 28 variances being sought by the developer, including street width and stormwater items. The meeting wrapped up around 11 p.m. with no votes and no decisions. Supervisors’ chairman Charles D. Garner Jr. said the supervisors would take up the variance requests after receiving review letters from the township’s engineering, legal and traffic consultants.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/29/2020

Philadelphia

Kendra Brooks calls for hearings on rent control at her first city council meeting
On her first day in city council, Kendra Brooks, a member of the Working Families Party, introduced a resolution calling for hearings on rent regulations in Philadelphia. Rent control and other rent stabilization policies have long been considered objectionable in local political circles, but Brooks used it as a rallying cry in her insurgent campaign. Local politics has traditionally been dominated by homeowner interests, but in the wake of the Great Recession, renting is on the rise and city council has begun to view tenant rights as an area ripe for reform. Brooks notes in her resolution that over half of Philadelphia’s renters are cost-burdened and more than one-third spent more than half their incomes on rent. Brooks acknowledges that the debate around rent regulations is lively and complicated. That’s precisely why she wants to hold the hearing as soon as possible. “Being able to hear and discuss variations of what that looks like, whether it’s pure rent control or rent stabilization or so many other things that have happened in cities across this country,” said Brooks. “With the extent of gentrification, displacement and homelessness in the city, we can’t wait on this issue.”
Source: Plan Philly; 1/23/2020

Philly just took a step toward getting LED streetlights citywide
At some point in the near future, the streets of Philadelphia will look whiter at night. The warm yellow glow provided by the city’s 105,000 streetlights will become a thing of the past, as the city replaces traditional high-pressure sodium bulbs with LEDs, which have a whitish glare. That vision took a step forward this week when the city and Philadelphia Energy Authority, an independent municipal agency, put out a call for qualifications from contractors interested in helping LED-ify the city. The city is looking to make progress on its Municipal Energy Master Plan, which aims to reduce Philadelphia’s energy consumption, lower its carbon emissions and expand the use of renewables. City officials are betting on the high-performing bulbs to help reduce city spending on energy for street lamps, another goal of the master plan. The city spends $12.9 million per year to keep its current network on. The proposals received through the public bidding process will help the city determine exactly how much money could ultimately be saved by going LED. Brighter lights also mean safer streets for pedestrians, bikers and cars, officials say.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/25/2020

 
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