NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Infrastructure reform among 2019 NAR policy priorities

Bucks County
Warminster tax hike must be approved by court

Chester County
Landscapes3 adopted by Chester County Commissioners

Delaware County
Cost of new middle school in Clifton Heights to be evaluated

Montgomery County
Norristown budget includes $1.8M deficit

Philadelphia County
City council downsizes new protections for renters in ‘Good Cause’ bill
 

 



 

News Briefs Archive July 23, 2018

 

General News

Rep. Davis: Provide property tax relief through sports betting revenue
State Rep. Tina Davis (D-141), of Bucks County, announced plans to sponsor legislation that would direct the proceeds of newly legalized sports betting to property tax relief for Pennsylvania homeowners. Davis said she will introduce a bill that would have the 34 percent tax on daily gross sports betting revenue directed to the Property Tax Relief Fund, through which the state removes some of the local school tax burden from homeowners, rather than the state’s general fund. Estimates from the Department of Revenue indicate the sports betting program could bring in as much as $50 million per year once the program is fully phased in. The proposal would not affect the 2 percent local share assessment that sports betting hosts pay, which is distributed through the Commonwealth Financing Authority as grants for projects of public interest. “When gambling was introduced in Pennsylvania, we were assured property tax relief. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen as much relief as we were promised,” Davis said. “I am committed to making sure that the proceeds from any further expansion of gambling will go toward property tax relief.” Read the press release here.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/17/2018

PUC rejects Texas firm’s request to reverse Laurel Pipeline flow
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) denied a contentious proposal to reverse the flow on the Laurel Pipeline. The Laurel Pipeline stretches between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Texas-based Buckeye Partners L.P. asked the PUC for permission to reverse the flow — currently east to west — through the approximately 90-mile stretch between Pittsburgh and Altoona, moving up to 40,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel fuel toward central Pennsylvania. Buckeye officials said a reversal would have resulted in a more competitive market and better pricing and asked the PUC in November 2016 to consider it. Opponents claimed a reversal would have jeopardized the thousands of jobs at local refineries and those related to the refineries. The Deny Buckeye coalition said that a Laurel reversal would have been tantamount to blocking Pennsylvania refineries from serving state residents and would have prohibited Delaware Valley refineries from providing transportation fuels and heating oil to customers in western Pennsylvania, causing fuel prices to “skyrocket.” The PUC found the Laurel request was a partial abandonment of intrastate public utility service along that Altoona-Pittsburgh portion of that line, a matter the commissioners said they had the jurisdiction to consider. Portions outside Pennsylvania’s borders are under the domain of federal regulators.
Source: Daily Local; 7/14/2018

Take Action: Flood insurance affects your business
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is set to expire on July 31. If that happens, millions of homeowners will be at risk and 40,000 home sales could be lost each month. If you’re involved in one of those lost transactions, how much would it cost you? The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) is advocating for an extension of NFIP along with reforms that would improve flood map accuracy and encourage the development of private market insurance options. NAR has a great online tool to help Realtors® contact their members of Congress in less than a minute — take a moment right now to protect your business and homeowners across the country.

Bucks County

Adjustments made to Milford Village master plan
The latest proposal to the Milford Village master plan has the developers selling off about 8.57 acres from one section of the project to another, shifting the land to St. Luke’s University Health Network for the construction of the new St. Luke’s Quakertown Hospital. Milford Village is the largest mixed-use project ever proposed in Milford Township. It is a proposed mixed-use campus along Route 663 with housing, retail and professional office space and services, including the expansion of LifeQuest Nursing Center. No plans were provided for the use of the property that is reapportioned in the latest master plan, nor did the hospital provide a reason for the request to expand its portion of the property. Supervisors will vote on the lot line change at their meeting on Monday, Aug. 6.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/12/2018

Hilltown accepts bid for former school property
Hilltown Township supervisors voted to accept the highest bid of about $128,000 for the former Blooming Glen High School property. According to township solicitor Stephen Harris, the township decided to sell the high school because of the ongoing maintenance costs. Township officials were not clear about what is planned for the property, which lies in the “village commercial” zoning district. The sale is expected to be completed on or before Aug. 30.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/12/2018

