NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Pennsylvania offers property tax/rent rebate program for seniors

Bucks County
Falls to discuss proposed sewer lateral ordinance

Chester County
County unemployment rate is so low, industries face a ‘labor shortage’

Delaware County
Upper Chichester meeting for Realtors®

Montgomery County
Reports point to ‘vibrant real estate market’ in Montgomery County

Philadelphia County
A thousand new homes are planned next to Graffiti Pier
 

 

News Briefs Archive July 1, 2019

 

General News

A disturbing trend is emerging around U&O inspections
A trend is emerging among some municipal code inspectors in the Philadelphia suburbs — they're asking home buyers to sign away their rights. Per state law, buyers have at least 12 months to make repairs cited in a use-and-occupancy inspection. But Downingtown Borough, for example, has a “U&O Waiver Form” on its website in which buyers agree that, "I will make all repairs [within] 30 days of the closing of the sale.” These 30-day affidavits are popping up in municipalities across the region. Considering the power these municipalities hold and what's at stake — a new home — buyers and agents may be inclined to sign the form to keep transactions on track. But the bottom line is that these towns and boroughs cannot force the buyers to sign, and they cannot withhold a U&O certificate as leverage. The Alliance has been addressing these situations on a case-by-case basis while working toward setting a legal precedent that would force these municipalities to obey the spirit of the law, not just the letter. If your clients are being asked to sign such an affidavit, please contact the Suburban Realtors® Alliance.

Pennsylvania warns of property tax scam
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has issued a warning to residents to be cautious of a scam targeting seniors and people with disabilities through the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program. The scam consists of unsolicited telephone calls from a person claiming to work for the Department of Revenue. The caller tells the resident that their application for the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program has been approved and then asks if the recipient would provide their bank account information so that the rebate can be directly deposited into a bank account. The Department of Revenue does not collect applicants’ bank information over the phone and is stressing that residents should never give out personal information over the phone to unsolicited callers. If you or someone you know has received one of these scam calls and provided banking information or other personal information, immediately call the bank to report this potential fraud. The state does have a property tax rebate program that benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 64 and older, widows and widowers age 50 and older, and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded. The application deadline has been extended to Dec. 31. Click here for more information.
Source: Times Herald; 6/21/2019

Bucks County

Route 202 ‘village’ plan forming in Solebury
The “first draft” of a vision plan for the future of the Route 202 corridor in Solebury was reviewed at the June 18 township supervisors meeting. The project aims to get ahead of development and create a framework for the area that improves roadways, connects to pedestrian trails, and preserves the historic heritage and environment of the township. The first draft of the plan, which is broad and will be shaped by public input, identifies the area between Sugan Road and Aquetong Road as “Solebury Square.” The plan includes 270,000 square feet of potential commercial space in the township’s Traditional Neighborhood Commercial zoning district, which would more than double the estimated business space currently along the corridor. Also included was the idea for 667 dwelling units, mostly apartments above commercial properties, about 30% of which being “senior” homes and another 17% being townhomes. The presentation materials are available on the township website for review and comment.
Source: Solebury Township; 6/21/2019 and Bucks County Courier Times; 6/19/2019

County approves plans for $3.2M in HUD grants
Bucks County Commissioners approved a plan allocating $3.2 million in federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants that are expected to impact thousands of low-income residents and senior citizens. The vote moves the funding process forward by submitting a general plan of how the money will be allocated across nearly 30 projects, said county Department of Community and Economic Development Director Margaret McKevitt. The draft plan states, “Although Bucks County is home to affluent and middle-class households, many low-income residents throughout the jurisdiction struggle to obtain and maintain affordable housing.” About $2.9 million of the funding is in community block development grants for projects enhancing affordable housing and homeless assistance, but there is also money for senior programs and municipal improvement projects.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/24/2019

Pennridge Airport Business Park eyes manufacturers
Pennridge Development Enterprises is constructing a 100,000-square-foot building adjacent to the Pennridge Airport in Perkasie. The building at 1100 N. Ridge Road is the beginning of a $60 million plan to create an 80-acre industrial campus called Pennridge Airport Business Park. The business park will include six industrial buildings, ranging in size from 100,000 to 150,000 square feet, a hotel and a brewpub on land owned by the same family that owns the airport on Ridge Road. It is being marketed to high-tech manufacturers, life science companies and other businesses that need R&D or flex space. The business park may appeal to companies that like its proximity to the airport, which is capable of handling mid-size jets. The first building is expected to be completed in July or August.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 6/14/2019

