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
Local housing trends reflect national shift toward multi-unit housing
Recent housing trends, nationally and locally, are adapting to the changing face of the American family to accommodate more childless couples, singles and single-parent households. Developers are building more multi-unit housing throughout the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area, according to a study by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. Andrew Svelka, associate manager of the DVRPC’s Office of Smart Growth, recently discussed the preliminary results of the study, which showed a nearly 5,000% increase in construction of multifamily housing units throughout the entire nine-county region around Philadelphia, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey counties, when comparing 1993 to 2017 figures. According to the study: Montgomery County is home to 49,351 multi-unit rentals; Delaware County has 27,884; and Chester County has 22,942. The municipality with the most multi-unit housing is Delaware County’s Upper Darby, with 6,520 units. The final version of the report is expected to be issued in the first half of 2020.
Source: Daily Local; 1/5/2020
For the first time on record, fewer than 10% of Americans moved in a year
According to just-released government data for 2018-2019, fewer than 10% of Americans changed residence in a single year. The new all-time low of 9.8% occurred on the heels of a year when the nation’s total population growth fell to its lowest since 1947, a result of declines in the number of births, gains in the number of deaths, and a decline in the nation’s under-18 population since the 2010 census — signaling a general stagnation of the nation’s demographic dynamics. Together, these data run counter to economic trends reflecting an increasingly robust national economy a decade after the Great Recession. The new migration statistics draw from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement — a cooperative effort by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services — that has tracked American relocations since 1947. The 72-year data set allows for analyses of different kinds of domestic moves, chronicling a continued deterioration of American mobility. Especially noteworthy are the migration declines for the nation’s young adult population, now mostly comprised of millennials. Click here for more information.
Source: Brookings.edu, The Avenue; 11/22/2019
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Realtor® champion, dies at 56
Former Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-8) died of cancer on Jan. 6 at age 56. A Levittown native and former county commissioner, Fitzpatrick served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2005 to 2007 and again from 2011 to 2017. The Bucks County Republican was a champion of private property rights and real estate issues. Political figures from both sides of the aisle, including Gov. Tom Wolf, lauded Fitzpatrick as a tireless public servant who worked toward bipartisan solutions. “Mike was our friend in Washington during a pivotal time when our industry faced complex issues as a result of the Great Recession,” said Jamie Ridge, president/CEO of the SRA. “He was an advocate on a myriad of important consumer and real estate issues ranging from flood insurance to FHA condo rules, to making sure people had clean drinking water. I’m grateful to have known and worked with him.” Fitzpatrick’s brother, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), currently represents Bucks County in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance offers our condolences to his family.
Falls adds sewer lateral requirement to U&O process
Falls Township has added a sewer lateral inspection requirement to its use and occupancy inspection criteria. According to the township, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has mandated that Falls Township collect inspection reports for its sewer customers prior to the transfer of any residential or commercial property. Falls supervisors passed a supporting ordinance for the requirement on Dec. 17, 2019, that also includes other instances when a private sewer lateral may be inspected. Falls Township will allow the transfer of a property with a failed lateral, but no occupancy will be permitted. The sewer lateral inspection is good for six months, so home owners and sellers should plan accordingly. Click here for the new U&O fact sheet published by the township on Dec. 31, 2019.
