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 27, 2020

 

General News

Big banks ask HUD not to weaken anti-discrimination rule
The country’s four biggest banks are asking the Trump administration to delay plans to weaken a regulation meant to curb racial injustice. Executives from Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) not to rewrite requirements that ensure they’re not accidentally discriminating against Black and Latino customers in their mortgage businesses. The proposed rule at issue governs the concept of “disparate impact,” in which a practice by a lender or housing provider creates an unequal playing field, even if unintentionally. Policies that have a disparate impact on disadvantaged groups are illegal under the Fair Housing Act of 1968. HUD’s proposal would make it easier for banks to use algorithms and artificial intelligence to market, underwrite and price home loans without worrying whether those calculations accidentally discriminated against disadvantaged groups. It would spare the banks from fines and legal fees by effectively reducing the number of lawsuits and government enforcement actions against them. Civil rights activists have been speaking in opposition to the proposed rule since it was introduced two years ago, with the banks more recently joining the fray. HUD officials have given no indication that the agency plans to halt its plans to make the proposed rule final. Read more here.
Source: New York Times; 7/16/2020

DCNR seeks public input on state forests
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is asking for public input in a planned online survey to help the department plan the future for state forestlands in Pennsylvania. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. Stakeholders, outdoors enthusiasts, and others who visit and enjoy the more than 2.2 million acres of state forestlands will be asked to weigh in how they use and value state forests. Survey responses will help shape DCNR’s strategic plan for the Bureau of Forestry and guide the department’s leadership in forest management and conservation on both public and private lands in urban and rural areas. The survey will be open until Aug. 31. Click here for the Public Survey on Forestry Strategic Plan.
Source: DCNR; 7/2020

Bucks County

SRA survey: Tell us your experience working in Falls Township
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance (SRA) wants to hear from Realtors® who have conducted business recently in Falls Township. “Falls has undergone a lot of administrative changes in the past year, and we had hoped to see improvements there,” SRA president Jamie Ridge said. “Unfortunately, we continue to hear very concerning stories from our members about basic government functions related to real estate.” The survey responses will provide a broader view of the situation in Falls to help the SRA craft an appropriate response to the ongoing issues. The online survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Participants’ names will not be shared with the township. Complete the survey on the SRA website by Aug. 31.

Warminster ratepayers get free water; reduction in rates
Warminster Municipal Authority will use a $2.1 million state grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to make water free for ratepayers this quarter, and reduce rates with the remaining funds in the next quarter. The average customer pays about $108 quarterly, which includes a $30 service charge. The grant does not cover the service charge. The grant is part of ongoing efforts to remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in Warminster, Warrington and Horsham. Ratepayers in all three towns have been footing the bill for access to safe drinking water, while officials at every level of government continue to pressure the military to pay for remediation efforts. Warminster and other area providers have also applied for additional grants through a recently created authority, the Military Installation Remediation and Infrastructure Authority, which was created this year following a new law introduced by state Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151). The law created a way to use state tax dollars to pay for various water remediation efforts, and then pursue reimbursement from the federal government for the state funds. The authority’s general manager, Tim Hagey, said the grant “couldn’t have come at a better time” due to the economic hardships many face due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/21/2020

Pennridge School District property tax rebate program information
In September 2019, the Pennridge School Board approved a property tax rebate program for certain homeowners. The program is based on the existing Pennsylvania Property Tax and Rent Rebate program, and Pennridge homeowners must qualify for the state rebate program to qualify for the district rebate program. Applicants must be homeowners with a household income of not more than $35,000 annually. They must be 65 years of age or older, or be a widow or widower aged 50 years of age or older, or be permanently disabled and 18 years of age or older. Click here for more information about the program.
Source: Pennridge School District

Bucks to use some CARES funding to promote tourism, support economic assistance
Bucks County Commissioners recently voted to give a $3.8 million boost to the county’s tourism industry. The unanimous vote for funding for Visit Bucks County, the official tourism promotion agency, was the largest of several appropriations made by the commissioners from the $109 million the county has received through the federal CARES Act to help it through the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioner Bob Harvie said the tourism funding will be used to promote tourism to residents in Bucks and neighboring communities, since many tourists now are not traveling far. The commissioners also voted to provide $420,000 for Bucks County Community College to provide training opportunities for those economically impacted by the pandemic.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/16/2020

Chester County 

West Whiteland gets $940K in funding for Ship Road project
West Whiteland has been awarded a $940,000 state grant that will be used to create a couplet for Ship Road at the intersection of Business Route 30 and to add a 10-foot-wide multimodal trail. The present location of Ship Road will become northbound only, and a southbound leg will be added. The grant is one of 27 highway, bridge, transit, and bike and pedestrian projects in 23 counties that were selected for $30.2 million in funding through the state’s Multimodal Transportation Fund. “This project will bring a long-lasting improvement to a very busy intersection,” state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19) said. The new public trail will complete most of the planned connection between the Chester Valley Trail north of Ship Inn and the Chester Valley Trail extension planned for the out-of-service freight rail line south of the Exton Bypass. Read more about the project and view illustrations on West Whiteland’s website: What is the Ship Road Couplet?
Source: Daily Local; 7/16/2020

