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
NAR outlines new fair housing action plan
The leadership of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) unanimously passed a Fair Housing Action Plan called ACT — emphasizing accountability, culture change and training — in order to ensure America’s 1.4 million Realtors® are doing everything possible to protect housing rights. NAR’s director of fair housing policy is Bryan Greene, a former 29-year employee of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development who oversaw enforcement of the federal Fair Housing Act. Under NAR’s new plan, the association will create minimum fair-housing training requirements and launch a public campaign reaffirming NAR’s commitment to fair housing. Read more about the new plan’s goals and commitments on the NAR website.
Source: NAR; 1/8/2020
U.S. House passes legislation to address PFAS chemical contamination
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a package of measures that would establish federal regulations for toxic, persistent chemicals known as PFAS and compel cleanup of contaminated areas. It is estimated that 1,400 communities, including some in Bucks and Montgomery counties, and more than 300 military bases nationwide have PFAS contamination. In a speech on the House floor, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said that the Environmental Protection Agency is not going to take care of the problem. “Congress needs to act. The longer we wait, the worse the contamination becomes,” Dingell said. The legislation reflects three-and-a-half years of growing anxiety in communities across the nation, growing research about the potential health effects of the chemicals, and growing agitation by lawmakers to add the chemicals to federal regulatory and cleanup programs. The Trump administration is threatening to veto the bill if it passes the Senate. As a public resource, the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have made all of their reporting about the water contamination issue available for free on their websites — https://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and https://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/10/2020
Lower Makefield to inspect sewer laterals at point of sale
Lower Makefield Township adopted a sanitary sewer lateral ordinance that requires the inspection and, if necessary, repair of private sanitary sewer laterals. The ordinance is effective Feb. 1. Private sanitary sewer laterals will need to be inspected based on certain conditions: upon the sale or transfer of residential properties; based upon a 10-year schedule for all nonresidential properties, apartment complexes containing four or more units, and common laterals where more than one housing unit is connected; when the township intends to repair or replace a conveyance line; or upon inspection of the sanitary sewer system by the township, its personnel or its authorized agent(s) that reveals a sanitary sewer lateral that is not in compliance. Click here for the Lower Makefield Township information letter on the sewer lateral inspection and here for the lateral inspection form.
Source: Lower Makefield Township; 1/13/2020
Warminster reopens 2020 budget, looks to 71% general fund tax increase
A reorganized Warminster Township Board of Supervisors, with two new members, reopened the 2020 budget passed by the previous board at the end of 2019. That budget did not increase taxes and presumed the sale of the township water and sewer systems valued at $90 million. The new board opposes the sale and said its plans to look into other options to cover growing expenses and minimize shortages in the budget. Township Manager Gregg Shuster said that if the supervisors do not come up with alternatives, the township is in danger of going bankrupt by the end of the year. The new budget proposal, which will need to be advertised and approved at a later date, calls for a 71.3% general fund tax millage increase, from 11.09 to the maximum allowed 19 mills. Because the millage exceeds 14 mills, the township will need to have the increase approved by a court. Other dedicated tax rates — including ambulance, fire, library, parks and recreation, and debt funds — will remain the same. If the new tax rate is approved, homeowners with properties assessed at the township average of $25,500 would see their total tax bills increase from $435 to about $715 a year.
