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 15, 2019

 

General News

Court issues decision on short-term rentals in residential areas
A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision sided with a Hamilton Township, Monroe County, regulation that banned short-term rentals in residential areas. With the explosion of short-term rental properties throughout the country, including Pennsylvania HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb, over the past several years, there have been several zoning issues in different municipalities. Only a few of Pennsylvania’s 2,500 municipalities have updated their zoning ordinances to address short-term rentals, leaving courts to determine how to handle potential zoning enforcement issues. In its decision, the state Supreme Court held that the purely transient use of a residential property for short-term rentals is not compatible with Hamilton Township’s zoning ordinance restricting use within a residential district to a “family,” that is defined as including a “single housekeeping unit.” The court further rejected the Commonwealth Court’s reasoning that non-excluded uses were otherwise permitted. Instead, the Supreme Court held that an excluded-unless-expressly-included standard “is the only workable standard.” The Supreme Court stressed in its opinion the purely transient use of the property; the owner never occupied the property as a residence. Property owners seeking to use their property for short-term rental purposes are encouraged to first seek a qualified attorney to advise on the specific zoning ordinance applicable to the property.
Source: PAR JustListed; 6/27/2019

Opportunity Zone regulations still a work in progress
Congress set new rules encouraging investment in thousands of America’s most underdeveloped neighborhoods, known as Opportunity Zones, as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The regulations are still being finalized and were initially so vague that the Internal Revenue Service later issued hundreds of pages of guidance to explain how the program is designed to work. Confusion also stems from the definition of what constitutes an “investment” in an Opportunity Zone, and the degree to which said investments will be exposed to federal taxes, if at all. There has been no shortage of voices from the commercial real estate and wealth management sectors heralding the potential payoffs in store for investors. Investors have only a few more months to maximize the program’s benefits — estimated in the billions of dollars. See a list of the approved tracts in Pennsylvania here.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 6/21/2019

Pennsylvania’s own insurance exchange coming next year
Pennsylvania is moving to replace the federally operated Healthcare.gov with its own website to sell Affordable Care Act-compliant policies in a bid to enroll more people and lower their costs. Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation after it passed the legislature unanimously last week. Pennsylvania let the federal government know of its intent and is preparing to submit its plans, called a “blueprint,” in the coming weeks. The Wolf administration expects to take over some of the marketing and outreach efforts for Healthcare.gov before it unveils its new website next year for enrollment for the 2021 insurance year. The state expects it can lower premiums by 5% to 10% for the 400,000 people who buy policies in the marketplace. Wolf’s insurance commissioner, Jessica Altman, said the savings can especially help the roughly 80,000 people who buy policies through Healthcare.gov but whose incomes are too high to qualify for a federal tax subsidy. States have more control over exchanges they run themselves, health care policy analysts say. For example, a state that operates its own exchange can keep automatic re-enrollment. To lower premiums, Wolf’s administration plans to use the savings from taking over the exchange, as well as extra federal reinsurance dollars that states can draw down. The money would reimburse insurers for certain high-cost claims.
Source: Daily Times; 7/3/2019

Bucks County

New Scudder Falls Bridge opens, tolling begins
Drivers crossing the newly opened Scudder Falls Bridge on Interstate 295 entering Pennsylvania from New Jersey will begin paying tolls on Sunday, July 14. The new span will operate under a cashless tolling system featuring no toll booths. Cars with E-Z Pass will be charged $1.25, but cars without E-Z Pass will have their license plates recorded and the registered car owners will receive an invoice in the mail for $2.60. The old Scudder Falls Bridge was a toll-free bridge carrying traffic over the Delaware River between Ewing Township, New Jersey, and Bucks County. Only vehicles entering Pennsylvania will be charged a toll. The downstream span of the new bridge remains under construction and is expected to open near the end of 2020. Visit www.scudderfallsbridge.com for construction updates.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 7/9/2019

Middletown unveils comprehensive plan
Middletown Township is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, a blueprint for the community that details its objectives for the future. Key areas of focus include: sustainability, transportation, recreation, housing and redevelopment. The township also launched a photo competition connected to the comprehensive plan asking people to send photos of their favorite parts of Middletown — or areas that could be improved. Photos can be emailed to CompPlan@middletownbucks.org and entries can be tracked on a live map. Voting will take place in the fall. Visit the township website for more information.
Source: Middletown Township; 7/2/2019