Group suggests using Southampton Railroad Station as a trail rest stop
The Southampton Railroad Station Society plans to meet with the Bucks County Planning Commission to suggest making the closed train station a functioning rest stop on a 2.5-mile walking trail through the township. Society volunteers have been working for over 12 years to raise money and stabilize the building. A recent proposal for a Bucks County walking trail would follow the abandoned train tracks past the station, making it an ideal place for a rest stop. Jim Day, chairman of the society board, said: “The county’s plans for the trail indicates the station parking lot as a major point of access. Getting funding for this restoration project has become increasingly difficult. Tying it to the trail project would open up some new avenues of funding.” Paul Gordon, trail planner for the Bucks County Planning Commission, said there is nothing currently in the design plans for the Southampton train station but they are meeting with society members “to see what the interest level is.” The Upper Southampton Rail Trail is near the end of the design phase and could go out to bid by next spring or summer. Day is optimistic about the reuse of the station, saying: “We are really committed to giving the station a useful purpose. This is an opportunity to have a place where people can sit in the shade and get a sense of the history of the building and its importance to Southampton over the years.”
Source: The Intelligencer; 7/16/2018

County tourism website is a useful resource
The Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau website offers information on things to do in the county, including summer festivals, an ice cream trail and kid-centered activities. Visit the site to learn more about Bucks County Main Streets, lodging, restaurants and interesting facts and figures about the county, such as the fact it contains 475 miles of hiking trails.

Chester County 

Newlin officials oppose Embreeville sewage plan
Embreeville Redevelopment LP, which plans to build 1,100 homes at the old Embreeville hospital grounds in West Bradford Township, is looking to renovate an old sewage treatment plant nearby in Newlin Township that would serve the development. The plant, built in 1940 and shuttered four years ago, had last been used by the state police’s Embreeville barracks and the PennDOT garage. The application by the developers is being opposed by Newlin Township and conservation groups The Brandywine Conservancy and the Brandywine Valley Association. “This would be a nightmare,” said Janie Baird, chairperson of the Newlin supervisors. “Who knows what those pipes are made of, but my guess is that they are old iron pipes leaching lead. This [plan] is totally undesirable.” The old plant is a stream-discharge system discharging treated sewage into the west branch of Brandywine Creek, just east past the canoe launch at ChesLen Preserve. Newlin officials claim there is no way the developer could bring the plant up to modern standards. The permit from the Department of Environmental Protection for the old sewage plant expired in November 2017. Embreeville Redevelopment LP is also appealing a decision by West Bradford’s zoning board rejecting a challenge to the township’s zoning ordinance, in which the developer claimed the township does not allow for its fair share of future housing.
Source: Daily Local; 7/11/2018

Zukin seeks to build new hotel on Gay Street
At a recent West Chester Borough meeting, representatives from Zukin Realty presented updated plans to Smart Growth Committee members to build a 110-room hotel on Gay Street, at the site of the former Rite-Aid building. The hotel would rise 83 feet — the same height as the Chestnut Street Garage — instead of 91 feet, which is in line with a 2015 court settlement agreement. Updated plans call for seven stories instead of eight, and 110 rooms rather than 124, for a vision that the builder and council were close to agreeing to in a 2017 plan, according to Zukin attorney Brian Nagle. Windows would be added on the north side, where there was previously no such plans. Onix Hospitality Group, which operates six hotels, would form a partnership with Zukin. Onix operates the Hampton Inn at the intersection of routes 202 and 1, and the Hilton Garden and Marriot Fairfield in Kennett Square. There would be no on-site parking; guests and employees would be expected to park at the Chestnut Street Garage.
Source: Daily Local; 7/13/2018

