Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Biden administration extends forbearance and foreclosure protections
Big developments move forward in Bucks
Phoenixville to consider repeal of per capita tax
Media’s open space, parks and recreation survey closes soon
Lower Merion ranked among best places to live and work from home
‘Once-in-a-generation’ anti-poverty plan sends $4.5M to community groups
Teams legislation introduced
A bill that would amend the Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act to define "teams" was introduced this week. Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-Bucks), a past PAR president, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1572. A PAR presidential advisory group (PAG) has studied the issue and discussed the issue for two years before making recommendations regarding real estate teams. The PAG determined that "teams" and "team leaders" need to be defined in RELRA in order to protect consumers and provide clear guidance as to the supervision of these teams. Because there is currently no definition of teams provided in RELRA, they are operating without standard guidance. Teams have become more prevalent in the real estate industry, seeing a 115% increase in the number of transactions from 2011 to 2017.
Source: Pennsylvania Association of Realtors; 6/7/2019
Pennsylvania cyber charter schools fare poorly in report
The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), based at Stanford University, released a new study supplying the latest data in Pennsylvania charter school performance covering the years 2013-17. The researchers looked at charter school students and tried to find students in nearby traditional public schools who are their “virtual twins” by considering age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, English language ability, and special education status. The CREDO researchers then compared the test-score growth of charter school students with their “twins” to see if the charter school is making a difference. Four key takeaways from the report found: students in charter schools did about as well in reading but fared worse in math; cyber charter schools are dragging the entire sector down; some brick-and-mortar charter schools are showing promise, especially charters in urban areas that have been effective at boosting reading scores; and the charter school problem may be more related to how Pennsylvania implements its charter school policy rather than with the charter school concept as a whole. The middling results of charter schools come at a cost. Taxpayers spend over $1.5 billion each year on charter schools, and some studies suggest increased charter enrollment creates a financial burden for local school districts. Click here for the full article.
Source: Whyy.org; 6/6/2019
Central Bucks $342 million budget holds the line on taxes
Central Bucks School District’s Director of Finance Brian Loftus recently presented the final budget for the 2019-2020 school year. The proposed final budget is balanced at $342,248,613 without increasing taxes. The school district could have raised taxes up to the state’s 2.8 percent Act 1 index, but proposed a 0 percent real estate tax increase. If finalized with a millage rate of 124.1, it will make the fifth straight year (and the sixth out of the last seven) that the school board approved a balanced budget with no property tax increase. A homeowner with a property assessed at $40,000 can expect a property tax bill of $4,964. If the property is enrolled in the homestead exemption program, the total tax bill for the same property will be about $4,758.37. Click here for the budget documents.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 6/6/2019
New Hope-Solebury budget includes tax increase
The proposed final $42 million budget for the 2019-2020 school year in the New Hope-Solebury School District includes a 2.9 percent tax increase. The proposed budget is balanced with no money to be taken from the fund balance. Click here for budget documents. The Board of School Directors of the New Hope-Solebury School District intends to adopt a Final Budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year at the public meeting scheduled for Monday, June 24, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. in the Upper Elementary School LGI Room, 186 West Bridge Street, New Hope, PA 18938. The Proposed Final Budget is available for inspection and copying at the School District Administrative Offices located at 180 West Bridge Street, New Hope, PA 18938.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 6/6/2019
County towns differ on ‘agritainment’ rules
Bucks County boasts a history of farming that dates back centuries, but as farming has evolved to include a variety of entertainment functions centered on the farms, municipalities differ on how to handle such “agritainment.” Hilltown Township is currently in an ongoing legal battle with a farm that is fighting a township order to shut down many of its popular events. Hilltown says the events exceed what is allowed on a rural-residential property such as a farm. Neighboring Bedminster Township has no such prohibitions, and Kevin Roberts, the co-owner of Durham Hill Farm wants to be sure it stays that way by drafting a measure that would permit agritainment uses on township farms. Although the Roberts’ have already been approved to host events on their farm, they feel local farms should be able to host events, such as farm-to-table dining, corn mazes, and hay rides, that provide farmers an extra source of revenue. The Bedminster proposed ordinance would allow farmers to make wine and spirits from their own crops, open farm or gift shops on their property, and host events ranging from Christmas tree cuttings and petting zoos to weddings and concerts. The events must not significantly alter the farm’s use or the rural character of the neighborhood.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/7/2019
Public comment period for New Britain Township Pollutant Reduction Plan
The public comment period is open for New Britain Township’s Pollutant Reduction Plan (PRP) for Neshaminy Creek. The plan outlines the measures the Township intends to implement to reduce certain pollutants discharged from the Township's municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) within the watershed. The plan includes calculations of the existing pollutant loading, the minimum reduction required, and a selection of Best Management Practices (BMPs) intended to achieve the minimum required reduction. The Township is soliciting written comments on the plan. Interested persons may submit written comments during the 30-day period of June 7 through July 15, 2019. The plans may be reviewed during this comment period at New Britain Township 207 Park Avenue, Chalfont, PA 18914 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or on the Township website homepage http://newbritaintownship.org. Written and verbal questions and comments will be accepted at a public meeting on July 15, 2019 at 7 p.m. at New Britain Township Administrative Office. Comments must be submitted in writing to the address above (Attn: Township Manager) or by email at email@example.com and must include originators name and address. Comments submitted by fax will not be accepted.
