NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Opportunity zones added to Realtors® Property Resource

Bucks County
Morrisville hears $100M redevelopment plan

Chester County
Affordable homes subject of 2020 Citizen Planners meeting

Delaware County
Clifton Heights sues Upper Darby schools 

Montgomery County
Lower Pottsgrove schedules sneak peek at new township building plans 

Philadelphia County
Why new houses in Philadelphia (and elsewhere) aren’t made of brick 
 

 

News Briefs Archive July 29, 2019

 

General News

State budget promises more funding for affordable housing projects
In Pennsylvania’s latest state budget, lawmakers increased a cap on money that can be transferred into the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE). The cap was raised from $25 million to $40 million per year. PHARE is funded through the realty transfer tax, Marcellus Shale impact fees and the National Housing Trust Fund. PHARE recently announced the recipients of about $51 million in funding, including many organizations in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Source: Penn Capital Star; 7/9/2019

PennDOT seeks public input on highway safety
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is seeking input on traffic safety and driving behaviors through its annual online Highway Safety Survey. PennDOT will use the feedback to better understand the attitude and actions of the public concerning a variety of driving behaviors. The survey is available on PennDOT’s website through Monday, Aug. 12. “Safety remains our top priority and we are grateful for the public’s continued engagement in making our roadways safer,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/24/2019

Bucks County

Sellersville to consider residential rental inspections
Sellersville Borough Council has scheduled a public hearing to consider a proposed ordinance that would allow for residential rental property inspections in the borough. The ordinance would repeal Chapter 116 of the borough code, “Rental Property,” and replacing it with Ordinance No. 728, titled “Residential Rental Units — Licensing and Inspection.” According to Borough Manager David Rivet, “The rental property inspection ordinance was prompted by discussion from the borough’s Revitalization Committee, which believed that certain landlords were not properly caring for their rental properties.” The proposed ordinance states that tenants will be prohibited from allowing people other than those identified on the lease from residing in the unit, and they will be obligated to maintain peaceful conduct. It will also require:

  • periodic inspections of rental properties (a minimum of once every three years)
  • a rental license from the borough
  • a property manager within a 30-mile radius
  • owners ensure only one family resides in each residential unit
  • property kept in good, safe condition
  • compliance with all applicable codes
  • owners must stay current on the payment of real estate taxes, water/sewer fees, and trash fees

Penalties include up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $1,000, plus court costs and attorney fees incurred by Sellersville. The text of the ordinance is available on the borough website. The public hearing is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 12, at 7 p.m. at Sellersville Borough Hall, 140 E. Church St.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/18/2019 

Solebury schedules ‘Forum on the Future of the Route 202 Corridor’
In June, Solebury Township supervisors reviewed a draft proposal to revamp the Logan Square area of the Route 202 corridor. The proposal included improvements to traffic flow on Route 202, but also a “vision” development along the corridor that included 667 new housing units, 123 hotel rooms, small cafes, retail anchors and a clock tower. Many residents were not happy. The supervisors issued a joint statement in response, stating, “[W]hile the effort to ‘get out in front of’ further development on Route 202 was — and is — the correct approach, the June 18 presentation was not effective in getting that across, as it led to a focus on a specific vision of structures — not the 202 corridor itself.” For that reason, the board will hold a “Forum on the Future of the Route 202 Corridor” on Tuesday, Aug. 20, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the township building, 3092 Sugan Road, to receive public input. The forum will follow the regular board meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Click here for more information.
Source: Bucks County Herald and The Intelligencer; 7/11/2019 

Newtown Township begins zoning plan review process
Newtown Township’s Joint Comprehensive Zoning Plan is up for its 10-year review and modification. The plan is a municipal jointure that includes Wrightstown and Upper Makefield townships, however at least $25,000 of the expected $50,000 cost of the review will be paid by Newtown, because it is the most populated. Newtown Township Manager Micah Lewis said grant money is available, but that will be handled at the county level, with each township having to sign off on an application. Township Planning Commission Chairman Allen Fidler advised the supervisors to seek public input on the plan updates. “Land use, traffic — all of those issues — are re-addressed every 10 years by the revisiting of the comprehensive plan,” Fidler said. The county planning commission expects that drafting and ratifying a new comprehensive plan will take a year.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/18/2019 

