Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Opportunity zones added to Realtors® Property Resource
Morrisville hears $100M redevelopment plan
Affordable homes subject of 2020 Citizen Planners meeting
Clifton Heights sues Upper Darby schools
Lower Pottsgrove schedules sneak peek at new township building plans
Why new houses in Philadelphia (and elsewhere) aren’t made of brick
Pa. Supreme Court throws out Congressional maps
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a 4-3 vote ruled the state’s current Congressional maps are unconstitutional. The court ordered the legislature to submit a plan for new maps to Gov. Wolf by Friday, Feb. 9, and the governor in turn must submit it to the Supreme Court by Thursday, Feb. 15. If the legislature and governor do not comply with the order, the maps will be drawn by the court after hearing from all parties in the current case. The court put forth new guidelines for the legislature to follow when drawing the new map, including: “compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary.” The new maps will be in place for the primary election on May 15.
Source: PoliticsPA; 1/23/2018
Pa. could eliminate property taxes this year, senators say
After years of property owners’ complaints, 2018 might be the year that Pennsylvania dramatically changes its real-estate tax system — if a few state senators have their way. A decade-long effort to eliminate or reduce property taxes has gained new momentum, after a constitutional amendment passed in November that allows the state to exempt owner-occupied homes from real estate levies. Now, the legislature could use that exemption to eliminate school property taxes. A group of senators is working to find a bill that has a chance at succeeding, said state Sen. David Argall (R-29). Argall said he’s polling senators on four options: One would exempt homeowners from paying taxes on their primary residences and would raise the state income tax to fund school districts; two also would exempt only primary residences, but would make up the difference through combinations of sales and income tax increases; and the Property Tax Independence Act (SB 76) would eliminate school taxes on all properties by raising sales and income taxes. If they eliminate school taxes only for owner-occupied homes, legislators would still have to come up with more than $7 billion in replacement revenue, according to a report from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office. A spokesperson for Gov. Wolf, J.J. Abbott, said that the governor would review any proposal when formally introduced, and noted that Wolf has long supported property tax relief and has also made school funding “his top priority.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/23/2018
As budget season nears, school districts face formidable foe: fixed costs
Many school districts in the region share one thing in common: Most of their 2018-19 budget is already spoken for. After fixed costs, such as already-negotiated increases in benefits, state-required pension payments and special-education placements, Pennsylvania school officials say there’s little wiggle room. An Inquirer and Daily News analysis based on data from the state and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials found that, on average, about 85 percent of all costs for the state’s 500 school districts are set before budget hearings even begin. Special-education costs also are growing in many Pennsylvania districts, along with charter school payments in some, and the state has been requiring districts to make escalating contributions to the underfunded Public School Employees Retirement System. All this has increased pressure on budgets. Read more and see information on fixed costs by school district here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/22/2018
SRA to meet with Warminster officials to discuss new U&O procedures
Warminster Township made changes to its resale use & occupancy (U&O) procedure that took effect on Jan. 15. The requirement for a heater/chimney certificate and a fireplace certificate has been eliminated. An electrical certification is still required, as well as, if applicable, a sprinkler certification and fire alarm certification. The updated procedure also states that the township will require public sidewalks, curbs and driveway aprons to be inspected and repaired prior to a U&O certificate being issued. (A concrete replacement application and permit must be approved prior to the start of the work.) The Alliance has scheduled a meeting with the township manager and the president of township council to discuss ongoing compliance issues relating to Act 133 of 2016, which amended the Pennsylvania Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act to clarify the rights and responsibilities of both municipalities and property owners. Learn more about Act 133 here.