Bristol Township schools to get $250K a year from housing authority
The Bucks County Housing Authority (BCHA) recently agreed to pay Bristol Township School District $250,000 annually for the next 10 years, in lieu of taxes, starting with the 2019-2020 school year. BCHA runs the Venice Ashby neighborhood which is largely tax exempt. The authority previously paid the district only about $7,000 a year. About 250 students a year are sent to Bristol Township schools from the Venice Ashby neighborhood, a significant addition to school district expenses. Donald Grondhal, executive director of BCHA, and other county officials said it was only fair for BCHA to pay more. Bucks County Commissioners Chairman Rob Loughery said he’s been pushing for the agreement for about two years. “The authority is in a strong financial position because they manage things really well, and so we’re able to make this commitment to the Bristol Township School District,” he said. “I’m grateful to the authority for stepping up to do this, and thrilled for the school district to be receiving this revenue.”
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/5/2019

Bucks County 2019 Real Estate Assessment Roll opens for public inspection
The Bucks County Board of Assessment Appeals has prepared the 2019 Real Estate Assessment Roll as required by law. The roll will be open for public inspection by Monday, July 15, at the Board of Assessment Office, Bucks County Administration Building, 6th Floor, Doylestown. Assessment appeals may be filed by Aug. 1. Appeal forms are available at the office and online at www.buckscountyboa.org.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/5/2019

Chester County 

Goshenville: A new overlay district proposed in East Goshen
East Goshen planning consultant Tom Comitta recently presented a vision for Goshenville district to an audience of township supervisors, planning commission members and about 40 members of the public. The planning commission unanimously recommended the overlay district be used instead of zoning changes, but the final decision rests with the supervisors. The Goshenville overlay district would stretch from Boot Road to Route 352, along Paoli Pike, said Comitta, of Comitta Associates. The planning commission was tasked with developing a zoning ordinance amendment that reflected objectives outlined in the 2015 comprehensive plan and the Paoli Pike Corridor Master Plan. The township hopes to encourage biking and walking along the proposed 2.7-mile trail. Supervisor Janet Emanuel said the goal is to make the Paoli Pike Corridor pedestrian-friendly. Supervisor Carmen Battavio suggested the township take “baby steps” to avoid hurting a section of the township, eliciting some applause. No final decision has yet been made by supervisors.
Source: Daily Local; 6/27/2019

Tree ordinance to be considered in West Chester
West Chester Borough Council will consider a new tree ordinance that requires street tree replanting and offers cost-sharing for property owners who are required to remove a tree. “It’s my hope this new tree ordinance will also contain educational measures and protections for our largest and most beautiful borough trees,” said Mayor Dianne Herrin. Council is also mulling over requiring a permit to cut down “heritage trees,” which measure at least 24 inches in diameter. There are 50 to 100 “extraordinary” trees and 1,000 to 2,000 heritage trees among the 60,000 total trees in the borough. When the ordinance comes before council in July, the section concerning heritage trees on private property will likely be “reserved,” which means it will be considered at a later date because the council asked for significant changes. The rest of the ordinance will be considered for approval at the hearing in July.
Source: Daily Local; 6/27/2019

Chester Water Authority granted preliminary injunction to stop city-Aqua deal
The Chester Water Authority (CWA) has taken legal action in the controversy surrounding the proposed sale of CWA assets by the City of Chester. Attorneys from the Philadelphia-based Conrad O’Brien PC, representing CWA, filed a complaint in Delaware County Common Pleas Court against the city of Chester and Aqua Pennsylvania Inc., alleging violations of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, among others, in the city’s issuing of a request for proposals to sell the authority’s assets. The attorneys also filed a request for preliminary injunction from any actions stemming from the RFP. The Sunshine Act “requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting,” according to a summary from the state Office of Open Records. In an amended order on July 3, Judge James P. Bradley wrote that the city is “enjoined from alienating any assets owned by or allegedly owned by the Chester Water Authority” and “is further enjoined and prohibited from taking any legal action dissolving, or attempting to dissolve, the CWA or in any way attempting to interfere with the day-to-day operations of the CWA.” The order, which expires on Aug. 2, allows the city to open RFPs it receives but take no further action pending action from the court.
Source: Daily Times; 6/28/2019 and Daily Local; 7/9/2019

Crebilly Farm controversy puts spotlight on tax breaks
The owners of historic Crebilly Farm, who have received decades of tax breaks for preserving the tract, now want to sell the Westtown land to Toll Brothers, which plans a controversial subdivision of more than 300 homes. Most of the Crebilly land receives tax breaks under the state’s Clean and Green preservation program, also known as Act 319, enacted in 1974. Last year, Crebilly’s owners saved more than $40,000 on their tax bill, a large chunk of which would have gone to the school district. Crebilly Farm Family Associates has benefitted from the program for a couple decades, with the land valued as an active farm rather than on the commercial real estate market. Critics of Toll’s proposed subdivision are also wondering whether it’s time to retool Act 319, a state initiative that’s administered by the counties. To qualify, properties must have a minimum of 10 acres of farmland, forestland or open space.  Under the terms of Act 319, a change of ownership does not breach the program; however, a change of use does. If Toll Brothers prevails and begins to sell homes, the first residence sold on each of the four parcels in the program would trigger a rollback tax, which is equal to the tax savings for the past seven years plus 6% interest. Read more here.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 6/30/2019