Source: Public Spirit; 1/13/2020
Developer appeals Middletown rejection of Stone Meadows Farm housing plan
Metropolitan Development Group has filed an appeal of the Middletown Township supervisors’ denial of preliminary subdivision and land development for a 121-home plan. Metropolitan is calling the decision arbitrary and an unlawful abuse of the supervisors’ discretion. The developer is looking to put the single-family homes on a 168-acre farm just off Route 413 near St. Mary Medical Center. Metropolitan has also filed a separate appeal of the township zoning hearing board’s denial of a variance needed for the development. The appeal claims the zoning hearing board improperly based its denial of the variance on widespread public opposition to the project. Township officials have not commented on the appeals.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/14/2020
Morrisville seeks to fill council vacancy
Morrisville Borough Council is seeking applicants to fill the seat vacated by former Councilwoman Corryn Kronnagel, who resigned to be sworn in as a district judge. The vacancy is for the remainder of term for the council seat in the First Ward, which covers the south side of Bridge Street to Post Road. Interested residents should contact Borough Manager Scott Mitchell. Click here for information.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/8/2020
State investigating energy inspections in Lower Southampton
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry confirmed it is investigating a complaint involving energy inspections in Lower Southampton Township, but has declined to provide specific details. The township learned last June that its state-certified building inspector was performing energy inspections and certifications without the necessary credentials. After learning the building inspector was not qualified to perform the energy inspections, the township hired a third-party inspection company to do energy compliance work. Lower Southampton has not released information about how many permits could need re-inspection.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/13/2020
OJR to keep tax hike under 2.6%
The Owen J. Roberts School Board approved a resolution certifying that the district’s 2020-2021 tax increase won’t go above the state’s Act 1 inflation index of 2.6%. The proposed preliminary $114 million budget has no major changes from the current year, but it will undergo a number of reviews and revisions before final approval in May. Board member Paul Friel recommended that the board consider adopting a tax relief program for vulnerable senior citizens. Chief Financial Officer Jaclin Krumrine gave a brief presentation on the state’s property tax rebate program, which the district could adopt. Under those guidelines, a rebate would be available to eligible homeowners with an annual income no higher than $35,000 and to renters earning up to $15,000 annually. Eligible populations are seniors aged 65 and older, widows and widowers aged 50 and older, as well as adults with disabilities. The maximum standard rebate is $650. The district currently has a rebate program for senior citizens who volunteer in the district. However, it’s not available to elderly or disabled people who are unable to volunteer. Friel asked Krumrine to explore the costs to the district of implementing the state rebate program.
Source: Daily Local; 1/12/2020
T-E budget calls for 2.6% tax hike
Tredyffrin-Easttown school directors adopted a 2020-2021 preliminary budget this week that calls for a property tax rate increase of 2.6%. The tax increase will help to close a projected operating deficit of approximately $7 million. The tax hike is within the guidelines of the state-imposed Act 1 index. The school board will consider adoption of the preliminary budget at its regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 27, and will publish notice of the board’s intent to file for referendum exceptions with the state Department of Education. Districts can apply for exceptions as a way of keeping open the option to raise taxes above the Act 1 cap, even if they are not planning to do so. A preliminary budget approval is only the first step in the development of the final 2020-2021 budget. School directors will continue to deliberate over the budget and property tax rate increase until final adoption by June.
Source: Daily Local; 1/10/2020
Oxford adopts procedures for appealing sidewalk, curb requirements
Oxford Borough Council adopted an ordinance providing for an appeal process for the borough-mandated installation of sidewalks, curbs and gutters, effective Jan. 18. 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 Suburban Realtors® Alliance submitted commentary to borough council supporting the ordinance setting up an appeal process. “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.”
Great Valley facilities survey closes Jan. 19
Residents in the Great Valley School District can take a survey on facility options to address growing enrollment in its schools. The community can take the five-minute survey now through Sunday, Jan. 19. The district hosted several meetings last fall to examine options for possible grade alignment/realignment and new construction. See notes from those meetings here.
Source: Malvern Patch; 1/15/2020
Leff elected to chair Kennett Township supervisors
Based largely on his oversight and guidance into the allegations of financial fraud by former Township Manager Lisa Moore, Richard L. Leff was elected chair of the Board of Supervisors of Kennett Township during the board's annual organizational meeting. Whitney S. Hoffman was elected vice chair.
Source: Daily Local; 1/11/2020
Hearing date set for Chester Upland recovery plan
Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Dozor has set evidentiary hearings for March 3 and 4 on a Revised Financial Recovery Plan for the Chester Upland School District, which is expected to include consideration of a proposal to let charters run all elementary schools in the district. The Chester Community Charter School, the largest brick-and-mortar charter school in the state with more than 4,300 students, already educates more than half of the district’s elementary students. The charter school filed a petition in November asking Delaware County Common Pleas Court to direct the district and the state Department of Education to issue requests for proposals for charters to educate the remaining elementary school students in the district. Chester Upland is currently in “Financial Recovery Status” under Act 141 of 2012. The charter school filed its petition pursuant to language in that statute, which allows the district to convert an existing school to a charter school as part of its recovery plan if doing so would result in financial savings. Dozor denied the petition as too vague and premature at a Dec. 4 hearing, but left open the possibility that it could be filed again. With the Dec. 20 plan now in hand, the judge has ordered the district, the state, court-appointed receiver Gregory Thornton and “all parties thereto” to show cause why the plan adequately complies with the language of Act 141. Opponents of the charter’s proposal have argued that it could be financially devastating to the district, which is already struggling because it sends more than 75% of its state funding to charters. They also argue granting the petition would remove any choice for parents who do not want their children to go to charters, which are outperformed on state tests by their public-school counterparts.