Chesco assessment roll now available; appeals due by Aug. 3
The 2021 assessment roll for properties in Chester County is now open for public inspection in the Chester County Assessment Office, 313 W. Market St., Suite 4202, West Chester, during regular business hours. Any person desiring to appeal an assessment should file with the board of assessment appeals by Monday, Aug. 3. The assessment office can be reached at 610-344-6105.
Source: Daily Local; 7/17/2020

Homelessness declining in Chester County, report says
A new report found that 522 people were identified as experiencing homelessness in Chester County in the early hours of Jan. 23. The number represents a decrease of 23% over five years. The report was compiled by the Chester County Department of Community Development and the Decade to Doorways partnership, and used data from the Point in Time Count, a national effort mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of the 522 individuals experiencing homelessness on the night of the 2020 count, 499 men, women, and children were housed in emergency or transitional shelters. Of those 499, 203 were veterans at the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus. The street count found 23 individuals who were unsheltered, sleeping in cars, tents and other places not meant for human habitation. These individuals were found in some of Chester County’s urban centers, including Phoenixville, Malvern, West Chester, Kennett Square, Oxford and Coatesville.
Source: Daily Local 7/17/2020

More Mariner East pipeline-related sinkholes in the region
Sinkholes and land subsidence have developed alongside Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline construction in West Whiteland Township. About half a dozen sinkholes along the pipeline’s path began appearing June 13, close to active pipelines carrying natural gas liquids, a pipeline valve station and the Chester Valley Trail, which was temporarily closed. Cracks were visible on the Business Route 30, impacting traffic, according to a July 17 statement from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). The PUC launched an investigation involving engineers and experts from the Safety Division of the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement. “No active pipelines were exposed as a result of the subsidences, and engineers for the Safety Division continue to closely monitor the situation,” the PUC statement said. The PUC also reported that the locations have been stabilized with grout, and Sunoco is performing ground-penetrating radar analysis three times per day on the roadway and the Chester Valley Trail. The under-construction Mariner East 2 pipeline would carry highly volatile fluids 350 miles from Marcellus shale sites in West Virginia, Ohio and western Pennsylvania to the refinery in Marcus Hook for overseas production of plastics. Opponents of the pipeline say it poses serious safety risks to people and property. In early 2018 sinkholes developed on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland, leading the PUC to halt construction and the operation of the nearby Mariner East 1 pipeline. At the time, the PUC said it could be “catastrophic” if the exposed pipeline leaked and led to an explosion.
Source: WHYY; 7/17/2020

Delaware County

SRA survey: Tell us your experience working in Upper Darby Township
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance (SRA) wants to hear from Realtors® who have conducted business recently in Upper Darby Township. “With the recent passage of a sewer lateral inspection, Upper Darby’s use and occupancy resale process has become more complex and expensive,” SRA president Jamie Ridge said. “Since that time, we’ve heard even more stories about township staff who won’t schedule U&O inspections or in some cases don’t even respond to our members’ applications, calls and emails.” The survey responses will provide a broader view of the situation in Upper Darby to help the SRA craft an appropriate response to the ongoing issues. The online survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Participants’ names will not be shared with the township. Complete the survey on the SRA website by Aug. 31.

Wolf appoints receiver for Chester City
Gov. Tom Wolf has appointed a receiver for the City of Chester. Michael T. Doweary assumes the role after years of the state warning the city it would be placed under receivership if its finances were not balanced. "There is no one clear answer on a way out," Doweary wrote in an open letter to the community. "I do not have any preconceived ideas about actions to take, and everything is on the table. My decisions will be made based on the answer to this question: Is it in the best interest of Chester residents?" Doweary previously served as business administrator for the city of York from 2013 to 2018. From 2018 through this year, he worked at Capital Region Water, Harrisburg's municipal water system. Under Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, Chester has crafted a string of balanced budgets, but the mayor has said the city remains in "dire straits" particularly in funding police and fire department pensions. Chester is the only municipality in Pennsylvania currently in receivership. Read more here.
Source: Daily Times; 7/19/2020

Upper Darby to beef up code enforcement in ‘beautification’ effort
Upper Darby has rolled out a beautification program meant to clean up neighborhoods and ease the job of public works and public safety employees. According to a statement from Mayor Barbarann Keffer, township employees will be watching to ensure that: trash is contained in trash cans; grass is not too high and shrubbery does not extend over the right-of-way; discarded mattresses are wrapped in bags; and house numbers are visible. Residents will receive an initial warning of violation notice to encourage them to address the issue within 48 hours, after which tickets will be issued if the violation has not been addressed. Problems that take longer than 48 hours to fix, such as sidewalks and common driveways, will be handled by inspectors in conjunction and communication with residents. In early July, some tickets were issued without warning “in an abundance of enthusiasm on the part of our inspectors,” Keffer said. “Those tickets will be dismissed and refunds sent to those who paid their tickets.” At the same time, the public works and code enforcement staff will work in rotating “focus zones” to evaluate and upgrade township infrastructure in a proactive way. Street signs, storm drains, painted street markings and other issues will be examined, then repaired or replaced if necessary.
Source: Upper Darby Township; 7/10/2020