Warminster reopens budget, considers 21 percent tax increase
Warminster Township supervisors voted 4-1 to reopen the 2018 budget and consider a tax increase. Pennsylvania’s Second-Class Township Code allows the supervisors to reopen the budget with a proposed tax increase in the month of January following a municipal election, and the law gives the supervisors until Feb. 15 to act. The supervisors are considering adding a 3.61-mill property tax increase. A mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. The current tax rate is 17.07 mills, so the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $25,490 receives a $435 township property tax bill. If the property tax increase to 20.68 mills is approved, the township property tax bill for the same home will increase to $527. Supervisor Chairman Mark McKee pointed to a $20 million unfunded liability to its pension funds as one of several economic issues threatening the township’s financial health. Supervisor Brian Munroe opposed reopening the budget because he preferred to have the board look at other options to fund the township before considering a tax increase. Several speakers at the meeting criticized the supervisors’ decision to borrow $7 million to cover the costs of buying and remediating the 55-acre Shenandoah Woods property at the former Naval Air Warfare Center. The board has a regular meeting scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 15. Visit warminstertownship.org for meeting information.
Source: The Intelligencer; 1/22/2018
Newtown supervisors to reopen budget
Newtown Township supervisors voted 4-1 to advertise a revised $12.57 million budget that includes a 1-mill property tax increase to provide extra funding for some public safety initiatives. The mill would be divided up between two new dedicated funds: 0.45 mills would go to the Newtown Ambulance Squad (about $155,000), and the township would keep 0.55 mills for maintenance of local fire hydrants (about $189,400). If approved, the tax rate would increase from 3.5 mills to 4.5 mills. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $37,459 would pay about $37 more in taxes for a total of $168 — a 28.5 percent increase.
Source: The Intelligencer; 1/17/2018
PennEast pipeline secures federal approval
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted 4-1 to approve construction of the PennEast natural gas pipeline. The commission found that the proposed 118-mile pipeline that will carry natural gas from northeast Pennsylvania to Mercer County, N.J., met the agency’s standards. Part of the $1 billion pipeline will cut through the far northern corner of Bucks County before crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey. Although the federal approval removes one of the largest hurdles, the project still must obtain permits from other state and regional agencies before construction can start. The approval includes a list of conditions PennEast must follow to mitigate “adverse environmental impacts.” FERC approval also grants the power of eminent domain to PennEast, which will allow the company to gain access to areas that had been denied to them by property owners. The access will allow PennEast to complete environmental surveys. Environmental groups have vowed to continue opposition to the proposal as it seeks further approvals.
Source: The Intelligencer; 1/23/2018
Smokestacks toppled ahead of new development in Downingtown
The two smokestacks from the old paper mill plant at Boot Road and Route 322 in Downingtown were brought down in a controlled series of explosions. “It’s not often you have such excitement for a development,” said developer Michael Hankin, COO of the Hankin Group, as he spoke about the plans for the mixed-use transit-oriented development. Hankin Group acquired 68 acres in Downingtown and East Caln Township with plans to build 442 residential units atop 14,200 square feet of retail space. In addition, the development will feature a pedestrian bridge connecting Downingtown’s Johnsontown Park to the east bank of the Brandywine Creek and a trail system that links to the proposed extension of the Chester Valley Trail system. It will also include over 100,000 square feet of commercial office space. Most of the property had already been cleared in the past months by Haines & Kibblehouse Demolition, leaving the two smokestacks, one 219 feet tall and made of concrete and the other 98 feet tall and made of bricks, remaining. A building near the tracks also has not yet been demolished. “This is part of the process of restoring the heart of Downingtown,” said Chester County Commissioner Michele Kichline, who pointed out that projections call for a 30 percent increase in population in the county by 2045.
Source: Daily Local; 1/20/2018
East Goshen Township makes Paoli Pike Master Plan available to public
East Goshen Township has released the final version of the Paoli Pike Master Plan to the public. The document, adopted by the township in December 2017, outlines the vision for a 2.7-mile long corridor of Paoli Pike that traverses the heart of the township and the Goshenville Historic District. Today, key issues along the Paoli Pike corridor include high vehicular speeds, a lack of bicycle and pedestrian facilities, an inconsistent streetscape, and a vehicle-oriented development pattern that lacks a sense of place or unique identity. Transforming the Paoli Pike Corridor was identified as a top priority in the township’s comprehensive plan. The township is leading design and implementation of the Paoli Pike Trail, which will be a continuous multi-use trail between Airport Road and Line Road, with the potential for future connections beyond the township’s borders. Planners hope the trail will be the catalyst and first step toward a walkable and connected artery that serves the needs of residents, entrepreneurs and visitors. Read the Paoli Pike Corridor Master Plan here.
