Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Teams legislation introduced
Central Bucks $342 million budget holds the line on taxes
Smart growth topic of June 20 forum
Delco puts spotlight on opportunity zones
Lansdale council discusses alleys
Philly to increase homestead exemption to $45,000
Census data show how towns are changing in the region
Demographic shifts — including an aging population with rising numbers of retiring baby boomers, and millennials entering the workforce and raising families — continue to change the makeup of the region, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. The data, released May 24, includes projections at the town and city levels, and show ongoing population spikes in swaths of Chester and Montgomery counties, and stability in Bucks and Delaware counties. Michael Hayes, a public policy professor at Rutgers-Camden, said: “It’s almost like a tale of two different age groups: Younger generations trying to move closer to cities, especially cities like Philadelphia where there’s thriving growth … and then you have an older generation of residents who are making a strategic decision based on property taxes, wanting to move to an area like Bucks County, where you have lower property taxes but still good amenities.” Most of the municipalities with the highest population growth from 2010 to 2017 were in the Pennsylvania suburbs, particularly in Chester and Montgomery counties. Towns with population declines were widespread in South Jersey and portions of Bucks County. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/11/2018
PA Senate recognizes June as Homeownership Month
State Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42) is helping to lead the effort to boost first-time home ownership across Pennsylvania. Last week, he introduced a resolution declaring June as “Homeownership Month” in Pennsylvania and noted that “owning a home is an essential part of the American dream.” He added that homeownership is a good investment for families, and it makes for more stable and safer neighborhoods. Earlier this year, Fontana and Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24) introduced Senate Bill 1066, which would create the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account program, which has bipartisan support. The Senate bill unanimously passed the Urban Affairs & Housing Committee, on which Fontana serves as minority chair. Similar legislation was introduced as House Bill 1981 by Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-3) and Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-189). The legislation would allow first-time homebuyers or buyers re-entering the housing market to set up 10-year, tax-deductible savings accounts for purchasing a home. Parents and grandparents also would be eligible to contribute to these accounts on behalf of children and grandchildren. According to research conducted by the National Association of Realtors®, the program could boost home sales by 4,000 per year across Pennsylvania while delivering an economic impact of up to $68.8 million. In a survey, more than 80 percent of Pennsylvanians said the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account would be beneficial to the state. For more information about the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account, visit www.FirstHomePA.com.
Source: PARJustListed; 6/11/2018
FAA accepts Trenton-Mercer Airport master plan
Mercer County officials recently announced that the Federal Aviation Administration has accepted the updated master plan and airport layout plan for the Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing, New Jersey. A group of township and other Bucks County residents called Bucks Residents for Responsible Airport Management (BRRAM) has resisted major improvements to the airport, stating a fuller environmental study should be done. BRRAM says the enhancements planned for the airport will increase air traffic over their homes and add to noise and other problems. The group is disappointed in the FAA approval and will consult with Lower Makefield Township officials and a special attorney on the next steps in their fight. Lower Makefield Township supervisors Chairman John Lewis said, “We’ve always said air flights to and from Trenton-Mercer should be better distributed over other municipalities, including those in New Jersey. We’re trying to protect our residents here in Lower Makefield.” The FAA approval of the plan is not a green light to proceed with a recommended construction project, it simply means that the plan conforms to FAA standards and the FAA has no safety concerns. Trenton-Mercer is one of three commercial airports in New Jersey, and it handles about 70,000 aircraft operations per year.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/7/2018
State Rep. Helen Tai to open Wrightstown service office
State Rep. Helen Tai will open a new district office in Wrightstown on Friday, June 15, at 842 Durham Road, Suite 22, off Routes 232 and 413. After June 15, the office will be open for constituents to reach Rep. Tai or her staff weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tai will host an open house there on Monday, July 9, from 5 to 8 p.m. to spotlight the state services available to constituents including help with PennDOT, unemployment compensation, birth certificate applications, state tax and healthcare programs, financial aid for higher education, and issues with public utilities.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/9/2018
Moody’s awards positive rating to Bristol Township debt
Moody’s Investors Service has given Bristol Township’s General Obligation Debt a rating of Aa3, which reflects a positive analysis of the township’s finances. Ratings from agencies like Moody’s impact the interest rates municipalities pay on debt. Debt obligations rated Aa are judged to be high quality and subject to very low credit risk. In the report Moody’s wrote: “The credit position for Bristol Township is strong, and its Aa3 rating matches the median rating of Aa3 for US cities. The notable credit factors include a robust financial position, an affordable debt burden and a mid-ranged pension liability. The credit position also reflects a healthy wealth and income profile and a sizable tax base.” Council President Craig Bowen said that Bristol Township has “worked very hard to improve its financial position.”