Developer revises plan for vacant Bensalem school property
A developer has revised the plan for the vacant Neil A. Armstrong Middle School property on Street Road in Bensalem. Jignesh “Jay” Pandya, owner of Rohan Group of Companies, hopes the latest plan will be more amenable to Bensalem Township Council. The revised plan for the 30-acre property is 141 townhomes near the back of the land and three commercial properties closer to the street. The commercial spaces could include a farmers market, a restaurant, a new corporate space for Rohan Group, a bank or a Royal Farms convenience store. A previous land development plan and zoning overlay for the site was voted down in the spring, mainly due to too many variables being proposed for the site. The new plan will need to be reviewed by either the township planning commission or the Bucks County Planning Commission before it comes before the township council.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/2/2020
Falls Township manager resigns
Falls Township Manager Peter Gray has resigned from his position. Gray had been with the township for 20 years, serving as manager for the past 12. Assistant Manager Matthew Takita will temporarily serve as manager until a permanent replacement is named. Falls officials hired David Woglom, of Lafayette College’s Meyner Center for the Study of State and Local Government, to help in the search for a new manager. Supervisors Chairman Jeff Dence said it will not be easy to replace Gray, and they are sorry to see him go. Township solicitor Mike Clarke said candidates will be selected and interviewed by early February, with an offer extended to the top candidate by late February.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/8/2020
Bristol Borough and Quakertown receive façade improvement grants
Gov. Tom Wolf in December announced the approval of more than $5 million for 42 community revitalization projects across the commonwealth. The Redevelopment Authority of Bucks County was awarded a $50,000 grant for a façade improvement program in downtown Bristol Borough that will benefit at least 10 storefronts. Quakertown Borough also received a $50,000 grant for a façade improvement program in the town’s designated Keystone Main Street area. Administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Keystone Communities program is designed to support local initiatives that grow and stabilize neighborhoods and communities, foster effective public-private partnerships, and enhance the overall quality of life for residents.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 1/2/2020
Bristol Township appoints manager
Bristol Township Council appointed Randee Elton as the new township manager at the annual reorganization meeting. Elton had been deputy manager under the former manager, William McCauley, who resigned in December. The appointment came following the swearing-in ceremony for three re-elected board members — Maryann Wagner, Patrick Antonello and Joseph Glasson — as well as the reorganization meeting that saw Council President Craig Bowen re-appointed to his post. Bowen said the board decided it didn’t need to look further than Elton for a new township manager. Elton has been with Bristol since 2015 and was appointed deputy manager in 2018. She has a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from Arizona State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Villanova University.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/7/2020
Public meeting on Route 82 interchange
PennDOT invites the public to a meeting regarding the evaluation of alternatives for the reconstruction and improvement of the Route 82 interchange at U.S. 30, and the adjacent segment of the U.S. 30 Bypass in Caln, Valley, and West Brandywine townships and the City of Coatesville. The purpose of the meeting is to present and gather public feedback. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 29, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Wagontown Fire Company Volunteers Hall, 412 W. Kings Highway, Wagontown. More information is available at www.us30-chesco.com. If Coatesville School District is closed on Jan. 29 due to weather, the meeting will be postponed until Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the same time and location.
Source: Daily Local; 12/29/2019
Oxford considers new procedures for appealing sidewalk, curb requirements
Oxford Borough Council has scheduled a public hearing to consider a draft ordinance providing for an appeal process of installation of sidewalks, curbs and gutters. The borough previously adopted an ordinance requiring installation of curbs, sidewalks and gutters for all properties located in the borough at point of sale or after notice from the borough in special priority areas. The draft ordinance outlining the appeal process may be viewed here. “While we do not support the policy of requiring that sidewalks be constructed at the point of sale, we believe an appeal process should be in place,” said Jamie Ridge, president/CEO of the Suburban Realtors® Alliance. “We hope the proposed ordinance will ensure that residents are not forced to construct ‘sidewalks to nowhere,’ which we have seen too often in Oxford Borough.” The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Monday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. at the borough building, 401 E. Market St.