Lower Southampton struggles to restore trust
A 2016 corruption scandal continues to play out in Lower Southampton Township. District Judge John Waltman and two Lower Southampton officials — public safety director Robert Hoopes and constable Bernard Rafferty — were indicted on federal corruption charges. The men were accused of shaking down business owners seeking township contracts and laundering money they believed was from illegal drug sales. The township’s former solicitor, Michael Savona, pled guilty for lying to the FBI about how the men ran the township. The schemes ranged from fixing traffic tickets to extortion, with Waltman referring to the township supervisors as his “rubber stamp.” During his tenure, Waltman secured jobs for dozens of people from public works landscapers to township supervisors. Waltman, Hoopes and Rafferty admitted their guilt, and Waltman recently reported to prison, with the other two expected to go to prison later this summer. The township, working to restore the public trust, has hired a new manager, finance director and zoning officer. Chairman Ray Weldie, who entered local politics after the arrests, said: “To get over this idea that our entire township is corrupt, the faith in the integrity in the township has to be restored. And the only way to do that is to put in people the public trusts.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/19/2019

Chester County 

Kennett Township adopts plan to become leader in open space
Kennett Township officials have adopted an ambitious open space plan that substantially increases its land-preservation goals. The plan raises the township’s former open-space goal from 20% to 30%. Other goals are to increase the amount of land devoted to active and passive recreation by 10 acres each, and to create decision-making criteria to help township officials judge potential open-space acquisitions. The township has not had an open-space plan since the early 1990s, when it established the 20% goal. That plan was absorbed into a later comprehensive plan.
Source: Daily Local; 7/22/2019

Malvern Borough to consider adopting 2015 IPMC
Malvern Borough Council will consider adopting the 2015 edition of the International Property Maintenance Code. A proposed ordinance amending Chapter 153, Property Maintenance, of the borough code will be considered at a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Malvern Borough Hall, 1 E. First Ave.
Source: Daily Local; 7/23/2019

West Chester stormwater fee lawsuit moves forward
When West Chester Borough imposed a stormwater fee ordinance in 2017, West Chester University refused to pay. Saying the fee was a tax, the university took the position that it was exempt as part of the state higher education system. When West Chester Borough sued, the university sought to have the matter thrown out of court based on its tax-exempt status. The court ruled that the suit can move forward.
Source: The Mercury; 7/22/2019

Chester County receives $3M to support affordable housing
Housing programs in Chester County will receive $3.08 million through the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement fund. “These funds will allow our local organizations to continue providing their critical services, as well as expand in order to better serve our residents,” state Rep. Carolyn Comitta said in a press release. “Affordable housing is key to attracting and retaining the diverse population that makes Chester County a special place.” The grant money will be used to improve services addressing homelessness, housing affordability, and other related programs. According to the Chester County Department of Community Development, on any given night, 570 people experience homelessness in Chester County. The PHARE fund is managed by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and funds are sourced from Marcellus shale fees, realty transfer taxes and the national housing trust fund.
Source: Rep. Carolyn Comitta; 7/12/2019 and Pa. Housing Finance Agency; 7/2019

Delaware County

Realtors® meet with Upper Chichester Township officials   
A group of Realtors® met with Upper Chichester officials at the township building on July 22 to discuss real estate resources available from the municipality. The township representatives gave tips about use and occupancy applications, like how applications must be legible and will not be processed until the fee has been paid. Assistant Township Manager Barbara Kelley walked Realtors® through a new feature on the township website, MapLink, which provides detailed zoning information about every property in Upper Chichester. Kelley noted that connecting township officials and real estate professionals was instrumental in getting the word out about Maplink, and Upper Chichester’s documents and processes. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance worked with the township to provide the forum.
Source: Upper Chichester Township; 7/22/2019

Aqua enters takeover talks with DELCORA
The Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) has agreed to enter into a six-week negotiation period with Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater to explore a possible merger. DELCORA Executive Director Robert Willert said he has held preliminary meetings with Aqua, looking ways to defray maintenance costs for Delaware County customers. Willert noted that Aqua officials told him they were looking to expand their wastewater operation. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a National Compliance Initiative for sewer systems that combine stormwater and sewage water in highly populated areas where storms overwhelm the systems and cause them to flood above ground. As a result, systems such as DELCORA’s, have been mandated to draft a plan to fix such overflows. DELCORA officials submitted their preliminary draft to EPA in February and are awaiting feedback. The cost of these upgrades, including rebuilding parts of the system, are difficult for authority officials to quantify. Willert told the board it could cost $600 million over the next 25 years. Other estimates put it at $300 million. DELCORA was established in 1972 and treats wastewater for approximately 500,000 customers in 42 municipalities in Delaware and Chester counties.
Source: Daily Times; 7/17/2019

