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 discusses fair housing action plan
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) posted video of a discussion between its president, Vince Malta, and new director of fair housing policy, Bryan Greene. The topics include the recent Newsday article about discriminatory practices by agents in New York, NAR's Fair Housing Committee and NAR's Fair Housing Action Plan. NAR wants its members to have the tools they need to promote fair housing to ensure all people are treated fairly and equally in their search for a home.
Source: Nar.realtor; 1/17/2020
Hotter neighborhoods (literally) are a lingering effect of redlining
The legacy of the discriminatory federal housing policy known as redlining continues to deprive some urban neighborhoods of investment. Now, a new study maps how that former policy exacerbates the impacts of climate change. Starting in the 1920s, federal housing policy redlined neighborhoods, grading some “A” — worthy of bank mortgages and insurance policies. Neighborhoods with large populations of African Americans and immigrants were rated “D,” or “hazardous,” and shaded in red on maps. As a result, the bulk of capital flowing into redlined areas was for industrial, manufacturing, or high-rise public housing projects. While decades of bank mortgages encouraged suburban developments with yards, trees and parks, inner city neighborhoods got more concrete and asphalt. Today, the redlined neighborhoods in Philadelphia are 9.38 degrees hotter than the higher-rated neighborhoods. Nationwide, the average difference is 5 degrees. “Those communities are much more likely to face grave consequences in terms of their human health, their financial health or generally their ability to cope with these effects,” said Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, who co-authored the study.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/16/2020
County to hold voting machine expos
Bucks County Commissioners approved the purchase of new hand-marked paper-ballot voting systems at the end of 2019 due to state-mandated requirements. The machines — and other recently approved election changes — will be put to an early test in a special election in the state’s 18th House District on March 17, to fill the vacancy left by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, who was elected in November to the county board of commissioners. Bucks County will host voting machine demonstrations throughout the county from February to April, and the machines will be available for demonstration after county commissioners’ meetings. Visit the Bucks County Board of Elections website for important election information, including polling places, dates to remember and educational outreach.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/21/2020 & Bucks County; 1/17/2020
Middletown considers the future
Middletown Township officials are dealing with three large residential projects with the potential to add 800 proposed residential units to the township. Two of the projects are in various stages of the township approval process, and one is being litigated in Bucks County Court. Lennar Corp. has proposed 111 townhomes on Woodbourne Road near the SEPTA train station. The planning commission recently voted 6-0 to not recommend the approval of the plan to the supervisors. In a separate project, the supervisors approved a zoning amendment in October that is the first step in the construction of 600 apartments near the Oxford Valley Mall. The third project — 121 single-family homes proposed on Stone Meadow Farms on Route 413 near Core Creek County Park — has been appealed to Bucks County Court by Metropolitan Development Group following the supervisors’ denial of the plan. Of the three major developments, the Oxford Valley Mall proposal seems to have the best chance of moving forward, based on the supervisors’ approval of the zoning amendment and positive remarks from several board members. Board Chairman Mike Ksiazek said approving the “residential aspect” of the Oxford Valley Mall plan was “a leap of faith as the first step in helping to rejuvenate” the area. There is not universal support for the apartments, and several residents have expressed concerns about additional traffic and the impact on the Neshaminy School District. Township officials, including planning commission chairman Richard Null, stressed that the mall proposal is not a “done deal” after the zoning amendment approval. The developer still needs to go through the subdivision and land development process, which will take into consideration residents’ concerns.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/21/2020
Council Rock presents early look at $256M budget
Council Rock School District’s business director, Bill Stone, presented a “very preliminary” 2020-2021 budget to the board at a recent meeting. Stone recommended the district apply for exceptions that would allow them to increase property taxes above the district’s state-imposed Act 1 index of 2.6%. Exceptions are allowed for pension and special education expenses. The application doesn’t commit the district to exceeding the cap but gives the school board the option if it becomes necessary. The preliminary budget is posted on the Council Rock School District website. The state deadline for school districts to approve a final budget is June 30.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/13/2020
Sellersville adopts new comprehensive plan
Sellersville Borough Council recently voted to adopt a new comprehensive plan. The plan’s five guiding principles are: promote economic vitality; build and maintain a livable community; protect Sellersville’s natural, historic and cultural resources; provide for mobility and connections; and promote smart growth. It was developed by the Bucks County Planning Commission with input from the borough planning commission, engineer, solicitor, manager and council members. The plan includes a checklist for priority action items for the borough to undertake to advance plan goals and principles. Visit the borough website for more information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 1/16/2020
South Coventry Township to consider use and occupancy ordinance
The South Coventry Board of Supervisors will consider the adoption of an ordinance (PDF) that would require a use and occupancy certificate at the time of sale of any property and impose an obligation to bring the property into compliance with the township sidewalk and pathway ordinance. The hearing will take place on Monday, Feb. 3, at 7:30 p.m. at the South Coventry Township Building, 1371 New Philadelphia Road, Pottstown. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance is submitting commentary to the township related to this ordinance. The proposed ordinance incorporates language from the Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act.