Source: The Intelligencer; 6/10/2019
Smart growth topic of June 20 forum
Municipalities utilizing mixed-use zoning and smart growth strategies can grow revenues while respecting preservation goals. That will be the topic of a Chester County 2020 and Citizen Planners meeting on June 20 to discuss the important issue. “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 Jock 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 Chester County 2020 breakfast meeting is designed to clear away the confusion. All Chester County 2020 programs are designed to provide decision-makers with reliable information to facilitate informed civil discourse. The event will take place from 7 a.m. until 8:45 a.m. at the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus Academic Building, 137 Modena Road, Coatesville. 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. Attendance is limited and reservations are encouraged. To register, go to http://www.cc2020.org/shop/. The cost is $25.
Source: The Mercury; 6/3/2019
Route 352 and King Road intersection discussed
The Boards of Supervisors of East Whiteland Township and East Goshen Township held an informational meeting at Immaculata University regarding the intersection at Route 352 and King Road. McMahon Associates presented alternatives for reducing the congestion. View the presentation here.
Source: East Goshen Township; 6/6/2019
Phoenixville Board eyes budget with 2.23% tax hike
When the Phoenixville School Board votes on setting the new tax rate, it will be based on a budget that was approved last month and will raise property taxes by 2.23 percent. The budget includes money for full-day kindergarten, which will be implemented for the first time in the coming school year. For the average residential property in the district, which is assessed at $135,000, the budget will represent an annual increase of $92 over the current average school tax bill of $4,120, according to Christopher Gehris, the district’s director of finance. The tax hike of 2.23 percent is less than the Act 1 index of 2.3 percent, the maximum tax hike allowed by the state without a public referendum. No reserve funds were used to balance the budget, according to Gehris.
Source: The Mercury; 6/7/2019
Oxford to consider historic district ordinance
Oxford Borough Council will consider an ordinance amending Chapter 12 of the borough code relating to the historic district. The amendment provides that no permanent sign or other structure within the Oxford Borough Historic District may be constructed, altered, or otherwise changed in whole or part, nor may the exterior architectural character of any structure be altered, where such construction, alteration, or change necessitates a building permit, demolition permit or sign permit, unless such proposed action is determined to be in compliance with the applicable terms of this chapter. The amendment will be considered for enactment at a meeting on Monday, June 17, 2019, at 7:00 p.m. to be held at the Oxford Senior Center, 12 East Locust Street, Oxford, Pennsylvania.
Source: Daily Local; 5/31/2019
Delco puts spotlight on opportunity zones
Delaware County Council and the county Redevelopment Authority have launched an initiative for Qualified Opportunity Zone investment in the county. The opportunity zones were created as part of the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to provide incentive for private investment in targeted census tracts. The incentive allows taxpayers with capital gains to invest them in equity funds for business development in the zones with deferred, or potentially complete forgiveness of, federal taxes on gains from the investment. Opportunity zone designation fell to each state’s governor, with the Wolf administration designating six census tracts in the county. Four in the southern section cover Chester for the length of the city bounded by the Delaware River to West Sixth Street; the Central Business District and central city from Madison to Kerlin streets and Sixth Street to Interstate 95; and the boroughs of Trainer and Marcus Hook. In the eastern section of the county, two zones cover the Baltimore Avenue corridor of Clifton Heights and Lansdowne. “I think it’s a valuable tool that could very well be the catalyst for finally getting this development done, because you can bring investors in that are going to save money,” said Pat Killian, director of the Delaware County Commerce Center.