Chadds Ford may vote Aug. 5 on proposed ‘good neighbor’ ordinance
Chadds Ford Township supervisors may vote at their Wednesday, Aug. 5, meeting on a proposed “good neighbor” property maintenance ordinance, according to a notice on the township website. The intention is to establish a property maintenance code "that adequately protects public health, safety and welfare" and includes "a variety of minimum level maintenance requirements for the exterior elements of all existing buildings,” including residences. Supervisors have said that the code would not involve municipal inspectors entering private residences. The draft ordinance addresses sidewalks and driveways, and vegetation like bamboo. It also addresses pest infestations and inoperable motor vehicles and boats. Read more and view the full draft ordinance on the township website.
Source: Chadds Ford Township; 7/2020

Montgomery County

Lower Frederick to consider referendum for open space funding
Lower Frederick Township supervisors will consider a proposed ordinance authorizing a ballot referendum on whether to add an additional tax on Earned Income to raise revenue for the purposes of securing and maintaining open space benefits. The meeting will be held Tuesday, July 28, at 7 p.m. Zoom meeting details can be found on the township website. Public participation and comment will be allowed, and the Zoom platform allows participation both by video and regular telephone. A copy of the proposed ordinance may be examined at the township building.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/21/2020

Perkiomen Valley School District property tax rebate program information
In February, the Perkiomen Valley School Board approved a revised property tax rebate program that will see a discount of up to $195 for certain homeowners and renters. To qualify for this discount, applicants must have a household income of no more than $35,000 annually and be 65 years of age or older, or be a widow and widower aged 50 years of age or older, or be permanently disabled and 18 years of age or older. Click here for more information about the program and answers to frequently asked questions.
Source: Perkiomen Valley School District

Plan maps out Keim Street corridor in Pottstown
Since January 2019, planners have been looking at the Keim Street corridor in Pottstown with an eye toward creating an "overlay zoning district," that would allow for other kinds of development in addition to the heavy industrial zoning that makes up the area around the former Bethlehem Steel site. The former plant property is occupied by numerous tenants, but there is room for more, said Brian Olszak, a senior planner with Montgomery County Planning Commission. "It's an important gateway, especially when the bridge is re-opened," Olszak said. The first phase of the Keim Street overlay envisions multi-use buildings up against the street, copying in style and materials an existing office building, and would deal almost exclusively with the area between the railroad tracks that cross Keim Street with a dilapidated bridge in the north and the tracks that cross the road at grade in the south. The second phase is more ambitious — with an eye toward realigning Keim Street to square up with where the bridge connects to Industrial Highway — a plan Olszak said is “aspirational” but “not mandatory.” Click here for the full article from the Pottstown Mercury.
Source:  Pottstown Mercury; 7/6/2020

North Penn to buy property adjacent to high school
The North Penn School Board voted unanimously to purchase a 13-acre property adjacent to North Penn High School. The property is located on Snyder Road just north of the high school. There are five 165-foot-tall radio antennae, one cell tower and a brick building resembling a house on the land. The brick building was the home of WNPV Radio, a local news station found on the dial at 1440 AM and 98.5 FM from October 1960 until April 30, 2020, when the station went off-air for the final time citing the poor economy and reduced support from local businesses. Superintendent Curt Dietrich said, "We did our due diligence to evaluate that property, and what uses it might provide for the North Penn School District."
Source: The Reporter; 7/19/2020

Philadelphia

Affordable housing complex proposed in Point Breeze
A nonprofit developer wants to build an affordable housing complex of 33 rental apartment and rowhouse units on what is now city-owned land in South Philadelphia’s Point Breeze area. The Women’s Community Revitalization Project, based near Kensington, was approved through a vote last week by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to buy the tract at Reed and South Capital Streets, west of South 20th Street, for a nominal fee to build what it is calling the Mamie Nichols Townhomes. The project is to be completed under an ownership structure known as a community land trust, which caps the potential markup on the rental complex if it is ever resold so that the units remain affordable to low-income renters. “The Mamie Nichols Townhomes are important in Point Breeze, where affordable rental housing is disappearing, to ensure that long-term residents get to stay in their community,” said the organization’s president Nora Lichtash. City council must also approve the deal. Click here for more information about the Women’s Community Revitalization Project.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/16/2020

Waterfront park in Bridesburg moving forward
Organizers of a planned 10-acre park along the waterfront in Philadelphia’s Bridesburg section say they completed the fundraising needed to begin construction of the long-awaited project next year. The Riverfront North Partnership is overseeing planning and construction of the project with Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department. The park, which will be owned by the city, has been a dream for residents since it was conceived in 2015. It will have riverfront views, play areas, parking and a restroom. Eventually, the park will connect to an existing 2.2-mile trail along Delaware Avenue from Allegheny Avenue to Orthodox Street. Ultimately, Riverfront North Partnership’s goal is an 11-mile stretch of parks and trails along the Delaware River from Port Richmond to Torresdale.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/21/2020

 
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