Support grows for public parking garage in Oxford
Oxford Borough officials have continued discussion on plans for a new parking garage. One known component is the new borough building, which will be a part of the structure. The borough had $1 million already available for a new home, which may be rolled into the funding for the garage. The completion of that building will make the current borough building available for sale, plus there would be two additional suites in the parking structure that could be rented for income. The upper level of price for the garage is expected to be in the $7 million range, with about half of that already committed to the project in grant money. That could leave the borough looking at about $3 million for its share of the project, but additional grants, if received, could potentially cut the borough’s cost to $1 million or less. Borough Manager Brian Hoover provided information on parking fee revenues that, when combined with related revenues, could cover a 20-year loan for the borough’s share of the garage. After the review of the bids, the borough has 90 days to award the bids, but that could be extended another month if necessary. That gives the borough until September or October to vote on the project. If grant results are received earlier, that timeline could be moved up. Meanwhile, Oxford drivers are adapting to new parking fees on previously free lots. According to Hoover, in the entire year of 2016, parking fees generated about $30,000. In the past four months, March through June, parking meters, kiosks and permits have brought in nearly $82,000. Anyone seeking additional information on the parking garage is encouraged to contact the mayor or a council member with questions and comments.
Source: Daily Local; 7/11/2018

Toll Brothers’ 42-house development plan sparks concern
Some of the more complicated and contentious questions about a proposed Toll Brothers development in East Marlborough Township seem to be moving toward a resolution. The development would place 42 houses in cluster style on the western part of a 62-acre tract that lies across Route 82 just south of Route 926. The eastern portion would be left as open space. Residents and officials voiced concerns about the extra traffic the development would produce, and the safety aspects of vehicular and pedestrian travel there. Representatives of Toll Brothers said they were seeking guidance on the pedestrian crossing and landscaping issues in the hopes of getting a preliminary approval for the project. Toll Brothers Division President Andrew Semon said they hoped to reach an agreement about landscape screening, and whether the entrance and pedestrian crossing should include a left-turn lane.
Source: Daily Local; 7/11/2018

Delaware County

Chester Water Authority, city continue talks
After months of friction, the Chester Water Authority and the City of Chester have entered into negotiations that could potentially move the city out of Act 47 status, some officials said — if the state’s coordinator doesn’t “hijack the process.” Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said things are going well: “The conversations are continuing. I believe we are making progress. ... This will be an awesome change for the city.” In fact, he said, if all the components work out as anticipated, the city could finally emerge from Act 47 status — a designation of financial distress that have kept city finances under state control since 1995. In 2015, Econsult Solutions Inc. and McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC were appointed as the city’s Recovery Coordinator. In their Act 47 recommendation in May, Econsult recommended selling the Chester Water Authority assets to create revenue. The city had been running multimillion deficits for years up to 2016, but it balanced its revenues and expenditures in 2017 and expects to do so again this year. In the meantime, officials from the Chester Water Authority and the city of Chester have been negotiating with each other to find a solution that works for both parties. CWA solicitor Frank Catania said that part of that includes delineating boundaries for the city and the authority, but not for the purpose of a sale. “The whole purpose for us for entering into this is to avoid that,” he said of a sale.
Source: Daily Times; 7/15/2018

Delco council spars over $2.1M no-bid deal for 911 services
Partisan divides on Delaware County Council were apparent during a conversation over a no-bid contract for 911 telecommunications service. By a 3-2 vote on party lines, Eddystone-based Radio Communication Services Inc. was awarded a $2.1 million contract to purchase, install and maintain the county’s 911 call center hardware and software for six years. The equipment that will be installed will make the county compatible with state and national Next Generation 911 requirements by moving over to a Motorola-based system. The update will allow text messaging accessibility with the 911 center. Democratic councilmen Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek voted against the deal and expressed concern about not soliciting bids for the contract through the Request for Proposal process. They also questioned the financial ties of RCS owner Dale Petrovitch to the Republican Party.
Source: Daily Times; 7/13/2018

