NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Senate GOP halts fixes for Pa.’s troubled rent relief program, surprising even their own

Bucks County
Falls Township issues new U&O fact sheet, but process remains too burdensome

Chester County
Chester County initiative will support families and child care providers

Delaware County
Middletown to consider update to the comprehensive plan

Montgomery County
No tax hike in Upper Pottsgrove budget draft

Philadelphia County
City council proposes 1% construction tax, but also a delay in reducing property tax abatement

 

News Briefs Archive July 20, 2020

 

General News

How Gov. Wolf’s new restrictions impact real estate
Gov. Tom Wolf has begun to roll back certain business opening rules based on an increase in COVID-19 cases nationally and in Pennsylvania. The part of the governor’s order generating the most questions from Realtors® reads as follows: “Unless not possible, all businesses are required to conduct their operations in whole or in part remotely through individual teleworking of their employees in the jurisdiction or jurisdictions in which they do business. Where telework is not possible, employees may conduct in-person business operations, provided that the businesses fully comply with all substantive aspects of” the various orders that are already in place. What does this mean for Realtors®? Nothing in the newest orders directly addresses real estate practice, though the orders and underlying testing trends do suggest some things that Realtors® should keep in mind so real estate avoids the fate of restaurants and bars. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®  (PAR) put together answers to common questions about the changes, including:

  • Has real estate been deemed as essential/life-sustaining?
  • Are brokers required to close their office and only allow remote work?
  • Can we still do open houses?
  • Will there be additional restrictions on real estate?

View the answers to the questions on PAR's website.
Source: Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®; 7/16/2020 

Pottstown Mercury reporter’s ‘lonely mission’ chronicled by NY Times
Evan Brandt is the last reporter for the Pottstown Mercury, a newspaper that won two Pulitzer Prizes but in recent years has been reduced to a shell of its former self by a changing media landscape and its money-extracting hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital. The Mercury’s iconic building fell into such disrepair, with water dripping through from ceilings and a pervasive mildew smell, that staff were forced out and told they could work in Exton, 17 miles away, or from home. Despite the constant cuts, Brandt has continued to report the news in his community. In spring 2018, the 55-year-old veteran journalist traveled to the $4.8 million vacation home of one of Alden’s owners to deliver a message: Invest in the newspapers or sell them. In his New York Times profile of Brandt, Dan Barry writes: “Daily journalism often comes down to local reporters like Mr. Brandt. Overworked, underpaid and unlikely to appear as cable-news pundits, they report the day’s events, hold officials accountable and capture those moments — a school honor, a retirement celebration — suitable for framing.” Read the full article on the New York Times website: A Reporter’s Lonely Mission When the Writing Is on the Wall.
Source: New York Times; 7/10/2020

New state law changes criminal history policy for licensure boards
Act 53 of 2020, which Gov. Wolf recently signed into law, impacts real estate licensing for applicants with a criminal history. The new law clarifies that conviction of a crime does not automatically preclude someone from being issued a state professional or occupational license. The state licensing boards/commissions must first determine if the applicant’s particular criminal offense is directly related to the duties, functions and responsibilities of the license applied for, and then must conduct an individualized assessment of the applicant. Each board/commission is required to establish a list of the criminal offenses that may constitute grounds for denial. The legislation passed unanimously by both houses of the Pennsylvania General Assembly before being signed into law. Read more on the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors’ JustListed blog.
Source: Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®; 7/13/2020

Population in southeastern Pennsylvania is aging
New figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the biggest population increase in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania has been among the 65 and older group. Chester County's population grew 5% from 2010 to 2019, but the majority of the growth came in the 65 and older age group, which grew by 37% over nine years. The population of children 14 and under fell by 5.4%. In Delaware County, the 65-and-over population grew by 19%, while that of children and the workforce population of people ages 15 to 64 fell from 2010 through last year. Montgomery County saw its workforce population grow by less than 1%, while the population of those 65 and older grew by nearly 25%.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/1/2020

Bucks County

No school tax increase for Bristol Township
Bristol Township School District has avoided a school property tax increase for the 2020-2021 school year but expects revenue to drop about $2.4 million due to the coronavirus pandemic. The school board approved a $146.4 million budget that will keep the millage rate at 220.14. The median school tax bill for Bristol Township homeowners will be about $3,877. The budget calls for using $7.3 million from district savings to cover a projected deficit instead of increasing taxes. COVID-19 budget impacts include an additional $500,000 in funding for transportation, $1.6 million in special education costs, and $300,000 for cleaning costs and supplies.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 7/1/2020

