NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
NAR responds to administration proposal to reform Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

Bucks County
Bensalem approves 106 more townhouses at Waterside community 

Chester County
Embreeville Redevelopment zoning hearing postponed 

Delaware County
SEPTA upgrades Secane station

Montgomery County
New Hanover Town Center project raising concern 

Philadelphia County
Center City developers benefit the most from city’s tax abatement 

 

News Briefs Archive June 10, 2019

 

General News

Governor's commission seeks ideas for fair redistricting
A commission assembled by Gov. Wolf is soliciting advice on how to best tackle the upcoming redistricting process for state and federal legislative districts. Gerrymandering — the drawing of voting districts to favor a particular party — has been a top issue for voters and legislators after the state Supreme Court redrew Pennsylvania’s congressional district map last year. The redistricting process is set to begin in 2020, prompted by the new U.S. census. If you have a suggestion to share with the commission, use the online form.
Source: Philadelphia Magazine; 5/28/2019

Pennsylvania is the ‘broken’ link in effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay
A recent report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said that poor planning and a lack of funding have put Pennsylvania’s efforts to stop the flow of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay far behind its neighbors. Runoff from stormwater in growing urban and suburban areas and harmful fertilizer runoff from farms have polluted the bay for decades. In 2014, Pennsylvania, along with six other states and the District of Columbia, signed an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aimed at repairing the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. The EPA can impose consequences on any jurisdiction that fails to uphold its end of the agreement, and according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Pennsylvania tops that list. The Susquehanna River is the single largest tributary to the Bay, providing half of its total freshwater flow. The foundation found shortcomings in a state Department of Environmental Protection plan to reduce pollution in the watershed by 2025, saying it would only reduce pollution into the watershed by two-thirds. One solution would be for Pennsylvania to train farmers to implement best conservation practices — but that requires financial assistance that is in short supply, said Harry Campbell, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Pennsylvania. Read the DEP’s draft plan here. Public comments on the plan are being accepted until Friday, June 7.
Source: Penncapital-star.com; 5/29/2019

Bucks County

County to appeal federal jury’s $67 million verdict
A federal jury recently found that Bucks County “willfully” violated a state criminal records statue by acting with reckless disregard or indifference in disseminating protected criminal history information on its Inmate Lookup Tool from 2011 to June 2013. The class-action lawsuit ended with the jury awarding $1,000 to each of roughly 67,000 people who had been booked into the county jail from 1938 to 2013 — a total award of $67 million. Bucks county officials said they plan to appeal the verdict, stating, “We have always believed — and continue to believe — that the county’s inmate lookup tool did not violate the Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act, much less that the county willfully violated the act.”
Source: Philly.com; 5/30/2019

Tax increase for Quakertown Community School District
The Quakertown Community School Board approved a proposed final budget that includes a 2.7% tax increase for the 2019-2020 school year. The increase is the maximum allowed to the school district under the state’s Act 1 index and amounts to about $106 more in taxes for the average homeowner. School board member Kaylyn Mitchell was not happy about the tax increase but said it was necessary to avoid staff reductions and the elimination of programs. Property owners in the district can expect several more years of property tax increases after a long-range financial forecast showed total expenditures will outpace revenues through the 2023-2024 school year. The budget was scheduled to be finalized on Thursday, June 6.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 5/30/2019

Richlandtown to amend certificate of occupancy requirements
Richlandtown Borough Council will consider for possible adoption an ordinance amending, establishing and confirming the requirements, procedures and penalties for a use and occupancy certificate. A public hearing will be held on Tuesday, June 11, at 7 p.m. at Benner Hall, 1260 E. Cherry Road, Quakertown. The proposed ordinance defines terms pertinent to Act 133 — a recent amendment to the state’s Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act — including: minor violation, substantial violation, temporary access certificate, temporary use and occupancy certificate, and unfit for human habitation. The proposed ordinance also sets forth an application procedure, basic inspection criteria, types of certificates and penalties for failure to comply. A copy of the proposed ordinance is available for review at Richlandtown Borough offices.
Source: The Intelligencer; 5/31/2019

Upper Makefield to continue tree grant program
Upper Makefield Township supervisors voted to continue the municipal Tree Grant Program for 2019. Supervisors said they want to encourage sustainability and protect natural resources within the township. Upper Makefield will reimburse property owners up to $25 for each eligible tree planted with the maximum reimbursement per parcel of $300. According to the township, the tree grants are funded through contributions from local land developers and not tax dollars. They are limited in availability and will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Click here for more information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 5/30/2019

Warrington Township to discuss potential sale of water and sewer system
The Warrington Township Board of Supervisors will hold two work sessions to discuss the potential sale of the township’s water and sewer system. The work sessions will be held on Tuesday, June 11, at 2 and 7 p.m. at the township administration building, 852 Easton Road. The regular meeting will begin at 6 p.m. and continue after the work session.
Source: The Intelligencer; 5/29/2019