Souderton Area School District hikes taxes
The school board of Souderton Area School District, which includes Telford Borough, recently passed the 2019-2020 school year budget that includes a 1.45% tax increase. The new tax rate is 30.0495 mills, with each mill equal to a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. A home assessed at $150,000, which is close to the average assessment, will see a roughly $64 annual tax increase, going from $4,443 to $4,507. Superintendent Dr. Frank Gallagher said the 1.45% increase is significantly less than the 2.33% floated earlier in the budget process.
Source: The Reporter; 6/24/2019

Chester County 

Kennett taxpayers face average $91 tax hike
The Kennett Consolidated School Board approved a final 2019-2020 budget of $88.2 million with a tax millage rate of 30.9497. The millage rate is an increase of 0.5018 over the previous year, for a percentage increase of 1.65%. Mark Tracy, assistant to the superintendent for business affairs, said the new rate would add about $91 in taxes for the average household.
Source: Daily Local; 6/18/2019

Spence Building receives state historic tax credits
The Spence Building in downtown West Chester received $75,000 in state historic tax credits for a $2 million redevelopment project that will rehabilitate the historic restaurant and apartment building into commercial use and market-rate apartments. The tax credit awards are administered by the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Out of 42 applicants seeking nearly $15 million for the fiscal 2018-2019 year, 24 were selected to receive a total of $3 million in credits. Established in 2012, Pennsylvania’s historic tax credit program provides $3 million annually to developers who rehabilitate properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Projects that receive state historic tax credits also are eligible to receive national historic tax credits.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/19/2019

Zoning hearing on Paoli digital billboard set to continue on July 9
A Tredyffrin zoning hearing held in June regarding a proposed digital billboard in Paoli was continued into July. Catalyst Outdoor Advertising is looking to replace the billboard at the corner of Lancaster Avenue (Route 30) and Route 252 with a digital, LED light billboard. In January, zoning officer Matt Baumann denied the company’s request to install the LED billboard. He also denied a permit to raze the old Clockworks building on the same property. Catalyst’s lawyer John Snyder appealed both Baumann’s billboard denial and the validity of the township’s zoning ordinance. Catalyst is seeking to build an 8-by-16-foot billboard with one side for digital display. Jesse White, an engineer for Illinois-based Watchfire Signs, which sells digital billboards to Catalyst, said the LED billboard would emit 7,500 nits (a unit of brightness) during the day and 300 nits at night — for comparison, a TV emits about 500 nits. The township zoning code prohibits animated signs, but Catalyst says the digital signs are not animated. The Clockworks building dates to 1900, but the township does not have an ordinance to protect historic structures, according to Pattye Benson, a community activist, blogger and president of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, who is leading the charge against the digital billboard. The zoning hearing will resume Tuesday, July 9, at 7 p.m. at the township building, 1100 DuPortail Road, Berwyn.
Source: Main Line Media News; 5/30/2019

West Goshen to discuss comprehensive plan
West Goshen supervisors have scheduled a public hearing to consider and possibly adopt the West Goshen Township Comprehensive Plan of 2019. The township has endeavored to update its 2004 comprehensive plan to implement current planning standards and forecast growth trends, improve vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow, and provide a long-term planning document for use by the board of supervisors and the planning commission. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, June 18, at 7 p.m. at the West Goshen Township Municipal Building, 1025 Paoli Pike, West Chester.
Source: Daily Local; 6/3/2019

Delaware County

Eddystone is cracking down on soliciting
Eddystone Borough Council approved an ordinance outlining tighter regulations on peddling and soliciting. Applicants seeking permits must pay a fee, register under oath with the police chief, submit a clearance from a Pennsylvania State Police background check, and present photo identification and registration for any vehicle utilized. The applicant must also include a sample or full description of the article to be sold and proof of insurance. Vital information concerning the permit holder must be displayed on the permit at all times. Business activity by the permit holder can only be conducted between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. The ordinance prohibits hawking of goods or services on the streets or sidewalks of the borough, or the use of a loudspeaker. The borough council also approved an ordinance establishing rules, regulations, fees and permitting requirements for oversized and overweight vehicles, including $50 permit fees plus 50 cents per ton over allowable legal weight, and fines up to $1,000.
Source: Daily Times; 6/19/2019