Council Rock drafts reopening plan
Council Rock School District has released a draft health and safety plan for the coming school year. The plan includes dozens of provisions for student safety, including a ban on field trips, limits of two students per seat on school buses, rigorous cleaning protocols and social distancing measures. The plan calls for a return to classrooms for students comfortable with doing so and an online learning program for those who are not comfortable with a return to in-person learning. The entire 44-page draft plan (PDF) can be viewed on the district website. The plan might be revised somewhat before the school board votes at its Thursday, July 23, virtual meeting, Superintendent Robert Fraser said. Questions, comments and concerns about Council Rock’s draft reopening plan can be emailed to reopening@crsd.org.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/10/2020

PFAS testing planned for 1,300 adults, children in Bucks, Montgomery counties
Starting this fall, Pennsylvania and federal health officials hope to recruit 1,000 adults and 300 children in Bucks and Montgomery counties for a national study on the impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on thyroids, cholesterol levels, kidneys, immune systems, livers and even behavioral problems. The study will seek volunteers from among the residents of communities adjacent to military bases where PFAS leached into the drinking water and presents the opportunity for more Horsham, Warrington and Warminster residents to get their blood tested. A website, which is not yet active, will provide further information. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/10/2020

‘Fresh from Bucks County Farms’ guide published
Bucks County has published a guide to county roadside markets and pick-your-own farms. Click here (PDF) to view the “Fresh from Bucks County Farms” guide. The guide is one way the county is encouraging people to buy fresh, buy local and support the community.
Source: Bucks County; 7/2020

Recorder of deeds offers historical online book tour July 28 and 30
Bucks County Record of Deeds Robin Robinson will host two online presentations this month as part of the ongoing deed book preservation book tour. The program looks at the history of Bucks County through the office’s efforts to restore hundreds of historic deed books. More than 60 books containing slave records and other information were recently returned to the office. The free presentations will be held via Zoom on Tuesday, July 28, at 2 p.m. and Thursday, July 30, at 7 p.m. To register, email recorderdeeds@buckscounty.org.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/15/2020

Chester County 

County awarded $500K to prevent homelessness
Chester County will receive nearly $500,000 in funding to reduce homelessness caused by the impacts of coronavirus. According to an announcement from state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19), the money is the first of two allocations made possible through emergency solutions grants via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funding will go to the Chester County Department of Community and Economic Development to help support homeless individuals and families, and to address and prevent homelessness in the future through long-term solutions. The Chester County funding is part of $18.9 million awarded to 27 organizations serving 52 counties across Pennsylvania.
Source: Daily Local; 7/14/2020

Westtown planners pan Toll’s new Crebilly plans; supervisors to consider on July 21
The Westtown Township Planning Commission unanimously voted not to recommend a revised concept plan presented by builder Toll Brothers to construct a 319-home subdivision at Crebilly Farm. The vote is not legally binding and is a recommendation to the board of supervisors who will make any final decision. Last year, supervisors voted unanimously to deny the original plan. Chester County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Tunnell sided with the township and his ruling was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in December 2019. Toll has since developed alternate concept plans. The planning commission meeting focused on traffic impact and proposed changes to area roadways. The new plan would include a more extensive trail network, and public sewer would be used rather than an on-site sewer plant. Preservation activists, who say the land is an important Revolutionary War historical site, and the township have fought with the developer over the proposed development for years. Westtown Township supervisors are scheduled to consider the new plan at a conditional use hearing on Tuesday, July 21, at 6 p.m. at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, 226 N. High St., West Chester.
Source: Daily Local 7/10/2020

Intelligent Transportation System being installed on Route 30
A $5.8 million project will add Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) upgrades on Route 30 (Coatesville-Downingtown Bypass) and about 20 miles of Business Route 30 in Chester County. Traffic patterns will be disrupted at times during the work, which includes installation of variable message signs, traffic cameras and travel time readers that will aid PennDOT in monitoring the flow of traffic, mitigating congestion, and handling emergency response during future construction operations. The project is financed entirely with federal funds and should be completed by spring 2021. The new ITS devices will be connected into PennDOT’s fiber optic communications system and will be managed from the department’s Regional Transportation Management Center (RTMC). The purpose of the project is to improve traffic operations in advance of the U.S. 30 reconstruction and improvements project that is expected to begin in the mid-2020s. Read more about the work and traffic disruptions on PennDOT’s US30-Chesco project website.
Source: PennDOT; 7/2/2020