Source: East Goshen Township; 1/23/2018
North Coventry considers chicken ordinance
North Coventry Township is considering amending Chapter 112 of the its municipal code of ordinances to regulate domesticated chickens. The amendment would enable residents of single-family, detached dwellings in all residential zoning districts to keep domesticated chickens on a noncommercial basis as an accessory use to a residence, while limiting the adverse effects of the activity on surrounding properties. Such adverse effects can include noise, odors, unsanitary conditions, attraction of predators, chickens running at large and unsightly conditions. The ordinance also amends section 370-36 B 6 (c) in the zoning section of the North Coventry Code of Ordinances to exclude the provision for lot size for keeping or raising chickens. A public hearing will take place on Monday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the township offices, 845 S. Hanover St., Pottstown.
Source: Mercury; 1/22/2018
Phoenixville school board borrows $10M for construction
The Phoenixville Area School Board approved a construction bond of nearly $10 million, but less than half of it will be spent on new construction, because part of the money will pay back the district’s general fund for costs of building the new Manavon Elementary School. The rest of the money will pay for the expansion and security upgrade project now underway at Phoenixville Area High School. Stanley Johnson, the school district’s director of operations, explained that during the construction of Manavon, which opened last August, it was prudent to lend the project about $6 million from the general fund rather than borrow for the two projects twice. The district’s taxpayers will pay 3.15 percent interest on the bonds, which can be paid off as early as May 15, 2023.
Source: The Mercury; 1/22/2018
West Chester School District considering growth options
The West Chester Area School District has become a coveted location for homebuilders, and the surge of new homes will add more students to the district, with a possible small tax increase. “We have seen more than 2,700 residential units approved in our school district during the past 18 months,” Superintendent Jim Scanlon said. “We need to plan for the growth in the number of students we anticipate will be attending our schools from these residences in the next five years. The district currently enrolls 11,928 students, with a projected increase to 12,677 by school year 2023-24. About 500 of those students will attend elementary schools. The superintendent pointed to the Department of Education and individual township approval processes as reasons the district has to look so far down the road. The district is considering expansion at existing schools. “A house can get built in 90 days, but it takes us three years to build a school,” Scanlon said. Plans call for a total of 2,798 new homes in the district. The district has suggested three options to address the growth, and presentations on school expansion will occur at Peirce Middle School, on Monday, Jan. 29, at 6:30 p.m., and at Stetson Middle School on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 6:30 p.m. For more information go to www.wcasd.net.
Source: Daily Local; 1/25/2018
County council calls for risk assessment study on Mariner East 2 pipeline
Delaware County Council has agreed to conduct a risk assessment study of the Mariner East 2 pipeline coming through the county after 10 residents asked them to do so at a recent meeting. Council agreed that over the following week a committee including Council Chairman John McBlain and Councilman Brian Zidek would outline parameters for the study, after which time the council will seek bids for a consultant to study how the pipelines carrying natural gas liquids could impact the safety of county residents, both during construction and afterward. Sunoco Pipeline is building a 350-mile pipeline from western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook to transport ethane, butane and propane from the Marcellus Shale to port for local, regional and international distribution. The state Department of Environmental Protection shut down construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline earlier this month, after it cited the company for drilling without proper permitting near Harrisburg. McBlain said such a study would be beneficial for first responders in planning how to prepare for any incident stemming from such a pipeline.