Opportunity Zone project leans on arts community to revive Coatesville
Real estate developer Mark Sherman is best known for his Sherman Mills project in East Falls where, in 2000, he bought 19 old manufacturing buildings totaling 133,000 square feet tucked away off Scotts Lane. Sherman and his business partner, Lane Udis of Mark Lane Properties, hope to replicate that success in Coatesville, where they’ve purchased a 68,000-square-foot former warehouse at 139 E. Chestnut St. for $675,000. The building sits in a Qualified Opportunity Zone, a designation established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to spur investment in low-income communities. The developers plan to create a community of artists called Midway Arts — so called for Coatesville’s location midway between Philadelphia and Lancaster. So far, six tenants have moved in, including two different yoga studios, a tattoo salon, a marketing firm, a knife and leather maker, a telemarketing firm and a CrossFit. Rents range from $6 to $12 a square foot depending on the space and a tenants’ needs, but Sherman wants to keep it affordable and will fit out a space to suit a particular craft. The developers’ hope is that artists who are comfortable moving into affordable but distressed areas will be on the vanguard of the neighborhood’s revitalization.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 6/21/2019

Delaware County

Upper Chichester meeting for Realtors®
Upper Chichester Township is planning an informational meeting for Realtors®. Township officials will be on hand to discuss topics relevant to real estate and homeownership, such as Maplink, an interactive zoning map tool, new welcome packets for homeowners, Route 322 expansion and economic development. The meeting will take place on Monday, July 22, at 3 p.m. in the municipal building, 8500 Furey Road Extension, Boothwyn. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP online. 

Penn-Delco adopts budget with tax increase
The Penn-Delco School Board adopted a final 2019-2020 general operating budget totaling $64.6 million, reflecting an increase of 2.8% over the 2018-2019 budget. Millage was set at 29.6803 mills. A homeowner with a residence assessed at $115,000 will pay about $3,400 in real estate tax in 2019, which reflects an annual increase of $93 over last year. Penn-Delco’s business manager, Tracy Marshall, said the increase is primarily due to charter school tuition and employer contributions for retirement.
Source: Daily Local; 6/27/2019

Ridley School Board approves budget, tax hike
Ridley School District approved a final budget of $111 million for the 2019-2020 school year. The millage rate will go up 0.57 mills for a total rate of 41.3 mills. A homeowner with a property assessed at the district average of $100,000 will pay an additional $56 in school taxes for the upcoming academic year. The board also passed a Homestead Resolution for 2019-2020 stating that tax bills for all approved properties have been calculated by reducing the assessed value of each property by $5,386. This lowers the tax bill for each approved property by $223. Ridley School District Superintendent Lee Ann Wentzel said 9,272 properties in the district qualify for the exemption. The state’s Homestead/ Farmstead Property Tax Reduction program is funded by gambling revenue received by the state.
Source: Daily Times; 6/27/2019

Chester works to escape state oversight
Chester City Council has signed off on a $182,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to shore up four points of its strategy to exit Act 47, the state’s designation for financially distressed municipalities. The grant will fund financial audit and reporting training for city employees, grant writing training for city employees, a fire feasibility study for possible reductions in the city fire department, and a waterfront development plan. “We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Nafis Nichols, the city’s chief financial officer, said. The city is on an exit plan to emerge from its financially distressed status by 2021 or face possible state receivership. Nichols estimated about $100,000 from the grant will go toward the waterfront development plan, with the city putting an additional $25,000 toward the plan from its general fund revenue. The Riverfront Alliance of Delaware County and Keystone Sports and Entertainment — parent company of the Philadelphia Union and an RADC member — sent a request for proposal this spring to 23 architectural firms, seeking their interest in formulating a “Chester Waterfront Master Plan.”
Source: Daily Times; 6/27/2019

Chester Water Authority granted preliminary injunction to stop city-Aqua deal
The Chester Water Authority (CWA) has taken legal action in the controversy surrounding the proposed sale of CWA assets by the City of Chester. Attorneys from the Philadelphia-based Conrad O’Brien PC, representing CWA, filed a complaint in Delaware County Common Pleas Court against the city of Chester and Aqua Pennsylvania Inc., alleging violations of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, among others, in the city’s issuing of a request for proposals to sell the authority’s assets. The attorneys also filed a request for preliminary injunction from any actions stemming from the RFP. The Sunshine Act “requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting,” according to a summary from the state Office of Open Records. In an amended order on July 3, Judge James P. Bradley wrote that the city is “enjoined from alienating any assets owned by or allegedly owned by the Chester Water Authority” and “is further enjoined and prohibited from taking any legal action dissolving, or attempting to dissolve, the CWA or in any way attempting to interfere with the day-to-day operations of the CWA.” The order, which expires on Aug. 2, allows the city to open RFPs it receives but take no further action pending action from the court.
Source: Daily Times; 6/28/2019 and Daily Local; 7/9/2019