Source: Daily Local; 1/6/2020
Amid Kennett embezzlement scandal, officials hold line on taxes
Kennett Township’s budget for 2020 will not include a proposed new tax to help fund a new library building in Kennett Square. The township supervisors passed several budget-related resolutions at a special meeting, and the recently proposed temporary tax to support construction of a new library building had been dropped, the supervisors said, after hearing negative responses from residents. According to the supervisors and a number of attendees who spoke at the special meeting, much of the desire to avoid any new tax stemmed from continuing shock over the recent revelation that former Township Manager Lisa M. Moore allegedly embezzled more than $3 million from the township over a six-year period. The consensus seemed to be that most people supported the new library, but that now was not the time for even a modest tax estimated to cost the average household $36 per year. The supervisors did include a $117,000 contribution to the library, but arranged for it to be paid out of existing township funds. They said the intention was to pay a similar amount for another five years. This would equal the requested support from the library board, who wanted the municipalities the library served to contribute a total of 20% of the $15 million cost, in proportion to each municipality’s usage. The township’s 2020 budget technically contains no new taxes, but some users of its public sewer system may see higher fees in the coming year. The township’s new director of finances and human resources, Amy Heinrich, said there was a yearly $172,000 deficit in the sewer operating budget, and the new fees would almost exactly cancel it out. The new fees would apply to users connected to the sections of the public sewer system that had wastewater treated by the borough.
Source: Daily Local; 1/4/2020
Great architecture in West Chester, the ‘Athens of Pennsylvania’
Renowned architect Thomas U. Walter, who designed the capitol dome in Washington, also designed several structures in West Chester Borough, which some call the “Athens of Pennsylvania.” The historic courthouse in West Chester is known as Walter’s Greek Revival masterpiece. Although other buildings are taller, the courthouse, with its cupola and clock, dominates the landscape. To learn more about the importance of some of the historical structures in the borough, click here.
Source: Daily Local; 12/31/2019
Most mobile homes are overtaxed. Chester County owners are getting relief
After learning of a disparity in state tax laws, Randy and Debbie Blough, volunteers at the Honey Brook Food Pantry, decided to help those being unfairly burdened. In 2019, they and other volunteers helped to cut more than $170,000 off the collective annual property-tax bills of 177 mobile-home owners in Chester County. Advocates and state lawmakers want mobile-home owners across the state to see the same kind of relief. Mobile homes tend to be overtaxed because they are assessed as homes, which tend to gain value over time, yet they depreciate like vehicles. And according to state law and legal precedent, counties can’t go into mobile-home parks to reassess those properties without reassessing all other properties, too. The United Way of Chester County teamed up with pantry volunteers, Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and the Chester County Paralegal Association to appeal those 177 assessments last year. In 2020, the volunteers are aiming to appeal the assessments of 1,000 mobile homes. Chester County has more than 3,600 owner-occupied mobile homes. “For a lot of our clients, it’s the only way to have that American dream of owning a home,” said Rachel Houseman, managing attorney of Legal Aid’s Chester County division. Seventeen of the 177 homeowners helped last year were facing sheriff’s sales for back taxes they shouldn’t have owed, according to the United Way. The combined assessed value of the 177 homes was reduced from $6.5 million to $1.9 million. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/4/2020
Delco towns get funding for revitalization projects
Governor Tom Wolf in December announced the approval of more than $5 million for 42 community revitalization projects across the commonwealth, including several in Delaware County. Lansdowne Economic Development Corp. received $50,000 to assist in the construction of the Lansdowne Maker Space, a 2,500-square-foot tech-based facility. Upper Chichester Township got $25,000 to create an economic development action plan for the Boothwyn Town Center. Administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), the Keystone Communities program is designed to support local initiatives that grow and stabilize neighborhoods and communities, foster effective public-private partnerships, and enhance the overall quality of life for residents.
Source: Daily Times; 1/2/2020
County to study salaries, benefits of county employees
Delaware County Council unanimously approved hiring McGrath Human Resources Group for about $102,000 to perform a compensation study of county and court employees, with a goal to begin implementing parts of that study by the end of 2020. This process emanated from a request by county Sheriff Jerry L. Sanders Jr. who, in October 2018, asked council to increase his deputies’ wages by at least $5 an hour because of serious issues of retention and recruitment. County Executive Director Marianne Grace outlined the issues facing the county. “It’s widely known … that our starting salaries are the lowest in the region, and this is something that county council has mentioned frequently,” she said. “So, council then made the decision they wanted to address this and issue an RFP.” The study will look beyond wages. “The complete compensation package will be looked at,” Grace said. “It will be salaries and benefits and ensuring that … within the constraints that we have, that we will be able to be as competitive as possible. We may not have the starting salaries of other counties, but that we can be as competitive as possible so that we can attract and retain qualified employees.”