Chester County 

School taxes going up 1.8% in West Chester Area
West Chester Area School District school directors passed a final budget for the 2019-2020 school year of $261.8 million, an increase of about $8.4 million (3.3%) over 2018-2019. The budget includes a 1.8% tax increase for Chester County property owners (about $74 per average household) and a 1.1% increase for Delaware County property owners (about $52 per average household). The property tax millage rates for West Chester remain among the lowest in Chester County. The budget includes the planned utilization of $9.2 million from the district’s fund balance, leaving approximately $15.7 million in an undesignated fund balance. The differences in county average assessments result in formula difference that produce the differing tax rates.
Source: Daily Times; 5/30/2019                                                                                   

Chester County OKs clean energy financing program for commercial properties
Chester County commissioners recently approved a resolution calling for the county to participate in the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program (C-PACE), a clean energy financing program for commercial properties. C-PACE is a financial tool for commercial property owners to obtain low-cost, long-term financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation projects. C-PACE can facilitate a loan for a project by placing a voluntary lien on the property that repays the costs of the upgrades. “Chester County is the first county in the Southeastern PA region to adopt this program that will support family-sustaining jobs and the Chester County business community, as well as improve the sustainability of our built environment,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Michelle Kichline. The Sustainable Energy Fund will administer the program in Chester County and connect project developers to authorized contractors and lenders. Sustainable Energy Fund has lent money throughout Pennsylvania for such programs for two decades.
Source: Daily Local; 5/30/2019

Public invited to focus group meeting for new superintendent in KCSD
The Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) board is in the process of selecting a superintendent of schools and will hold focus groups to gather community input. The Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) will conduct a focus group for the community-at-large on Tuesday, June 11, at 7 p.m. at Kennett Middle School, 300 E. South St. CCIU will hold additional focus group sessions with parents, KCSD district administration and staff, and high school students. Information regarding all the focus groups can be found on the district’s website at www.kcsd.org. Community members who are unable to attend a focus group can send their comments to KCSDsuptsearch@cciu.org. Registration for the focus groups is appreciated but not required. Interested participants may register online at www.cciu.org/KCSD. In case of inclement weather, participants who register will be notified via email and telephone of cancellation.
Source: Daily Local; 5/30/2019

Ground broken for 175-unit luxury apartment complex in Kennett Township
Ground was broken for The Flats at Kennett, a four-story, 175-unit luxury apartment complex on a 14.4-acre tract on Millers Hill Road, very close to the Kennett Area YMCA. “This is a form of smart growth and it preserves the area’s natural beauty,” said Brad Mowbray, senior vice president and managing director of High Real Estate Group LLC, developer of the project. “By growing up instead of out, it reduces the environmental impact.” The complex will have 23 underground parking spaces, electric car charging stations, nearby footpaths and recreational open space. Completion of the project is expected next year. Richard Leff, vice chair of Kennett Township supervisors, said the apartments will be an asset to the township and increase the tax base. “The Flats will provide beautiful, comfortable apartments for young singles, new families, and even older folks looking to downsize and remain in the Kennett area,” Leff said.
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 5/29/2019

County to host public breakfast meeting on benefits of smart growth
Chester County 2020 is holding a public breakfast to discuss mixed-use zoning and smart growth strategies. “As we roam about the county, we hear a lot of interest in mixed-use, and ‘mixed-use-ish’ strategies, to manage growth and boost municipal revenues,” Chester County 2020 Chairman Jack Hannum said. “But we hear a lot of different ideas about what mixed-use really is, and some confusion about how to implement it.” The breakfast will include an overview of a mature, regional mixed-use project, a look at evolving mixed-use patterns in Chester County, and insights into the technical aspects of mixed-use projects. Scheduled panelists include Shannon Rossman, executive director of the Berks County Planning Commission, Mimi Gleason, West Whiteland Township manager, and Dr. Dorothy Ives Dewey, chair of the West Chester University Geography and Planning Department. The breakfast will be held on Thursday, June 20, from 7 to 8:45 a.m. at the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus Academic Building, 137 Modena Road, Coatesville. Attendance is limited, and reservations are encouraged. To register, go to www.cc2020.org. The cost is $25.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 5/29/2019