Source: Daily Times; 1/24/2018
Media to hold public meeting on borough business district
Media Borough Council President Brian Hall announced a special public meeting to consider the Economic Development Strategy and Implementation Plan for the borough’s business district. Hall said that residents’ input is important for council to make decisions on shaping the borough’s future. The study was carried out by Econsult of Philadelphia and presented back in October in a public session. The multifaceted report addressed elements such as design, transportation, retail market, infrastructure, place-making and growth. The full report can be found at www.mediaborough.com. The next step is council’s consideration of recommendations for implementing the plan. The meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 27, at 1 p.m. in the Municipal Building, Fourth and Jackson streets, in the second-floor conference room. Anticipated attendance may result in a change of location to the Community Room. In a related matter, Hall noted the borough has applied for a Community Development Block Grant that will be designated to study “form-based zoning” with a back-up request for a traffic-taming study for Baltimore Avenue.
Source: Daily Times; 1/22/2018
Concord planners reject development in Beaver Valley
The Concord Township Planning Commission voted unanimously not to recommend Concord Ventures, a residential development in Beaver Valley. The application from the Wolfson Group involves 63.8 acres bordered by Route 202, Watkin Avenue and the Pennsylvania state line. The tract, owned by Woodlawn Trustees, is adjacent to 230 acres that will be preserved as open space. The tentative plan, presented by attorney Marc Kaplin, involves construction of 29 attached townhouses in six groupings, 166 apartments in three five-story buildings, a clubhouse and in-ground pool on approximately 17 acres of the parcel. The land is split zoned as residential (PRD-1 and R-2D) and commercial, and the development would be built within the PRD-1 section. A portion of the land would be used to reconfigure Watkin Avenue, and a traffic light would be installed on Route 202 to provide access to the development. A historic home would be preserved, although no plans for its re-use have been determined. The tract has been the subject of consideration for more than two years. The capacity crowd included the seven township council members, who will consider the planners recommendation when they begin their review. The hearings are slated to start Tuesday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. at the township building, 43 Thornton Road.
Source: Daily Times; 1/23/2017
Interboro will not raise taxes over state allowance
Interboro is the latest school district committed to not raising its school property taxes over the state mandated limit for 2018-19. The school board approved a resolution to not exceed the Act 1 index rate of 3.2 percent for the next school budget, even with preliminary numbers in a $68 million budget showing a deficit of more than $3.3 million dollars before any sort of tax increase. Salaries and benefits for the district are projected to increase $1.9 million from last year. Some reductions were reported in local and state revenues. With a 3.2 percent tax increase, the deficit would decrease to $2 million while adding $102 to the tax bill for a property in the district at the average assessed value of $88,000. Health care and retirement numbers are not finalized for the budget, so savings may still be found there. Reducing expenses in other budgeted areas would still need to be considered.
Source: Daily Times; 1/23/2018
Norristown schools budget proposed with no tax increase
Norristown Area School District administrators have presented a proposed preliminary budget for the 2018-19 school year with no tax increase. Administrators were asked by the school board to find a way to balance the needs of the students with the burden of high property taxes on residents. The community contributes 71 percent of funding to the school district, with 24 percent coming from the state and 5 percent from the federal government. The projected budget includes a $4.1 million gap between anticipated revenues and expenses for the coming school year, which will require large cuts to costs or an increase in revenue through selling off property or considering a tax increase during future budget workshops. State law requires the preliminary budget to be made public by Thursday, Jan. 25, but not finalized until the end of June, allowing for months of review. Click here for more information about the NASD budget process.
Source: Times Herald; 1/24/2018
PA Supreme Court to hear aspects of LMSD tax lawsuit
The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court issued an order saying it would hear aspects of Lower Merion School District’s appeal of a 2016 school tax decision. In August 2016, Montgomery County Judge Joseph Smyth agreed with plaintiff Arthur Wolk that the district’s 2016-17 tax increase was “unlawful” and ordered the district to rescind a portion of it at the Sept. 2016 meeting. The district appealed the decision instead of filing post-trial motions. The appeal was eventually denied on the grounds the district failed to file the post-trial motions and went right to the appeal. The appeal does not apply to the entire case. The court said it would look at three points, including the controversial issue as to whether the district should have immediately filed an appeal after losing the first round in Montgomery County Court in 2016, and whether the original order from August 2016 telling the district it had to rescind the tax hike was meant to be a permanent order or a temporary order. There was no immediate timeline for the court to rule on the appeal.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/19/2018 & Main Line Times; 1/24/2018
East Greenville council member resigns
East Greenville Borough Council Member Eric Grubb submitted a letter of resignation on Jan. 3 after serving for one meeting. Grubb cited ongoing health concerns in his decision to step down, saying he has not been able to get his illness under control and cannot handle the “stress of what needs to be done on borough council.” The council is accepting letters of interest to fill the vacancy. To be considered, residents should submit a letter of interest and affidavit of residency to the Borough Office at 206 Main St., East Greenville, PA, 18041, by Friday, Jan. 26, at 3:30 p.m. The Borough of East Greenville will hold a special council meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 30, to discuss the budget and fill the vacancy. Visit www.egreenville.org for additional information.