Source: Daily Times; 6/1/2019
Upper Darby council eyes repaving of 42 miles of back alleys
Upper Darby Township council discussed a Neighborhood Reinvestment Initiative that would include paving private rear alleyways. According to Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Judge Jr., $2.2 million of unencumbered money will be transferred from various departments within the township to fund the alleyway resurfacing, the 2019 street resurfacing project and traffic calming on Owen Avenue between Garrett Road and Marshall Road. Mayor Thomas Micozzie announced 1.7 miles of alleys will be repaved this year with plans to continue the project for five years, repaving a total of 42 miles of residential alleyways. Repaving driveways has been a thorn in the side of many council members due to the numerous complaints lodged by residents. Repaving common alleys has always been the responsibility of all the owners on the block. “The dilapidated condition of some of the residential alleyways in our neighborhood is one of the top issues I hear from residents,” Micozzie said, a statement shared by members of council. “The most common complaints I receive are from residents who use the alleyway to access the rear of their homes for parking, but have neighbors who fail to maintain their respective portion of the alley.” Two alleyways in each of the seven districts, a total of 14, will be earmarked for repaving this year, with plans to continue the program for five years, completing 14 alleyways each year at a cost of approximately $200,000 annually.
Source: Daily Times; 6/7/2019
Over this past week, residents in Radnor, Concord, Newtown Square, Chadds Ford, and Bethel should have received data mailers related to Delaware County’s countywide reassessment. If you did not receive your data mailer, and you live within these municipalities, please visit The Government Center at 201 West Front St. Media, PA 19063. Delaware County has set up a website dedicated to educating residents and answering questions regarding Delaware County’s Tax Reassessment Project. The website includes a video presentation on the Tax Reassessment process. A Reassessment Hotline has also been set up for residents to call with any questions or concerns: 610-891-5695. The Suburban Realtors Alliance has also created an informational flyer on the assessment process here.
Source: Delaware County; 6/12/2019
New hotel opens at Drexelbrook complex
A nex six-story Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites at Drexelbrook recently celebrated its grand opening. “This hotel is a testament to our commitment to our future in Upper Darby for decades to come,” said L. William Kay II, the general partner of Drexelbrook Associates LLC. Plans for the hotel began around 2000 and received formal approval from Upper Darby Township Council in 2011 for the 70,000 square-foot facility. However, the lagging economy put the project on the back burner until 2016 when the township zoning hearing board approved needed variances for the project. The facility features 100 rooms and 14 suites, as well as a business center, exercise room and indoor saltwater swimming pool. The rooms range from $144 for the standard to $183 for the regular suites.
Source: Daily Times; 5/31/2019
Lansdale council discusses alleys
The condition of roads and alleys in Lansdale has been the topic of lengthy council discussions in recent years. Councilman Leon Angelichio asked staff to investigate whether some sort of impact fee could be charged to trash haulers that damage the roadways. Borough Manager John Ernst said that the borough’s solicitor reported that “no impact fee or surcharge” can be placed on a business. With that option off the table, council’s Public Works Committee has taken up the conversation about what other options might be available, including establishing a new committee to deal solely with alley repairs and maintenance. There is currently no formal ordinance or rule on the books in the borough requiring that owners maintain their alleys to certain conditions or standards, but doing so could be an option. “We don’t currently have any kind of ordinance that compels people to take care of their alleys, like we do with sidewalks, and trimming back trees, and things like that,” Angelichio said. “It’s something we have to investigate.” Borough staff have built color-coded and interactive online maps showing the current conditions and planned road repairs around town.
Source: The Reporter; 6/7/2019
Hatfield commissioners approve resolution for sidewalk study
Hatfield commissioners recently approved a resolution taking the next step toward completing a sidewalk study that could help identify missing links in the township’s sidewalk network. The resolution declares that public health will be considered in all decisions made by the board for the sidewalk and trail study – one of the requirements for a grant the township is pursuing. The grant money would be used to perform a study identifying areas where sidewalk or trail connections would be beneficial, increasing walkability and adding new connections between schools, parks and other public facilities for those who walk, bike or hike around the area. The sidewalk study would be used to show where missing links can be made, and the costs could be offset using developer contributions made when projects are required to give donations in lieu of constructing sidewalks in areas where doing so may not be possible due to topography or other constraints.
Source: The Reporter; 6/7/2019
Owner of Gladwyne estate in Lower Merion talks redevelopment options
Bob Burch, owner of Linden Hill, a 70-acre Gladwyne estate, submitted a redevelopment plan this spring for a design that included a 170-unit continuing-care retirement community and 18 single-family homes. Community backlash swiftly followed when the tentative sketch plan became public. Burch wanted his neighbors to know that the plan was his fallback option. The original plan called for a village, complete with a pub and community space that included a pool and walking trails through the undeveloped woods and meadows that cover half of the property. The residential village concept would best maintain the heritage of the historic property, said Burch, and would be an uphill, possibly fruitless battle against zoning rules and neighborhood opposition. So Burch figured he should preserve his right to construct a retirement community under the current zoning code, which is set to change soon. Burch plans to submit another plan to Lower Merion Township in the coming weeks as an alternative to the retirement home option and a proposal that is closer to his dream of a village. Lower Merion Township Commissioner Joshua Grimes was contacted by about 70 people adamantly opposed to the retirement community plans. Grimes said he isn’t opposed to redevelopment but shares many residents’ concerns that a retirement facility would not fit in with the character of the neighborhood. For his part, Burch said regardless of which plan is approved, he will keep the history of the estate alive.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/7/2019
Lansdale code director resigns
Lansdale Borough’s manager of code enforcement and community development has resigned. Chris Kunkel has accepted a job as the director of public works for Upper Dublin. Jason Van Dame will assume some of Kunkel’s responsibilities and borough engineering consultants Remington, Vernick and Beach will fill in as needed. “There’s been no decision yet as to how we will be moving forward,” said Borough Manager John Ernst.