Montgomery County

West Pottsgrove to crack down on unkempt properties
West Pottsgrove commissioners have announced a crackdown on unkempt properties in the township. The township will begin using “door hanger” cards for code violations that will allow the township to forgo the time lapse of sending a violation through the mail. Commissioners Chairman Steve Miller said the number of properties not being maintained in the township has increased in recent years. Foreclosed properties are a problem because banks don’t often respond to violations. The township plans on issuing more property maintenance violations, particularly for junk and weeds in the yard. If the property owners do not respond, township workers will do the work and then a tax lien will be levied against the property to cover the cost of the work. “That tends to get the banks’ attention, because that’s money out of their pocket,” said Miller.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/7/2019

Norristown Code Enforcement Department earns national accreditation
The Norristown Code Enforcement Department is the first municipal code department in Pennsylvania to be nationally accredited by the American Association of Code Enforcement (AACE). AACE is a nonprofit association and the only one representing housing, property maintenance and zoning officials in the U.S. and Canada. To obtain the accreditation, the Norristown Code Enforcement Department completed an assessment and successfully met the required 59 accreditation standards, including a review of policies regarding general operations, personnel, case processing, punitive actions, inspections, codes and ordinances, and hearings and appeals. Amrinder Singh, code enforcement manager and building code official for the borough, said getting the accreditation was a team effort with all of the employees helping, as well as support from the borough council and manager Crandall Jones. Click here for the press release.
Source: Times Herald; 7/5/2019

Signal coming for dangerous Limerick intersection
Limerick Township supervisors approved a plan to seek bids for a temporary signal at the intersection of Royersford Road and Linfield-Trappe Road. Township Manager Dan Kerr said it will be a temporary fix until the township can come up with a plan to make the entire intersection safer. Kerr and township engineer Khaled Hassan have been in communication with the property owners at the intersection to see what can be done about re-aligning the roads, but that could take many years and cost as much as $5 million to complete. The temporary signal is a first step.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/4/2019

Two-year Route 422 rehabilitation project has begun
Construction activities have begun to rehabilitate pavement and repair seven structures along a five-mile section of Route 422 from its Royersford-Trappe to Sanatoga interchanges. During the two-year improvement project, PennDOT contractor H&K Group Inc. of Skippack will: mill, overlay and rehabilitate existing 422 pavement; perform bridge deck repairs, concrete and joint patching, sealing and drainage improvements; install new guide rail and rumble strips; and repair or replace damaged traffic signs along the corridor. The $17.8 million project is expected to be completed in summer 2021. Visit www.422improvements.com for construction updates.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 4/29/2019

Philadelphia

Controversial new affordable housing policy might actually be working
The compromise that helped end Philadelphia City Council’s two-year-long fight over how to finance affordable housing is beginning to bear fruit. Nine months after Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez won support for an expansion of the city’s voluntary inclusionary zoning bonus program, 12 development projects are on track to use the incentive. The program allows developers to build denser and taller residential projects if they include affordable units on site or contribute money to the city’s Housing Trust Fund — a kind of municipal bank that can provide subsidies for affordable projects. The 12 projects involved so far will collectively generate more than eight units of affordable housing and deliver $3 million to the Housing Trust Fund, said Paul Chrystie, a spokesman for the Kenney administration. “I’m very pleased with the progress so far, developers have really been coming forward to be part of our affordable housing goals,” said Quiñones-Sánchez. Developers who opt into the bonus must first submit their proposals to the city planning commission, which then gives the Department of Licenses and Inspections the go-ahead to grant zoning permits. Developers don’t actually pay into the Housing Trust Fund until building permits are filed. None of the projects expected to pay into the trust fund has reached that stage yet.
Source: Plan Philly; 6/26/2016

Inquirer to recognize ‘influencers of real estate’
The Philadelphia Inquirer will host the second annual Influencers of Real Estate Awards. A panel of experts reviewed nominations based on accomplishments, business impact and civic/community service, and award presentations will be made to 24 real estate professionals serving the Philadelphia region. At the event, Inquirer reporter Caitlin McCabe and a panel will host a discussion on the 10-year tax abatement. Tickets to the event may be purchased online. The event will take place on Thursday, July 25, at 11 a.m. in the Crystal Tea Room, 100 E Penn Square, Philadelphia.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/3/2019



Email grassroots@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com to receive our weekly News Briefs. It's as simple as submitting your contact information so we can create a user profile.

Designed and delivered by Accrisoft