County approves plan to boost open space
Delaware County Council has launched a $10 million grant program for funding open space and recreation projects. “The new grant program, Delco Green Ways, will make funds available to municipalities for local open space and recreation projects throughout the county,” Council Chairman John McBlain said. “We established the open space funding with the borrowing that we did last year, and now it’s time to start pushing that money out to municipalities so that we can improve our green space and parks throughout the county.” Awards will be announced by Oct. 23. These grants can be used for conservation purposes, such as: fee simple acquisitions, and conservation or trail easements on private lands; enhancements for capital improvements to park and recreational facilities; connections, including construction of multi-use segments of the countywide trail network or of local multi-use trials; and professional services including comprehensive open space plans, feasibility studies, design and engineering, and permitting. The grants can only cover up to 25% of the total cost of a project and cap out at $100,000 for professional services or enhancements, and $500,000 for land acquisitions or connections. All grants require a local match from 15% to 50% of the total cost. In the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s 2011-2016 Open Space Inventory Comparison of nine counties in the Delaware Valley region, Delaware County was the second lowest with 12,675 acres in 2016. The lowest was Philadelphia with 12,414 protected acres that year.
Source: Daily Times; 7/11/2019

Chester Stormwater Authority gets $9.98M loan from state
The Stormwater Authority of the City of Chester has received a $9.98 million low-interest loan through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, or PennVEST, to fund the authority’s next phase of projects. The 20-year loan carries an interest rate of 1%. The money will cover a number of upcoming projects, the largest of which is improvement to inlets connected to the combined stormwater system managed by DELCORA, according to Rev. Horace Strand, the authority manager. The loan is the second source of major funding for the authority secured through PennVEST. The authority announced two low-interest loans totaling $10.8 million in April 2018. The first round of loans funded the authority’s five initial projects — Memorial Park green stormwater infrastructure; City Hall pavers; water quality onlet improvements; a rain garden at Eyre Park; and the Eyre Park greenway. The inlet improvements at that time entailed 300 of the city’s 1,700 inlets.
Source: Daily Times; 7/18/2019

Radnor says no to more bamboo
Joining other area municipalities in regulating the invasive plant, the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 to ban new bamboo plantings. Bamboo that is already planted will be grandfathered in but must not be allowed to spread to neighboring properties. Read more here.
Source: Daily Times; 7/7/2019

Montgomery County

Hobart’s Run offers home buyer incentive in Pottstown
The Hobart’s Run community in Pottstown offers a program to help home buyers cover closing costs on properties purchased as a primary residence. The “Hobart’s Run Homeownership Incentive Program” was launched July 18 by the Hobart’s Run Neighborhood Initiative. Applicants may be awarded a forgivable loan of $5,000 toward closing costs. Participants must be qualified as first-time home buyers who have not owned another home within the past two years, and must be moving from a rental situation in Pottstown into Hobart’s Run homeownership. Those interested in applying should send an email to hobartsrun.pottstown@gmail.com, or call Twila Fisher at 610-705-1016. Completed application packages are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis at Hobart’s Run, c/o 860 Beech St., Pottstown, PA 19464 or the e-mail address. View the Sanatoga Post article for more information.
Source: Sanatoga Post; 7/23/2019 

Norristown passes 5% amusement tax
Norristown Municipal Council approved a 5% amusement tax that will be collected from movie theaters, theaters, fairs and carnivals, the Elmwood Park Zoo and other venues starting Jan. 1, 2020. The amusement tax replaces a 10% tax that was on the books but not being collected. The reinstatement of an amusement tax was a recommendation from the National Resource Network, an organization that assists local governments in identifying challenges and implementing solutions geared toward sustained economic growth. A local task force, comprised of members of the business community, proposed alternative solutions and was “disappointed with the municipal council’s decision to reenact the amusement tax.” The task force was encouraged that council reduced the tax rate and delayed implementation until 2020. Borough Manager Crandall Jones said the tax will act as another source of revenue for Norristown, supplementing property taxes.
Source: Times Herald; 7/18/2019 