Source: Daily Times; 1/9/2020
Upper Darby Council eyes outstanding business tax payments
Upper Darby Township Council is looking to retain the services of a municipal collections and audit agency to collect the business privilege mercantile taxes owed to the township. Mike Hill made a presentation on behalf of his firm, eCollect, which has provided audit and collection services to Chester City and Media Borough. The company finds revenue that is currently being missed, particularly from businesses not located in the township that do business in the township, he said. Hill suggested, based on Upper Darby’s size, it could easily recover $250,000, equal to about 10% of business taxes it collects annually. ECollect doesn’t charge for providing an audit, instead collecting a 20% fee for the recovery of newly found funds within 90 days of assessment. After 90 days, the fee is 25%. A formal resolution to secure eCollect may come at a future township council meeting.
Source: Daily Times; 1/12/2020
New housing in works for Wayne estate of Campbell Soup heiress
Although no plans have been filed with Radnor Township, word is getting around that a developer has set his sights on the Wayne property of the late Dorrance “Dodo” Hamilton, one of the Main Line’s iconic grande dames. Radnor Township Board of Commissioners President Jack Larkin has written about the pending development at Eagle and Strafford roads in his newsletters to residents. “The developer has shown me two concept sketches for the lots; the first is purportedly a by-right plan and includes approximately 40 homes,” Larkin wrote in his newsletter. He called that first option “unattractive” because it lacks adequate space for buffers, open space and stormwater recharge areas. The second plan, which would require conditional use approval by the township, would put approximately 41 town homes on the western lot, and nine single-family dwellings onto the eastern lot. “Because the homes on the western lot are town homes, they leave a lot of space for the things that are absent in the by-right plan: stormwater management, sidewalks, buffers and open space,” Larkin wrote. “The density is problematic for me, but with that in mind, it is a good plan.” Larkin announced that the township will facilitate a meeting between the residents living in the vicinity of the Hamilton Property and the proposed developer of that site on Thursday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. at the township building.
Source: Daily Times; 1/14/2020
Upper Chichester holds line on taxes for ninth straight year
For the ninth consecutive year, real estate taxes in Upper Chichester Township will remain steady. Commissioners unanimously adopted a 2020 final general operating budget totaling $17.1 million that keeps the millage rate at 5.10 mills. A homeowner with a property assessed at $150,000 can expect to pay $765 in real estate tax in 2020. The trash collection fee will increase by $10, from $200 to $210 annually.
Source: Daily Times; 1/14/2020
New mayor solicits ideas for Upper Darby motto
Barbarann Keffer, the new mayor in Upper Darby Township, has announced a competition for residents to come up with a new township motto. Submissions must be accompanied by the resident’s name and address and an explanation (up to 150 words) of why the entry best fits Upper Darby. Submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The contest will end at the close of business on Friday, Jan. 24. The winning motto will be placed on the official government signs placed throughout the township.
Source: Daily Times; 1/15/2020
Markley Street construction to begin in Norristown
Work will soon begin on a project to reconstruct and improve Markley Street (U.S. 202 South) and its intersections between Main Street and Elm Street in Norristown. Gov. Tom Wolf said the project will include improvements to the southern end of Markley Street and continue a larger project started in 2015 “to enhance travel and safety along the almost two-mile long corridor in Norristown.” Markley Street will be closed to northbound motorists and detoured for approximately two-and-a-half years between Main and Elm streets. For more information, visit the PennDOT project website.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/13/2020
Pottstown council opposes bed-and-breakfast zoning variances
Pottstown Borough Council voted unanimously to oppose variances sought by an investor wishing to open an Airbnb on Fifth Street. The property that is the subject of the variance request is located in the “traditional town neighborhood” zoning district, which allows bed-and-breakfasts, tourist homes and boarding houses by “special exception.” The legal notice for the hearing said the property owner was seeking variances to allow “a bed-and-breakfast that will not be owner-occupied, will not provide any meals, have more than six guests per a 24-hour period, will not be supervised by staff on a 24-hour-per-day basis,” along with an off-street parking variance. As a result of the council vote, the borough solicitor will appear before the zoning hearing board on Tuesday, Jan. 21, in opposition to the investor’s application for the proposed Airbnb.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/15/2020
Lower Merion School District raises concerns over conditions placed on middle school project
Lower Merion School District and Lower Merion Township are embroiled in a dispute centered on the township’s approval of the new middle school in Villanova. Last October, Lower Merion Township approved the plans for a new middle school at 1860 Montgomery Ave. in Villanova. The township listed 72 conditions for the project, and the school district objected to seven of them in a Nov. 27 court filing. School district officials are downplaying the idea that the filing is a lawsuit and instead say the documents are more of an appeal over the disputed conditions. According to the district’s complaint, the attorneys say they believe some of the township’s conditions are “illegal, intentionally vague, are not appropriate to effectuate compliance with relevant statutes and ordinances, and are not reasonable to make the plan in compliance.” The two sides can reach an amicable agreement to avoid meeting one another in court. The township declined to comment on the court filing.