Schuylkill Township to consider animal nuisance ordinance
The Schuylkill Township Board of Supervisors will consider enacting an animal nuisance ordinance. The ordinance, No. 2020-02, amends Chapter 98 of the township code. “The actions of an animal constitute a nuisance when the animal disturbs the rights of, threatens the safety of, or harms a member of the general public, or damages the property of others,” according to the ordinance. The definition specifically cites as an example animal waste on any sidewalk or public street. Service animals are exempted from the nuisance. First violations merit a $50 fine, but the penalty jumps to $300 for subsequent offenses. A public hearing to discuss the draft ordinance is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at Schuylkill Township Municipal Building, 111 Valley Park Road, Phoenixville.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/14/2020

Delaware County

Delco school districts scramble to form reopening plans
Delaware County school district administrators have found that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to safely open schools that were shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in densely populated areas. The county has 15 public school districts, plus a number of private and parochial schools, and each of their reopening plans has to be approved by their respective governing bodies — i.e., school boards or trustees — and then submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. “Right now we’re following guidance from the governor’s office, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and for Delaware County, the Chester County Department of Health is our health authority,” Garnet Valley Superintendent Marc Bertrando said. Almost every school district has sent out surveys or held virtual town halls to gauge public opinion on school reopening. There are three basic options: a return to full, in-person instruction; a hybrid plan that combines in-person instruction with remote learning, or full remote instruction. Upper Darby superintendent Dan McGarry said, “What I’ve learned in my conversations is that this is an ever-changing virus and ever-changing information, so we’re not sure that they even know the facts on how to handle it, and we’re obligated to open up schools and educate kids.”
Source: Daily Times; 7/13/2020

County Council orders spending cuts of up to 10%
Delaware County Council is asking county government departments to cut 7% to 10% across the board to close a $23 million deficit left from the $358 million budget passed last year. "The budget last year was passed by raiding the county's savings,” said Council Chairman Brian Zidek. The budget passed by a 3-2 vote, with all three approval votes coming from outgoing council members. The coronavirus pandemic has hurt county finances, causing spikes in public-health-related expenditures and declines in gaming revenue, hotel taxes, and property tax and transfer tax receipts. Zidek suggested that departments might find the necessary reductions in expenditures by eliminating long-vacant positions.
Source: Daily Times; 7/16/2020

Concord to permit daily burning in agricultural district
Concord Township supervisors will consider an amendment to permit open burning within the Agricultural Security Area. Draft ordinance No. 394 would amend Chapter 112 of the municipal code, “Fire Prevention,” to allow burning, “where the property is currently an agricultural use so long as the vegetation to be burned was produced on the property and the owner is attendant at the fire at all times.” The draft ordinance will be considered at a public hearing on Tuesday, July 21, and the council may vote on the matter at its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 7 p.m. Visit the township website for meeting information.
Source: Daily Times; 7/14/2020

Delco Strong 2 grant requests surprisingly low
The latest round of grants for the Delco Strong program to assist businesses has generated surprisingly low interest. According to County Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer, 551 for-profit businesses applied for Delco Strong 2 grants, a significant dip from the 1,100 that applied for the first round of funding in May. "We were perplexed at why it was so low," she said. "We're trying to parse through the applications and figure out what that's about." Businesses could apply for grants up to $20,000, depending on their revenue as reported in recent tax records. The for-profit grant application period has ended, but nonprofits still have until Tuesday, July 21, to apply for Delco Strong 2 funding via the Foundation for Delaware County website.
Source: Daily Times; 7/14/2020