Source: Town & County News; 1/18/2018
Lower Merion board VP resigns to assume public works position
Lower Merion Township Commissioner Paul A. McElhaney resigned from his office effective Jan. 22 so that he could assume the role of Lower Merion assistant director of public works. McElhaney served as a Lower Merion township commissioner for 10 years, serving both as president and vice president in that time. He brings 30 years of private sector construction and project manager experience to the public works position. Lower Merion has been searching for a candidate for the public works position for seven months. Township Manager Ernie McNeely stated, “It is unusual to have a commissioner be considered for a township position, however, an individual who has devoted basically volunteer service to the community in an elected position should not be excluded from consideration for a township position when they are eminently qualified.” Residents interested in finishing his term as commissioner, which expires in January 2020, should send a resume and cover letter of interest by Monday, Feb. 5, to Jody L. Kelley, Township Secretary, 75 E. Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, PA, 19003, or via email to email@example.com. Interviews will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 6:45 p.m. Candidates must be Ward 3 residents for at least one year.
Source: Lower Merion Township e-news; 1/23/2018
New Philadelphia loan program offers hope to residents with homes in disrepair
Starting this summer, Philadelphia is launching a low-interest loan program that aims to give homeowners as much as $25,000 to fix up their aging homes. The initiative — born out of city legislation passed in 2016 and called the Housing Preservation Loan Program — will give residents who have struggled to get loans a new chance at borrowing. For years, homeowners who had less-than-perfect credit scores — and who were not eligible for city grants — were forced to sideline major repairs, worsening their homes’ problems. Collectively, officials say, the lack of access to credit has created a city housing stock filled with more troubles than just dilapidated properties. In 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 160,000 homes in the Philadelphia metro area experienced roof leaks. Nearly 120,000 had a crumbling foundation, 70,000 homes had mold, and 258,000 were reported as being “uncomfortably cold” for 24 hours or more. In 2016, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke proposed raising Philadelphia’s real estate transfer tax from 3 to 3.1 percent to find revenue for home repair. In total, Clarke planned to pump a $100 million bond into repairing the city’s housing stock, using future transfer tax revenue to pay down the debt. The $100 million in revenue was to be split into two categories: $40 million would go to create the new loan program, which will be housed under the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. The remaining $60 million would be used to alleviate massive backlogs in the city’s home-repair grant programs. The low-interest loan program has been slower to launch as the city has searched for financial lenders to partner with the Redevelopment Authority. The city’s new loan program allows residents with credit scores as low as 580 to apply. Loans, which can be used for anything from repairing leaky roofs to installing wheelchair ramps, will be distributed in amounts of $2,500 to $24,999, always at an interest rate of 3 percent. The term length for each loan will be 10 years. Applicants must be the home’s owner, use it as a primary residence and be current on all city taxes. The maximum income an applicant may have is much higher than the guidelines for home-repair grants — 120 percent of area median income, or $70,000 annually for one individual.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/18/2018
Commute 95: Travel resources for commuters
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and PennDOT have created resources to assist employers and employees with planning and implementing programs to ease commutes during the most challenging phases of construction to improve Interstate 95 in Philadelphia. Ongoing work to rebuild the pavement, bridges and ramps along I-95 between Interstate 676 and Cottman Avenue means temporary delays for travelers, especially weekday commuters. Visit www.dvrpc.org/commute95/ for more information.