Source: Main Line Times; 1/13/2020
Glenside flood control update in Cheltenham
The state Department of Environmental Protection gave a presentation on Glenside flood control at the monthly Public Works Committee meeting on Jan. 8. The committee asked for a few revisions, including an “updated drawing,” which will be presented at the public works meeting on Wednesday, March 4. Click here for the presentation and more information about flood control.
Source: Cheltenham Township; 1/10/2020
Tax abatement changes may affect future housing prices, construction
A senior research fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation predicted that changes to the 10-year tax abatement will reduce the market value of new housing by 8% to 9% after it goes into effect next year. Kevin C. Gillen believes the premium the tax abatement provides for buyers of new residential construction will decline as a result of curtailing the abatement, therefore hurting values. The changes reduce the tax abatement for new residential developments on vacant land by 10% annually for 10 years. The abatement for commercial development and improving existing residential properties remains unchanged. Gillen said the changes will curtail new residential construction, and that he was concerned about the city’s longer-term outlook as a result. In spite of the pending adjustment to the abatement, the overall housing market in Philadelphia remains healthy, Gillen said. However, housing inventory shrunk by a quarter from 2018 to 2019, as did the number of homes sold, following a national housing trend. As a result of the shortage of inventory, Philadelphia is a seller’s market, Gillen said. A typical balanced market would have between 5,000 and 7,000 homes on the market, and Philadelphia has about 4,000 homes listed now, he said.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal: 1/9/2020
How Point Breeze and Tioga-Nicetown have differed over the past decade
The North Philadelphia neighborhood of Tioga-Nicetown and South Philly’s Point Breeze, so different today, were much alike just a decade ago. Both were largely African-American communities with aging rowhouses, low incomes and modest education. More than a third of their residents lived in poverty, a stratospheric rate even for America’s poorest city. Point Breeze today is abuzz with construction; newly built, three-bedroom homes are fetching $700,000. The median household income has swelled to about $42,000, and the poverty rate has shrunk to less than a quarter of the population, which is nearly three times as white, at 27%, as it used to be. Seven miles north, Tioga-Nicetown has languished. There, the median household income dropped more than $8,000, to slightly over $21,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s recently released American Community Survey. The poverty rate still stands at 35%, virtually unchanged in the past 10 years. And a three-bedroom house, albeit of pre-World War II vintage, can be had for $70,000. The divergence between Point Breeze and Tioga-Nicetown is, in some ways, the story of gentrification in Philadelphia, which at least one expert predicts will run its course sooner rather than later. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/9/2020
Nearly 450 residences coming to South Philly waterfront land once eyed for casino
Just to the southeast of the Riverview Theater multiplex lies a vast swathe of marshland on the Delaware River, where developers have tried to build for decades. The latest proposal is a 448-unit residential complex — the bulk of which will be in a multi-family structure — supported by one-for-one parking and over 12,000 square feet of retail space. The apartment structure will be built first, followed by 92 townhomes, according to developer National Realty Investment Advisors. The proposed site sits between Tasker and Dickinson streets on South Columbus Boulevard and is part of a vast vacant tract where Foxwoods Resorts tried to build a casino. National Realty Investment Advisors purchased the 1401 S. Columbus Blvd. site in 2017 with a plan that included nothing but 169 townhouses. The latest iteration of the New Jersey-based developer’s project includes multi-family buildings with two mid-rise towers connected by a long parking area. The northern end of the multi-family building, on Dickinson Street, is where the retail space for two commercial enterprises will be housed. As the first major development in the neighborhood, the architects said that they saw the retail presence as an important means of activating the space and attracting people to the site who aren’t residents. But the project received criticism from the city planning commission, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, and the Civil Design Review board for failing to properly connect the project to the public waterfront.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/8/2020
PHDC offers seminar on how to buy public land
The Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC) will present a free, two-part training on how to access vacant property in Philadelphia.
Both presentations will take place from 9 a.m. to noon in the PHDC Boardroom (17th Floor, 1234 Market St.). RSVP by Friday, Jan. 31, to Carolyn.Terry@phdc.phila.gov. Space is limited.
Source: Philadelphia; 1/14/2020