Delaware County

Clifton eyes zoning to fight school plan
Clifton Heights Borough Council unanimously adopted four amended ordinances tightening subdivision and land development in the town — the latest salvo in the town’s battle to fend off Upper Darby School District’s plan to build a new middle school on athletic fields. One ordinance, amending development in the Recreational Conservation District, where the Clifton Athletic Fields are located, removes the wording “a public school and school-related uses” as a use by right in the ordinance, changing it to conditional use. According to borough solicitor Frank Catania, the ordinances address the impact on the environment, eliminates ‘use by right’ by the school district, specifies building requirements and land development. The land development application submitted to the borough proposes a new middle school on the athletic fields. “This is part of the Upper Darby plan to reduce class sizes, modernize school buildings, eliminate the need to hold classes in trailers and help create stronger learning experiences for all Upper Darby students,” the district’s land development application said.
Source: Daily Times; 5/30/2019

School taxes going up 1.8% in West Chester Area
West Chester Area School District school directors passed a final budget for the 2019-2020 school year of $261.8 million, an increase of about $8.4 million (3.3%) over 2018-2019. The budget includes a 1.8% tax increase for Chester County property owners (about $74 per average household) and a 1.1% increase for Delaware County property owners (about $52 per average household). The property tax millage rates for West Chester remain among the lowest in Chester County. The budget includes the planned utilization of $9.2 million from the district’s fund balance, leaving approximately $15.7 million in an undesignated fund balance. The differences in county average assessments result in formula difference that produce the differing tax rates.
Source: Daily Times; 5/30/2019

Springfield OKs schools budget with 2.25% tax hike
Springfield School Board approved the 2019-2020 proposed preliminary budget of $86.8 million with a tax increase of 2.25%. A home at the median assessed value of about $146,500, and the proposed millage of 33.7229 will have a school tax bill of $4,941, $99 more than the current year. The final page of Executive Director Don Mooney’s presentation singled out an important factor in this increase, particularly relevant for taxpayers who focus on costs of the new high school. Of the $99 increase, $36 can be attributed to master plan debt service. “Our proposed final budget probably won’t change, although there are still some unknowns in revenues,” said Mooney, referring to no new figures on state funding with the governor’s budget not yet passed. “This is the smallest increase we’ve had in the last five years.” The final budget, annual tax levy and homestead/farmstead exclusion reimbursement of $186 (unchanged) will be on the board’s agenda at its Thursday, June 27, meeting. The approved final budget must be filed with the state by July 15.
Source: Daily Times; 5/29/2019

Lansdowne to amend zoning ordinance
The Borough of Lansdowne will conduct a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the zoning code, which will provide definitions for medical marijuana dispensaries and growers/processors. The amendment will be considered for adoption on Wednesday, June 19, at 7 p.m. at Lansdowne Borough Hall, 12 E. Baltimore Ave.
Source: Daily Times; 5/29/2019

Taxes going up in Ridley School District
A property owner with the average assessment of $100,000 in Ridley School District will pay an additional $56 in school taxes in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the proposed final budget recently approved by the school board. The projected expenditures in the budget includes $1.56 million from a portion of the district’s fund balance. The budget will be further discussed at the school board’s regular monthly meeting on Monday, June 10. Final adoption of the budget is scheduled for a special school board meeting on Monday, June 24.
Source: Daily Times; 5/29/2019

Montgomery County

Bridgeport to amend sewer ordinance
Bridgeport Borough Council will consider an ordinance amending Chapter 442, “Sewers,” at the council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 11, at 7:30 p.m. in Borough Hall, 63 W. Fourth St. The proposed amendment adds an article titled “Sewer Connection Maintenance Repair and Responsibility” that sets forth definitions pertaining to sewer system maintenance and repair responsibility. In summary, the borough will be responsible for all dedicated sanitary and combined sewer mains within the borough. Property owners will be responsible for the required maintenance and repairs to the property’s building sewer and sewer lateral, including: cleanout vent shall be free from roots, grease deposits and other solids which may impede the flow or obstruct the transmission of waste; all joints shall be tight, and all pipes shall be sound to prevent exfiltration by waste or infiltration by groundwater or stormwater; it shall be kept free from any structural defects, cracks, breaks or missing portions, and the grade shall be uniform without sags or offsets; it shall have a cleanout/vent in accordance with the then-current Borough Plumbing Code and be located at or near the property line or at the roadway right-of-way or sewer main easement limit. All cleanouts shall always be securely capped in accordance with the then-current Borough Plumbing Code.
Source: Times Herald; 5/31/2019

Hatboro library referendum win margin grows after recount
Hatboro voters were the only Montgomery County voters facing a referendum on the ballot in the May primary election. The referendum called for a 0.55 mill tax that would be dedicated to funding the Union Library of Hatboro, which could generate about $212,600 in annual funding for the library. Those in favor of the referendum said the dedicated tax provides a more sustainable funding solution for the library. Opponents bemoan the addition of another tax, regardless of the benefits. Of the 7,400 residents in Hatboro, more than 1,000 cast ballots, and an initial count pointed to a 14-vote victory for library backers. However, a recount was started after poll workers noticed that some of the ballots were not being counted properly due to a “programming error” made by a technician from the vendor, said county spokesperson John Corcoran. County officials said the recount finished with a 724-287 vote approving the library tax, though that margin is unofficial until certified by the state.
Source: Intelligencer; 6/4/2019