Holy Cross nixes Springfield school bus deal
An agreement to lease property from Holy Cross Church to house the Springfield School District’s fleet of buses for up to five years has fallen apart. Neighbors of Holy Cross Church in Springfield objected to the deal that would have seen the school bus fleet housed on parish grounds. District Executive Director of Operations Don Mooney confirmed that Holy Cross has pulled out of a deal to allow the district’s 35 buses to be housed on the church’s property to make way for construction of the new Springfield High School. According to Mooney, all interested parties had signed the contract before Holy Cross ultimately decided to pull out. The contract was slated to run for up to five years, starting July 1, to keep the buses in the parish’s schoolyard and to rent space in the parish center for a transportation supervisor and dispatch manager. Rent for the deal would be no more than $8,333 a month depending on the amount of space that would be used on the property. Residents who live near the church, located at Bishop Avenue and Springfield Road, brought their objections to the school board at the June 28 meeting, citing traffic, environmental and noise pollution concerns. Save for one resident who worked on the agreement through the church’s finance committee, no one was in favor of it, with one neighbor calling it an underhanded deal shielded from the public.
Source: Daily Times; 7/12/2018

Couple says fence was approved by Radnor before citations
Radnor residents Fanny Moinel D’Onofrio and Mark D’Onofrio opted to install a fence after returning from vacation to find security footage of neighbors amusing themselves in their yard and free-roaming neighborhood dogs using their lawn as a bathroom. They called the township for advice and were told to either call 911 to complain about trespassers and roving dogs or to build a fence. They chose the latter. The couple researched historically compatible fences and decided to use an open, split-rail fence similar to fences at Bartram Gardens in Philadelphia. They hired an architect and a reputable fence company, submitted plans to the township and received a permit to build for the $6,500 fence. D’Onofrio said they spoke to Radnor officials about the fence posts being taller than the 4-foot height, but 99 percent of the fence is at that required height, he said. Also, the fence is in the front yard right-of-way, but that was also something they told township officials beforehand. Once the fence was built, the couple received a citation. Like many townships, Radnor relies on residents’ complaints as a method of zoning enforcement. The D’Onofrios met with Township Manager Robert Zienkowski and believed that he would be coming to visit their property, but instead they received a citation for damaged sidewalks — damage they believe was caused by the flooding and poor drainage on their street, which is a low point with water flowing in from Lancaster Avenue and County Line Road. The couple has hired a lawyer to deal with the township. “They approved something they are now saying is impermissible,” Mark D’Onofrio said. “In such a case, what is the remedy?”
Source: Daily Times; 7/12/2018

Montgomery County

Sanatoga Green project moving toward approval in Lower Pottsgrove
The $146 million Sanatoga Green mixed-use development project is making headway in the approval process in Lower Pottsgrove Township. A recent public notice announced that the sewer planning modules for the project are ready for public inspection and approval by the state. The development will be on 57 acres off Evergreen Road, near the entrance to the Costco and Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick. The plan calls for the construction of 490 housing units — comprised of 147 town homes starting at $275,000, and 343 apartments in 17 buildings — a 50,000-square-foot medical office building and a 108-room hotel. Developer Castle Caldecott LLC went before Lower Pottsgrove commissioners in 2014 to suggest a change in zoning for the tract to “gateway mixed use.” Lower Pottsgrove then approved preliminary site plan approval after the developers ensured that, after the first phase of townhouse construction moves forward, the second residential phase will not begin until building permits have been pulled for either of the two commercial elements of the plan. The developer will put up $375,000 in cash or a line of credit to ensure the sequence of construction remains in place. The project is still awaiting approvals from the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission for a change in water supplier, as well as a recommendation for final site plan approval from the township planning commission, which must then be approved by the Lower Pottsgrove Township Board of Commissioners.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/17/2018

North Wales draft 2040 comprehensive plan ready for public feedback
North Wales Borough Council voted to publicly advertise the draft North Wales Borough 2040 Comprehensive Plan for public feedback. The comprehensive plan is the newest version of a document spelling out the town’s goals and priorities for the next 20 years. Borough officials, staff and volunteers have been working on the plan, with the help of the Montgomery County Planning Commission, for two years. Four broad themes contained in the plan are: community character, economic development, transportation, and sustainability and resiliency. The draft plan can be found here. Council’s vote to adopt the draft plan starts the clock on the next 45-day public review period. The plan can be adopted after the public review period if no substantive changes are made.
Source: Times Herald; 7/13/2018