Upper Darby School Board approves $215M budget, tax increase
The Upper Darby School Board approved a $215.1 million budget for the 2019-2020 school year that includes 1.9% tax increase, which will bring the millage rate to 37.8452. The tax increase will generate an additional $1.92 million in real estate taxes and add about $212 for a property assessed at $300,000. To close the remaining budget gap, $6.2 million will be drawn from district fund balance. Chief Financial Officer Pat Grant expressed how difficult the budgeting process is for the district, which is underfunded by the state by $16 million each year.
Source: Daily Times; 6/19/2019

Garnet Valley OKs budget with tax increase
The Garnet Valley School Board approved a $112.6 million final budget for the 2019-2020 school year with a tax increase of 1.8%, the district’s smallest increase in six years. Millage for Concord and Chester Heights is 33.0721, generating a tax bill just under $6,800 for the average home assessment of about $205,000. Bethel Township has an additional 0.3679 mills as a participant in Delaware County Community College, for a total of 33.44 mills and a tax bill of about $6,873 in taxes. Bethel’s sponsorship of DCCC entitles its residents to tuition at half the rate charged to other students. With credits transferrable to a number of four-year colleges, the savings for higher education can be significant. The board also approved the Homestead and Farmstead Exclusion Resolution of $6,571, which translates to a $217 reduction of real estate taxes.
Source: Daily Times; 6/19/2019

Lazaretto Quarantine Station to become Tinicum Township building
The Lazaretto Quarantine Station, the handsome, redbrick hospital on the banks of the Delaware River in Tinicum Township, was not expected to survive. Though it is one of the most significant early-19th-century buildings in the region, the Lazaretto was not well-known outside of Tinicum when a parking company acquired the property in 2001. A developer wanted to raze the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to create yet another remote parking lot for the Philadelphia Airport, but the demolition never happened. Tinicum Township — a municipality of 4,000 people situated between I-95 and the Delaware River, where 70% of the land is paved over with airport runways and parking lots — said no. The town bought the property from the developer in 2005 for $3.1 million with a plan to locate its firehouse there. It raised more than $8 million for renovation and has decided to move the township administrative offices into the building this summer.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/7/2019

Montgomery County

Pottstown Area School Board approves tax increase
The Pottstown Area School Board passed a 2019-2020 budget that will raise property taxes by 3.3% — the maximum allowed under the state’s Act 1 index for the district. The $64.3 million budget had a $1 million deficit that will be covered by the tax increase. The annual tax increase for the average property in the district is estimated to be $111. In June, Pottstown school board members and activists boarded three school buses to join a rally in Harrisburg calling for the full implementation of the fair school funding formula adopted by the state in 2016. Were the formula fully in place, Pottstown would be getting an additional $13 million a year from Harrisburg and the painful budget decisions being faced in the district would disappear, said John Armato, a member of the school board. The average property tax bill would drop by $370 if the fair funding formula were fully implemented, Armato said.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 6/24/2019 and Digital Notebook Blog; 6/22/2019

Tax hike in Upper Perkiomen School District
The Upper Perkiomen School Board voted 5-4 to approve a $64 million budget that includes a 2.8% tax increase for 2019-2020. Property taxes for the median homeowner in Montgomery County will increase $106, and in Berks County about $83. The tax increase is expected to generate an additional $1.62 million in revenue, said Sandra Kassel, the district business administrator. The district will also transfer $1.5 million from its fund balance in order to cover a projected deficit. Increases in salaries, debt service and benefits account for most of the added expenses in the budget.
Source: Town and Country Newspaper; 6/24/2019

Lower Merion School Board approves 2.3% tax increase
The Lower Merion Board of School Directors approved a $280 million budget for 2019-2020 that includes a 2.3% tax increase. The millage rate will rise to 29.4088, adding about $166 to the tax bill of a property assessed at the median value of about $250,000. Superintendent Robert Copeland attributes years of tax increases to continued enrollment growth in the school district. Lower Merion School District has had the highest growth rate in the state over the past 10 years, growing by 1,783 students or 26.3%. Lower Merion also has one of the highest per-student spending rates in Pennsylvania. Based on the enrollment figures of 8,700 students at the start of the 2018-2019 school year, the $280 million in spending would amount to more than $32,100 per student.
Source: Main Line Times; 6/19/2019