Source: Daily Times; 12/30/2019
Meeting set to update Haverford residents on possible new billboards
A community meeting in Haverford has been scheduled to let people know about possible new billboards at 1157 West Chester Pike and 2040 West Chester Pike. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m. at Manoa Fire Co., 115 S. Eagle Road. Another set of proposed billboards on Lancaster Avenue, near Lower Merion, was the subject of a Jan. 9 meeting. Meanwhile, an appeal of a Haverford zoning decision on the billboards, which went up to the appellate court, is back in Common Pleas Court in Media and is set to be heard by Judge Spiro Angelos on Tuesday, Jan. 21. “We’ve been fighting this for 10 years and we’re fighting to the end,” said Andy Lewis, president of the Haverford Board of Commissioners. Lewis said the problem with the billboards is not just their size but the ones sought for Lancaster Avenue would be on top of buildings. Lower Merion Commissioner V. Scott Zelov said, “It’s a very big deal. Highway-size billboards don’t belong in our suburban community.”
Source: Delaware County New Network; 1/7/2020
Ridley School taxes to stay within Act 1 cap
Ridley School District will not increase taxes in excess of the Act 1 Index of 3.4% set by the state Department of Education for the 2020-2021 school year, according Superintendent Lee Ann Wentzel. "By passing this resolution, our school district will not be eligible to apply for Act 1 exceptions, for which the district qualifies, that would allow us to exceed the Index," Wentzel said. The inflation index is set each year by the state, and school districts may not exceed their individual caps without voter approval. But Act 1 does allow districts to request exceptions for certain costs like special education programs or pension costs. Ridley has not claimed exemptions for at least the past five years. The proposed final budget will be presented for school board action in May with final adoption set for June.
Source: Daily Times; 1/8/2020
Pottstown suffers loss in court battle over rental inspections
Pottstown Borough has lost the latest round in an ongoing court battle over its 2015 rental inspection ordinance. In 2015, the borough adopted an ordinance that requires all landlords and tenants to submit to an inspection of rental property every two years — instead of at vacancy or change of tenant. In April of 2017, tenants Dottie and Omar Rivera refused to allow borough inspectors inside the home they rented from landlord Steve Camburn for five years. Camburn supported his tenants’ decision. Pottstown then obtained an “administrative warrant” to attempt an inspection of the property. The tenants and landlord, with assistance from the Institute for Justice, a Libertarian non-profit law firm based in Virginia, filed a civil complaint arguing the ordinance violates the Pennsylvania Constitution’s protections against unreasonable search of the home. They argued that the “administrative warrant” makes it easier for Pottstown to “get into the homes of ordinary, law-abiding citizens than the homes of suspected criminals.” A three-judge panel of Commonwealth Court recently sided with the tenants and landlord, and reversed borough victories in the Montgomery Court of Common Pleas. The decision, authored by Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler affects the borough’s refusal to provide records of other inspections and the standards and discretion inspectors use in conducting them. “To require tenants to endure inspections before challenging the inspection requirement would render tenants … privacy rights illusory,” Ceisler wrote. Ceisler also wrote that “the record does not disclose what criteria, if any, the borough must satisfy in order to obtain” the administrative warrant. As a result, information can be obtained “about the content of a dwelling without the need to obtain a search warrant based on individual probable cause.” In a press release, the Institute for Justice wrote, “This makes sure that as the lawsuit now proceeds on remand, the residents will have a full record of how these inspections are actually conducted — and what inspectors actually do once they are inside peoples’ homes.” The case will now go back to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas for further action.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/8/2020
County commissioners outline goals for new term
Incumbent Montgomery County Commissioners Valerie Arkoosh, Kenneth Lawrence Jr. and Joe Gale were sworn in for a new term during a recent ceremony at Ursinus College. “During the last four years, our administration has restored fiscal stability, regained the county’s [AAA] bond rating and passed three consecutive budgets without a tax increase,” Arkoosh said. Other goals include tackling food insecurity, homelessness, the opioid crisis, the new justice center, the 2020 Census and the upcoming election. During a reorganization meeting later in the day, Arkoosh and Lawrence were unanimously elected to continue in their respective positions as chair and vice chair. Gale pointed out that there are ideological differences between himself, a registered Republican, and his fellow commissioners, who are Democrats. Lawrence stressed the importance of having a constructive working relationship, “I believe we are all here to make the best decisions for the citizens of Montgomery County, and I still believe we can disagree without being disagreeable, and ultimately the citizens of Montgomery County want us to work together for their good.”