Montgomery County

Montco Recorder of Deeds update
Though Montgomery County moved into the “green phase” for reopening on June 26, One Montgomery Plaza and the Recorder of Deeds office remain closed to the public. The office continues to work daily and accept recordings through the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx/UPS and the recorder’s four eRecording partners. As of July 14, a drop box in the lobby of One Montgomery Plaza is available for dropping off recordings and plans. Users should follow the same recording requirements they would if they mailed documents, and ensure that all plans have been pre-screened and pre-approved. Additionally, the office continues to swear in notaries via video conferencing. To sign up for a time slot, notaries need to have an executed bond, power of attorney and their driver’s licenses. Click here for more information about the drop box and notary time slots.
Source: Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds; 7/14/2020

Lower Merion officials propose zoning change, months after adopting new code
Lower Merion officials approved a new zoning code five months ago, following years of discussion and revision. Now the township is planning a significant change to the code that will affect a section of Lancaster Avenue in Haverford. The reason for the change is that a developer has plans to build a gas station in the area, but township officials would rather have a mixed-use building on the site. The change is designed to spur the property owner to go with the mixed-use option instead. The gas station plan was submitted prior to the adoption of the new zoning code, and it would be considered for approval under the old code, which would allow for no building frontage, minimal landscaping and parking in front of the building. The proposed change would increase the building’s frontage to be 90% rather than 70%, making it “more of a traditional downtown,” said Chris Leswing, director of building and planning for Lower Merion. Under the new zoning designation, the property owner could then add a fourth-story to a new mixed-use building, provided they add an affordable housing component or public gathering space. The change provides additional options for the site, said Leswing. Lower Merion’s building and planning committee have recommended the board of commissioners approve advertising a notice for a public hearing on the proposed zoning change. The public hearing would then allow for additional public comment on the planned change.
Source: Main Line Times; 7/10/2020

PFAS testing planned for 1,300 adults, children in Bucks, Montgomery counties
Starting this fall, Pennsylvania and federal health officials hope to recruit 1,000 adults and 300 children in Bucks and Montgomery counties for a national study on the impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on thyroids, cholesterol levels, kidneys, immune systems, livers and even behavioral problems. The study will seek volunteers from among the residents of communities adjacent to military bases where PFAS leached into the drinking water and presents the opportunity for more Horsham, Warrington and Warminster residents to get their blood tested. A website, which is not yet active, will provide further information. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/10/2020

Abington Township comprehensive plan update meeting
Abington Township’s Comprehensive Plan Development Team will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, July 28, at 6 p.m. to discuss its work. The comprehensive plan, called Vision2035, is a document that guides future initiatives, policies, projects and growth within the township including land use, transportation of people and goods, housing, township facilities and utilities, and natural and historical resources. Resident participation is critical in helping develop the plan and ensuring it is reflective of the community's needs and wants. Click here for more information about Abington’s comprehensive plan update and public participation guidelines for the meeting.
Source: The Intelligencer; 7/3/2020

 

Philadelphia

Penn professors call on university to pay city taxes to support Philly schools
More than 500 faculty and staff members at the University of Pennsylvania have signed a petition calling on the school to make payments in lieu of taxes — known as a PILOT arrangement — supporting the Philadelphia public schools. The campaign has escalated in light of national protests demanding attention to racism and inequality. “Every institution in our society must address the root causes of racial inequality, which include systems of public finance that enrich wealthy, private, majority-white institutions while underfunding public institutions and public services,” reads the petition, which professors said was delivered to the university’s board of trustees. The petition said the issue was “not a matter of charity but of justice.” Like other nonprofit institutions in the city, Penn is exempt from paying property taxes. But the university has for years faced calls to voluntarily make payments in lieu of taxes. Proponents of a PILOT agreement cite resource gaps in the city’s public schools, which enroll primarily low-income students. With school funding in Pennsylvania tied heavily to local property taxes, activists say nonprofits like Penn should be contributing. Click here for the full Philadelphia Inquirer article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/8/2020

Philadelphia School District announces back-to-school plan
Philadelphia School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and Mayor Jim Kenney announced a back-to-school plan for the city’s public schools that attempts to balance public health and the education of 125,000 students during the coronavirus pandemic. Schools will reopen in September, with most students attending in-person classes two days a week. Each of the district’s 200-plus schools will develop its own operations plan to execute the district’s broad guidelines, including: social distancing, all staff and students in masks or face shields, a ban on nonessential visitors, and meals mostly eaten in classrooms. The plan is expected to cost the district $60 million to $80 million. Click here to view the full plan.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/15/2020

 
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