Source: Mercury; 1/17/2020
44-unit apartment complex planned in Uwchlan
At a conditional use hearing, 120 residents, township supervisors and staff packed the meeting room and learned about the Hankin Group’s plans to build 44 apartments and a 30,000-square-foot office building. A new 10,000-square-foot ACAC fitness center, with an adjacent 25,000-square-foot destination park, is also envisioned. Neal Fisher Jr., vice president of development for the Hankin Group, referred to the park as “an amenity for the community and an amenity for us.”
Source: Daily Local; 1/15/2020
Coatesville school district is in ‘a fight for our lives’ as students flock to charters
Coatesville Area School District has been urging parents to contact state lawmakers and press for changes to Pennsylvania’s charter school funding rules that it says are draining the district of critical dollars. At the Collegium and Avon Grove charter schools — which draw students from various districts and serve more than 2,500 Coatesville students, close to half of the district’s enrollment — leaders have also been rallying families, accusing the district of circulating misinformation. The sides disagree on how much Coatesville, one of the poorer districts in affluent Chester County, owed the charters in the last school year. The debate stretches beyond a single budget, as the district grapples with how to reverse a prolonged exodus of students to charters while facing a gaping budget hole in the year ahead. At a recent school board meeting, interim Superintendent Richard Dunlap told community members the $14 million deficit in its $192 million budget could require staff reductions of 10% to 15%. A big part of the problem, he said, is “the charter school crisis.” School districts are required to pay charter schools based on enrollment. As Coatesville students continue to flock to Collegium, Avon Grove and other charters — from 1,700 students in 2014-2015 to more than 3,000 in 2019-2020 — the district’s payments to charters have grown from $21 million to $54 million. Over the past decade, Coatesville’s enrollment has dropped more than 16% to 5,700, according to state data. Meanwhile, charters enrolling Coatesville students have grown. Collegium, in particular, grew by nearly 130% over the same period and was the second-largest brick-and-mortar charter in Pennsylvania last year with nearly 3,000 students. About 2,100 of its students are from Coatesville. At Avon Grove Charter School, “I have a waiting list of hundreds of Coatesville kids,” said CEO Kristen Bishop. “The kids started leaving a long time ago. You had leadership that wasn’t facing the actual reality of what was happening.” She questioned the district’s fiscal management. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/15/2020
Chip Huston steps down at Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity of Chester County executive director Charles L. “Chip” Huston IV left the organization effective Dec. 31, 2019. During his 17 years as executive director, Habitat volunteers and donors built over 90 homes in partnership with families in need. Habitat will continue its mission with 40 more homes currently underway in the borough of West Grove, and 10 more in the City of Coatesville.
Source: Daily Local; 1/16/2020
Delco moves forward on establishing a health department
Members of Delaware County Council plan to meet with state officials in Harrisburg next week to discuss the process of establishing a health department. “We’re hitting the ground running,” Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said. “Next week, we have a meeting with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to start the process. This is a priority.” Council Vice Chairman Monica Taylor said that, as the process evolves, the public will be involved in open forums. Councilwoman Christine Reuther explained the difference between a health department, which does not exist in Delaware County, and the county Intercommunity Health Department. One of the major components of a health department is its ability to produce information, such as investigate deaths, diagnose illness and report on the condition of the county’s health. “Because we don’t have a county department, we default to the state,” she said. “We are the most densely populated county in the state without a health department. That is staggering to me. Given [our] population density, staying on top of public health patterns and trends is really critical.” As Delaware County’s health statistics are transferred to the state, they compete with all of the other counties in the commonwealth that don’t have county health departments for the state’s focus.
Source: Daily Times; 1/16/2020
Chester Riverfront receives $20K boost from Harrah’s
The Riverfront Alliance of Delaware County’s (RADC) security initiatives in uptown Chester will get a boost this spring thanks to a $20,000 donation from Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack. Harrah’s officials welcomed RADC representatives to the casino to present a check from the Caesars Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the casino’s parent company, Caesars Entertainment. The funding will provide at least 24 exterior light and camera combinations for homes to create electronic town watches in the Nova Vista and Irvington Hills neighborhoods. “We’re going to have community meetings in the spring and get people to sign up with applications,” said Lisa Gaffney, RADC executive director. The light-camera combinations have been previously installed in 42 homes in the city, according to Annette Pyatt, executive director for the Chester Community Improvement Project (CCIP). RADC is currently seeking funds from other corporate partners and foundations to expand the program and eventually move into other neighborhoods around the city, Gaffney said.
Source: Daily Times; 1/16/2020
Aston gives green light to new truck facility
Aston Township Commissioners voted to approve the conditional use request of Springbrooke LLC for the development of a 36.5-acre parcel located at Pennell Road and Springbrooke Boulevard. Commissioner Fred Prendergast voted in opposition and newly seated Commissioner Les Berry abstained from the vote. Springbrooke wants to construct two large “flex space” buildings on the site. According to the developer, TrammellCrow Company, one structure would measure 273,600 square feet, and the other would be 21,400 square feet. In addition, a 430-car parking lot, 96 tractor trailer spaces, and loading bays have been proposed. Residents cited concerns about increased traffic, decreased air quality, environmental factors, loss of open space, noise and quality of life issues. Commissioners President Jim Stigale reassured residents that commissioners did their homework and due diligence on the issue. He said the board has the opportunity to set standards that must be complied with and the developers must now go through the land development process.