Boyertown School District increases taxes by 3.6%
The Boyertown School Board adopted a $121.1 million budget that will raise property taxes by 3.6% for the 2019-2020 school year. The percentage increase exceeds the state’s Act 1 tax cap of 2.8%, but the district received a special exception for excessive special education costs. The millage rate will increase from 26.37 mills to 27.33 mills. A home assessed at $100,000 can expect an annual increase of $96 to the tax bill. The average property assessment in the Berks County portion of the district is $116,000, while the average assessment in the Montgomery County portion of the district is about $147,700. The budget will be balanced by using about $847,000 of the fund reserve balance to close the gap between revenues and expenditures. A five-year financial forecast completed by the administration shows that annual tax increases ranging from 3.35 to 3.42 percent will be required to balance future budgets.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 6/26/2019

Souderton Area School District hikes taxes
The school board of Souderton Area School District recently passed the 2019-2020 school year budget that includes a 1.45% tax increase. The new tax rate is 30.0495 mills, with each mill equal to a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. A home assessed at $150,000, which is close to the average assessment, will see a roughly $64 annual tax increase, going from $4,443 to $4,507. Superintendent Dr. Frank Gallagher said the 1.45% increase is significantly less than the 2.33% floated earlier in the budget process. 
Source: The Reporter; 6/24/2019

Philadelphia

Six Philadelphia properties awarded state historic tax credits
Six Philadelphia properties have been awarded state historic tax credits, the Wolf administration announced, providing a total of $600,000 in financial benefits to the real estate teams who are redeveloping local historic buildings. The tax credit awards are administered by the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Out of 42 applicants seeking nearly $15 million for the fiscal 2018-2019 year, 24 were selected to receive a total of $3 million in credits. Established in 2012, Pennsylvania’s historic tax credit program provides $3 million annually to developers who rehabilitate properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That register, unlike Philadelphia’s local register, does not protect buildings from demolition. Projects that receive state historic tax credits also are eligible to receive national historic tax credits. The Philadelphia projects that received awards are:

  • Abigail Vare School, 1619 E. Moyamensing Ave., received a $100,000 tax credit allocation for its development team’s proposal to convert the shuttered Philadelphia public school into 42 market-rate apartments.
  • Charles Schaeffer School, 4701 Germantown Ave., received $25,000 for its development team’s proposal to convert the historic former school, which dates to 1876, into coworking and office space.
  • Poth Brewery, 1500-1536 N. 31st St., received $200,000 for its development team’s proposal to redevelop the former brewery in Philadelphia’s Brewerytown neighborhood into market-rate apartments.
  • The West Philadelphia Institute, 22-26 S. 40th St., received $100,000 for the proposal to develop the former library designed by prominent architect Frank Furness into offices.
  • The Witherspoon Building, 1319-1323 Walnut St., received $150,000 for plans to redevelop the Center City office building, which is owned by SSH Real Estate.
  • 257 N. Third St., Old City, received $25,000 for the proposal to develop the rowhouse into commercial use and apartments.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/19/2019

Council president: Force big developers to offer community benefits
Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke wants to mandate community benefits agreement (CBA) discussions between real estate developers and neighborhood groups. A handful of community organizations in Philadelphia secure such contracts already, negotiating with developers to win amenities or services in exchange for support of large projects. Clarke introduced legislation last week that seeks to make these negotiations mandatory for developments that are “high-impact projects” or that receive “city support.” “We decided to come up with a bill to require a CBA for developments, such as casinos, stadiums, large residential commercial projects,” said Clark. “There is [sometimes] discussion about some sort of an agreement, but there is rarely any level of continuity, no consistency, so we want to make sure to set appropriate guidelines.” The development industry reaction to the bill was muted, perhaps because Clarke introduced it on the second to last City Council session before the summer recess, which means it won’t receive a hearing until fall. Like a similar law in Detroit, on which Clarke said he based his legislation, the bill doesn’t actually mandate a community benefits agreement be reached — just that the procedure for negotiations be followed. Asked for their reactions, many developers said the legislation raised more questions than it answered.
Source: Plan Philly; 6/17/2019


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