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/7/2020
Air Force commits to stop contaminated water flow
The U.S. Air Force will spend nearly $3 million to permanently stop the flow of PFAS-contaminated water from a former Montgomery County base and into local waterways. “For years, we have been deeply concerned by the ongoing contamination flowing from the Willow Grove base and into our region’s groundwater,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (PA-4). Dean had lobbied the military to address the issue. Announcing the funding, Dean said, “Today, we are one step closer to cleaning up our region’s drinking water.” The military will partner with the Warminster Municipal Authority to build a containment and filtration system that will capture and treat the surface water before it flows off-base via a tributary of Park Creek and eventually into the Neshaminy Creek.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/3/2020
Lansdale considers creating Environmental Advisory Council
Lansdale Borough Council will consider an ordinance establishing an Environmental Advisory Council. "The purpose of this committee is to help the governing body understand some of the environmental concerns that are happening throughout the borough," said Borough Manager John Ernst. The ordinance will be considered on Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m. at Lansdale Borough Hall, 1 Vince St. A copy of the proposed ordinance is available at Borough Hall.
Source: The Reporter; 1/7/2020
Lower Merion seeks resident volunteers for advisory boards
The Township of Lower Merion is seeking qualified township residents to serve on the following advisory boards: human relations commission (alternate); planning commission; and shade tree commission. Qualified individuals should complete an application form and submit a current resume to Jody L. Kelley, Township Secretary, 75 E. Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, PA 19003, or by email to JKelley@lowermerion.org by Jan. 17. Click here for more information.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 12/17/2019
Mayor Kenney pocket vetoes six bills as his first term ends
Mayor Jim Kenney ended his first term by killing six pieces of legislation that city council passed in December. The bills that Kenney rejected had no connecting theme. They would have required developers to give back to the communities where they build, lowered taxes for homeowners and low-income workers, banned food trucks from one block of University City, and changed development regulations in Society Hill. “While the below bills all attempt to address issues of mutual concern, I cannot sign them at this time,” Kenney wrote in a letter to Council President Darrell L. Clarke. “I look forward to working with you and the new and returning members of City Council to continue to address these issues in the new year.” The mayor did not overtly veto the bills, but exercised a power known as the pocket veto. Every four years, at the end of a city council term, all legislation that the mayor has not signed or vetoed expires when a new council takes office. In the new session, council members can reintroduce the vetoed bills, all of which passed with overwhelming support. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/31/2019
Mayor starts second term with vow to address gun violence, racial and economic inequality
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney opened his second term with a call to address “unspeakable” gun violence plaguing the city and confront deep racial and economic inequalities. He also pledged to bring back street sweeping by the end of his four-year term and improve other city services. He pledged to improve “customer service” for residents, while also reducing fines and fees in the spirit of the public library’s recent elimination of late fees. Notably, for anyone who has ever needed to secure a license or permit, the labyrinthine concourse of the Municipal Services Building will receive an extensive reworking for what the mayor’s literature calls “a more human-centered design process.” Many of these goals and commitments, however, did not have set deadlines or budget allocations. Much will depend on the vagaries of the national economy and of budget negotiations with city council.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/6/2020