Source: Daily Times; 1/17/2020
Eddystone hires new borough manager
Eddystone Borough Council appointed a new borough manager at its first regular meeting of the new year. Dawn Jones of Brookhaven will replace Possenti Consulting. Jones will also serve as borough secretary and as the right-to-know officer. The council also made several changes. The Pressman & Doyle law firm will be replaced by Rudolph Clarke LLC as solicitor. Barry Isett Associates will take over building code duties, replacing John Lyman, Evan Hosbach and Michael Possenti, who was health inspector. In another matter, Council President Bill Stewart Stewart announced that the 2020 budget will be reopened. There will be a public meeting on the budget on Monday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. at Eddystone Borough Hall.
Source: Daily Times; 1/22/2020
Lower Merion planners to consider ‘comprehensive rezoning’ of township
The Lower Merion Township Planning Commission will hold a public meeting to consider for recommendation to township commissioners an ordinance effecting a comprehensive rezoning of the entire township and a new zoning map. The meeting will be held on Monday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. in the administration building, 75 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore. The full text of the ordinance and the zoning map can be examined online at www.lowermerion.org/rezoning. All meeting dates and times are subject to change.
Source: Wayne Group; 01/19/2020
Jenkintown explains U&O ordinance provisions
Jenkintown Borough has posted an informational document to clarify provisions of the borough’s use & occupancy ordinance (U&O) following questions about its requirements regarding sewer lateral inspections. The document includes background on why the U&O was enacted as well as information for Realtors® about the U&O process.
Source: Jenkintown Borough; 1/16/2020
Luxury apartments finished near Lansdale train station
Madison Lansdale Station, consisting of 182 apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space in Lansdale, is nearly 50% leased and has welcomed its first residents, according to a press release from Equus Capital Partners. The project fits neatly into Lansdale’s plans for revitalization by creating a robust parks system and bringing in mixed-use development and modern, multi-unit housing largely focused near the train station.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/16/2020
Centre Square Commons in Whitpain sells for $40M
Centre Square Commons, an 88,598-square-foot shopping center at the intersection of routes 202 and 73 in Whitpain Township, has been sold. Medipower Overseas Co. purchased the center for approximately $40 million from Kinsley Properties. Medipower is a commercial real estate company based in Cyprus that specializes in retail real estate across the Northeast and in Canada’s major markets. Center Square Commons earned a 2018 Montgomery Award for “collaborative planning, creative design and community investment.” The center is anchored by an Aldi supermarket and was 96% occupied at the time of the sale.
Source: Times Herald; 1/21/2020
Moody’s praises Lower Merion’s credit position
In late December, Moody’s Investors Service issued an annual comment on the state of Lower Merion Township’s credit position and called it “extremely strong.” The township will maintain its rating of triple-A, the highest possible score. Analysts for Moody’s noted that the “triple-A rating far exceeds the median rating of U.S. cities” and “notable credit factors include a robust wealth and income profile, an extensive tax base, and a strong financial position.” The company also reported that the median family income for Lower Merion residents is more than 243% of the nationwide median, and the full value of Lower Merion’s tax base is significantly larger than the nationwide median. The triple-A bond rating results in the lowest possible cost of bond issuance for the township.
Source: Main Line Times; 1/21/2020
City survey reveals most residents want better services
Philadelphia residents want better streets, policing and public safety services. And two-thirds of residents believe the quality of the city’s services is fair or poor, according to a detailed survey conducted by Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration. The city launched the survey in August, asking almost 20,000 residents about city services, the work of various departments and quality of life issues. Top concerns expressed in the survey align with Kenney’s second-term priorities. The mayor pledged last week in his inaugural address to confront gun violence and reduce crime, and he cited the survey in promising to improve streets. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/27/2020
Philly experiments with new rent voucher program
Philadelphia is testing a new approach to helping city residents pay their rent. A new pilot program will provide monthly rent vouchers of $300 or less to help Philadelphia tenants who are spending more than a third of their income on rent and live in income-restricted properties built or renovated with taxpayer dollars. “This will help keep a roof over people’s heads,” said Councilmember Helen Gym, who frequently advocates for renter protections. “This is particularly exciting because it’s targeted towards our neediest families, the 12% of Philadelphians who live in deep poverty.” The pilot comes as part of a larger move in city politics to address affordability and a pervasive eviction crisis. Big cities like Philadelphia are increasingly experimenting with housing programs like this one, modeled after a similar program in Chicago, at a time when the federal government is retrenching from social welfare programs. The $2 million city-funded program will be administered by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit group that recently merged with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. The agency will provide the rent money to the landlord for each eligible subsidized tenant. The city is seeking applications from property managers or owners of affordable housing developments funded with public subsidies, such as the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program. The pilot program will be able to fund about 550 vouchers over the course of the year.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/10/2020