Worcester residents oppose proposed sale of open space
Worcester Township Manager Tommy Ryan recently presented a memorandum to the township board of supervisors recommending that “the township take advantage of the strong real estate market and complete the long-planned sale” of three parcels of open space along the Zacharias Creek Greenway. A preservation group is opposed to the proposed sale and development of the land. Friends of Worcester argue that the parcels have been designated as a “township park” and “public open space,” and were originally intended to be used as a future trail connection to Evansburg State Park. According to Ryan, the township purchased the parcels in 1986 with the intention to sell them as building lots and use the proceeds to acquire open space elsewhere in Worcester.
Source: Times Herald; 7/13/2018

Upper Providence sanitary sewer extension project progressing
Upper Providence Township will consider a planning module revision to the township’s sewage facilities plan for the Old State Road Sanitary Sewer Extension project. The project will extend public sewers to serve approximately 10 properties along the proposed sanitary sewer alignment on Old State Road between Hafner and Yeager roads. The average cost per property will be about $18,700 which includes the public regional sewer authority fee of $4,800. The property owner will also be liable for the costs of a plumbing contractor they must hire to make the connection from their home to the sewer lateral provided at the edge of the road. A 30-day public comment period on the project began on July 12. The planning module can be reviewed at the offices of Upper Providence Township, 1286 Black Rock Road, Oaks, during normal business hours. Comments should be directed to Timothy J. Tieperman, township manager, at the same address.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/12/2018

Philadelphia

Philadelphia has normal water infrastructure problems, not a crisis
When a broken water main sent 15 million gallons surging into Center City streets, public attention was riveted by scenes of pedestrians sloshing along and a cave-in that threatened to swallow the intersection of Juniper and Sansom. According to current and former water commissioners, Philadelphia does not have a water infrastructure crisis, despite those apocalyptic images. “We’ve had a number of breaks of this magnitude in the past decade,” said Howard Neukrug, who was water commissioner under Mayor Michael Nutter and is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “And it will happen again. This is common throughout the Northeast and Midwest, which has a lot of infrastructure very similar to what we have in Philadelphia.” Though the magnitude of this incident was unusual, leaking water mains are an almost everyday fact of life in Philadelphia, those familiar with the system said. There are 3,200 miles of pipes beneath the city, and the current five-year average is 267 breaks per every 1,000 miles. Vast stretches of Philadelphia’s water infrastructure are at least as old, if not older, than the main that broke July 3. Neukrug said that pipe laid in the 1880s and 1890s is “extremely durable” and still works fine. There are more likely to be problems with the pipes installed in the 1950s, when joints were made of less reliable materials, he said. Neukrug said Philadelphia leads the country in terms of determining which sections of pipe to replace. The costs associated with these replacements are high. All told, a complete replacement of the water system would require $7 billion. But the Philadelphia Water Department is entirely funded by local ratepayers, which makes it impossible to come up with even a substantial fraction of that money all at once.
Source: Plan Philly; 7/13/2018

Study finds there are 2 million parking spots in Philadelphia
A study released by the Research Institute for Housing America, a division of the Mortgage Bankers Association, found that Philadelphia has 2.1 million parking spots. That number is made up of spaces found in public parking garages, surface lots, on-street parking and private driveways. Although it may not seem that way to residents circling the block looking to park, there are nearly 1.4 parking spaces for every one of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million residents — about 3.2 spaces per household. According to Paul Chrystie, a City Planning Commission spokesperson, the city keeps no official or city-wide count of parking spaces. What that means, according to data scientist Eric Scharnhorst, is that cities often make planning decisions without knowing how much parking they have. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell recently revived a two-year-old bill that would require many developers to significantly increase the number of parking spaces they provide in the majority of Philadelphia’s zoning districts. In turn, developers and affordable housing advocates argue that requiring more parking could increase the cost of a development, make some projects financially impossible, or more likely, increase the housing costs of buyers and renters. A UCLA study from 2016 found that rent prices in American cities increase 17 percent when “free” parking was included at apartment developments. Click here to view the report.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/15/2018


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