Pottstown Borough Authority discusses stormwater fee
A July 11 storm caused more than $1 million in damage to property in Pottstown Borough, prompting the Borough Authority to revisit the idea of charging a fee for managing stormwater. A stormwater fee is based on the amount of impervious coverage a property has — a higher coverage leads to more stormwater being sent into the system. In 2014, Pottstown adopted an ordinance that laid the groundwork for containing and infiltrating stormwater back into the ground before it reaches the streets and streams. The borough paid $56,000 for a “Stormwater Master Plan” to inventory the borough’s stormwater intakes, arches, outlets and sewer pipes, but has held off on taking the next step. Authority Board Chairman Jeff Chomnuk said in 2015, “I’m not anxious to be the first town in the area to start charging for stormwater.” He was concerned that it would hamper commercial investment. Authority officials also worry about a lawsuit. West Chester Borough in Chester County adopted a stormwater ordinance and West Chester University refused to pay, saying the fee was a tax and the university was tax exempt. West Chester Borough sued, and the university sought to have the case thrown out of court but the argument failed and the court recently ruled that the borough’s suit could move forward. Authority Manager Justin Keller said Pottstown is waiting to see how that lawsuit is resolved before moving forward.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/22/2019

Public information session planned for Conklin Recreation Center Creek Improvement Project
Representatives of Cheltenham Township and the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership will come to Conklin Pool, 15 Church Road, on Saturday, Aug. 3, from 2 to 4 p.m. to talk about a proposed green infrastructure project at Conklin Creek Recreation Center. The project will remove 225 feet of concrete channel through which the Jenkintown Creek tributary stream flows, and direct the creek into a meandering constructed wetland with a trail and meadow. Slowing down and cleaning stormwater runoff with natural plant material is the most effective way to improve waterways. The federal Clean Water Act requires municipalities to improve the health of their waterways. Cheltenham’s Pollution Reduction Plan, required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, includes this site as one of the projects to be completed in the next five years.  
Source: Cheltenham Township; 7/16/2019

Philadelphia

Judge orders city and schools to repay nearly $50M in tax revenue to commercial property owners
Ruling in one of the largest assessment challenges in Philadelphia’s history, a judge ordered the city and School District of Philadelphia to repay commercial property owners nearly $50 million, after finding that their properties were unconstitutionally targeted for revaluation due to “political pressure” to boost revenue. Senior Common Pleas Court Judge Gene Cohen said the city and district must repay the money collected in 2018 taxes to the owners of about 700 of the city’s most prominent and valuable office complexes, apartment buildings, and hotels — including One Liberty Place, Centre Square and the Bellevue Hotel. The reassessment was illegal, Cohen ruled, because commercial properties were revalued while residential assessments were left largely intact. “The desire and demand of City Council for revenue from a targeted reassessment of commercial properties was a substantial motivating factor,” he wrote. Cohen’s ruling nullified the 2018 assessments for the properties involved in the case and ordered that the city refund the difference between their 2017 and 2018 taxes. He set a refund deadline of July 2021. That amount includes property and use-and-occupancy taxes and totals up to $48 million, city spokesperson Mike Dunn said — excluding interest, which the judge also ordered the city to pay. Of that amount, $14 million would come from city real estate tax revenue and $34 million would be school district revenue from both real estate and use-and-occupancy taxes. The city is “very likely to appeal” the ruling, Dunn said. Lawyers for the city and district had argued during trial last month that repaying the taxes would harm their budgets. The district would likely have to make reductions in personnel, they said. Neither the city nor the district had set aside money for potential refunds.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/18/2019

Judge rules against Philly’s assessments of high-rise condos with tax abatement
In a case that involved a few of the city’s most prominent luxury condo buildings, a judge has ruled that Philadelphia’s method for assigning land values to nearly 300 condo units with 10-year tax abatements was improper and not credible. Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox ordered the city to refund taxes to condo owners involved in the case, who own units in two buildings on Rittenhouse Square and in the Residences at the Ritz. In the case of one unit in the 1706 Rittenhouse Square building, the ruling will reduce the 2019 tax bill by 70 percent, from $6,053 to $1,843. The case involved the city’s 2017 changes to the way it assigns value to the land underneath buildings, which significantly increased tax bills for many property owners with the 10-year abatement for new construction, who pay taxes only on the value of their land. Lawyers for the condo owners said the case could impact assessments and tax bills for new condos as they are built, because the ruling criticized the city’s method of assigning land values. The city is “considering its options moving forward,” said Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/24/2019



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