Source: The Reporter; 6/11/2019
Philly to increase homestead exemption to $45,000
As part of the fiscal 2020 budget negotiations, the Kenney administration and City Council have agreed to increase the property-tax homestead exemption to $45,000, which would shave an additional $70 off a homeowner’s tax bill. The current exemption is $40,000, and Council members wanted to increase it to $50,000. On Thursday, they agreed to move a bill for final passage that would raise it to $45,000. The homestead exemption allows residential property owners, who use the home as a primary residence, to deduct the designated amount from their property assessment to determine the tax bill. With a $45,000 exemption, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay taxes on $55,000 of that value, yielding an annual bill of $770, as opposed to $1,400 on the full amount. With a $40,000 exemption, the bill would be about $840. Because property tax revenues are split between the city and the school district, the increase in the exemption would have resulted in a loss $6.5 million loss for the city and $8.5 million loss for the school district. But officials negotiated to have the city absorb the entire $15 million loss, by adding an extra $8.5 million to the city’s allocation to the school district for fiscal year 2020. “This gives increased relief to residential property owners who are affected by rising values, while at the same time ensuring that the school district’s own finances are not affected,” said city spokesman Mike Dunn. Last year, the administration proposed increasing the homestead exemption from $30,000 to $45,000. Ultimately Council approved an increase to $40,000 for fiscal year 2019. That increase, however, was said to be revenue-neutral because of an increase in the real estate transfer tax. Council looked to increase the homestead again this year as a way to help residents struggling with increased assessments and property taxes. The 17-member body has been raising questions about the accuracy of the Office of Property Assessment’s methods in revaluating hundreds of thousands of properties. The city’s new assessments led to property tax increases for many.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/6/2019
Computer virus still crippling Philly courts and their online systems
It’s been nearly a month since Philadelphia’s First Judicial District shut down the court websites after a virus threatened the computer systems. And it’s caused chaos for the thousands of people — judges, lawyers, and their clients — who rely on the website and its electronic filing and docketing system to access critical court documents. Max Marin, reporter for WHYY’s Billy Penn, explains why it still isn’t fixed here.
Source: WHYY; 6/10/2019
New rowhouse-and-apartment enclave planned on Fishtown waterfront site where Wynn casino was planned
A development team plans a sprawling complex of apartment buildings and rowhouses on the vacant 30-acre waterfront lot straddling Fishtown and Port Richmond where a Wynn Philadelphia casino had been proposed. The Concordia Group and D3 Real Estate Development are proposing about 850 apartment units spread across four seven-story buildings and almost 250 rowhomes at the former shipyard property along Beach Street, near East Cumberland Street. The team’s other projects include the Southwark on Reed townhouse complex where the Mt. Sinai hospital once stood in South Philadelphia. The structures are to be arranged along a new grid of streets to be built at the site, around a broad central greenway. The property — bounded by Schirra and Cumberland Streets, between Beach Street and the river — sits just south of a cluster of industrial buildings on the other side of I-95 from the Port Richmond Village shopping center, soon to be renamed Fishtown Crossing.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/31/2019
Philly has the nation’s 19th best park system, study finds
A survey has ranked Philly’s parks among the best in the nation. Philly rose 11 spots to place 19 in a survey of the park systems belonging to the nation’s 100 largest cities. The report, released by the San Francisco-based nonprofit the Trust for Public Land, gave Philly a “ParkScore” of 66.7 points out of 100. The rankings were based on park access, acreage, amenities, and investment. Philly’s climb up the chart traces back to Mayor Kenney’s signature public works program, according to Owen Franklin, Pennsylvania state director for the Trust for Public Land said. The program, named “Rebuild,” is expected to ultimately pour hundreds of millions of dollars in city revenue generated by the mayor’s tax on sugary beverages into playground, rec center and library improvements.
Source: PlanPhilly; 5/23/2019