Montgomery Township manager to retire
Montgomery Township Manager Larry Gregan has announced his intention to retire at the end of the year, and township officials are starting to search for a successor. Gregan has been with the township since 2007, when he was hired as finance director. He took over as manager in 2010. Since then, Gregan has overseen the design and construction of the township’s community and recreation center, worked with developers and residents, and maintained a balanced budget for the township. Details of the search process will be posted on the township website.
Source: The Reporter; 5/28/2019

Planners to hold webinar to introduce county ‘Complete Streets’ policy
The Montgomery County Planning Commission (MCPC) and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) will be offering a free webinar to introduce interested municipal officials, design professionals and citizens to Montgomery County’s proposed Complete Streets policy initiative and to discuss how it may affect local roadway design in communities. Complete Streets are streets designed for everyone. They take into account all ages and abilities, and provide safe use for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders. MCPC, working with a host of public, nonprofit and industry leaders, is developing a complete streets policy for county-owned roads, bridges and facilities. The policy — one of the first of its kind for a county government in Pennsylvania — will direct the county to incorporate Complete Streets principles into its own projects as well as advocate for them when working with partner agencies on their projects, whether public or private. The webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, June 26, at 1 p.m. Click here to register.
Source: MCPC; 6/4/2019

Philadelphia

Register of Wills candidate wants to fight fees that lock people out of homeownership
Tangled titles can lock families out of their homes or inherited properties, sometimes permanently. Without a clear title, families can find themselves robbed through deed theft, evicted by mortgage companies or unable to claim property passed down by a relative. The issue affects an estimated 22,000 Philadelphians. Particularly vulnerable are families without the money to afford so-called probate fees associated with transferring inherited property. Tracy Gordon, Philadelphia’s Democratic candidate for Register of Wills, an obscure city office charged with collecting these fees, has said that probate fees are one of the main reasons she ran for office. “I don’t believe people should lose their homes over a fee,” she said. The fees faced by many families are comparatively small, often running $400 to $500, but they can turn into a major financial barrier, according to Michael Froehlich, an attorney for Community Legal Services. He said many families living in poverty are not able to come up with the money needed to take legal ownership of property so soon after a loved one has passed away. Although probate fees are established by state law, Froehlich believes the Register of Wills could establish a fee waiver program for properties with low monetary value or establish a fund to internally pay off courts on behalf of indigent clients. Gordon said she’s committed to making the office more transparent consulting with experts to make the city’s estate policies more “probate friendly.”
Source: Plan Philly; 5/30/2019

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson pushes ban on bay windows
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents much of South Philadelphia, introduced a bill to ban balconies and bay windows across Point Breeze and Grays Ferry. The two architectural features would still be allowed outside of those two neighborhoods, but, according to the bill, the distance from which they can project from a building would continue to be regulated. Johnson’s legislation comes amid unprecedented change in his district, which stretches from the fast-gentrifying neighborhoods of Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze to areas farther south and west, including the Navy Yard and Eastwick. Thousands of new rowhouses have been built, adding taller and showier structures to older and modest rowhouse blocks. The boxy, bump-out bay windows that Johnson aims to legislate have become a well-known architectural feature of Philadelphia’s construction boom. For some homeowners in the market for newly constructed homes, balconies and bump-out bay windows offer two things that a traditional rowhouse can’t: additional space and light. Development tensions have become especially pronounced in South Philadelphia, where the population has grown wealthier and whiter in recent years. Graduate Hospital saw its average income rise from about $60,000 in 2006 to nearly $91,500 in 2017. The neighborhood’s African American population has plummeted from roughly 80% in 1990 to 33% in 2014. Development tensions were viewed as a central issue in the 2nd District primary.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/28/2019

Officials have no clue when the Philly courts website will be fixed
On May 21, as a “precautionary measure” against potential malware, Philadelphia’s First Judicial District halted its electronic filing system, placed email accounts on lockdown and shuttered its website without so much as a redirect message. The district houses the Court of Common Pleas, Municipal Court and Traffic Court. The suspension of these online services has frustrated attorneys, plaintiffs and even people trying to report for jury duty, and no one seems to have a clue as to when a fix might arrive. The court’s IT department is looking into the issue, according to spokesperson Gabriel Roberts, who said the city’s Office of Information Technology is also helping troubleshoot. Over the past week, the website has also delayed courtroom proceedings in cases where judges were relying on electronic briefs to prepare for hearings. The courts are directing everyone to file their documents in person.
Source: Billy Penn; 5/29/2019



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