Source: Bristol Township e-news; 6/8/2018
Falls Township sewage facilities plan open for public comment
An Act 537 Sewage Facilities Plan has been prepared for Falls Township to identify and address future wastewater collection and conveyance capacity needs in the township. The plan’s proposals include: continuing the Township of Falls Authority’s Inflow and Infiltration Reduction Program and contributing financially to the improvements of the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority’s (BCWSA) Neshaminy Interceptor; and adopting a Sewage Management Program to outline the responsibilities, guidance, maintenance/repair and enforcement of the existing on-lot systems. A 30-day public review and comment period runs through July 17. Comments may be submitted to the Township Manager, Falls Township, 188 Lincoln Highway, Fairless Hills, PA, 19030. The Falls Township Board of Supervisors will consider and act upon the proposed plan at its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, July 17, at 7 p.m. at the township building.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/12/2018
$90k state grant will help combat mushroom fly infestation
Reports of mushroom phorid flies harassing people in Chester County have been persistent for three years, and Pennsylvania State University is planning to use a $90,000 state grant to fight the problem. The 10-month grant from the state Department of Agriculture funds the hiring of a hybrid researcher/community liaison at the university’s local extension office and helps cover the cost of producing educational material for residents. Barbara Runkle, a Landenberg resident, said the infestation is so bad that people are selling their homes at a loss: “When it’s ‘high-fly season,’ you can’t even turn the lights on. We came here to live our lives, and this is an all-encompassing issue.” Horror stories abound about thousands of flies being vacuumed off windows, coating sticky traps placed in basements, and pushing families to spend as little time at home as possible. The insects’ eggs are usually laid in fertile mushroom soil, and the flies grow alongside the crop. They’ve been reported in other states where mushrooms are grown, but never in these numbers, researchers say. In Chester County, they’re in full force by midsummer, peaking around September.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/5/2018
Interactive map highlights projects in Coatesville
The City of Coatesville has a number of public and private projects underway. This past spring, in order to highlight and promote these projects, the Coatesville 2nd Century Alliance and the Chester County Planning Commission created an online interactive map. This resource can be found on the 2nd Century Alliance website here. The resource is for public use, but it is also intended to inform and attract investors considering development in Coatesville. More information about the map is available on the Chester County website.
Source: Chester County Planning Commission; 6/12/2018
East Marlborough officials debate controversial development plan
East Marlborough supervisors had an unusually lengthy discussion regarding a controversial Toll Brothers development. Introduced last year, the proposed development would put 42 houses in a cluster arrangement on the western portion of a 62-acre tract that spans Route 82 just south of Route 926. The eastern tract, which includes a wetlands area, would be left as open space. The proposal drew large crowds of neighbors to township meetings earlier this year to express their worries about increased traffic through their neighborhoods and on chronically congested Route 82. Neighbors also worry about degradation of the view and runoff from storm water. Toll Brothers representatives say they believe the development would put 60 additional vehicles in and out of the development and onto surrounding roads in a 24-hour period. Supervisors agreed to keep considering options for the entrances and other open questions without making any decisions at the moment.
Source: Daily Local; 6/11/2018
Area townships to continue Citizen Education Program
The West Chester Area Council of Governments is running the Neighborhood University of Greater West Chester again this year. The “university” is intended to provide residents with the tools necessary to be better advocates for their communities by educating them on local government structure, and by increasing their awareness of available municipal services and resources. Developed by the staffs of local municipalities, the free, 10-week training program is open to any citizen 16 years or older residing in one of the participating communities — East Bradford, East Goshen, Thornbury (Chester County), West Chester, West Goshen, West Whiteland and Westtown. The two-hour sessions, which begin on Thursday, Sept. 6, will be facilitated by local and county government officials. For more information and to register, visit www.nugwc.org.
Source: East Goshen Township; 6/12/2018
Middletown to Pa.: Stop pipeline construction
Middletown Council President Mark Kirchgasser didn’t mince words while reading a statement supporting an ongoing investigation by the Public Utility Commission of the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline (ME2). “It is evident to council from the events of recent weeks that ETP (Sunoco or Energy Transfer Partners) appears to be more interested in the expedient installation of ME2 than in protecting Middletown’s residents and maintaining their trust,” read Kirchgasser. “The citizens of Middletown Township have a right to expect excellence in all aspects of the installation and maintenance of the ME2 pipelines. This includes insuring that the lines, once installed, are protected from damage of any type.” The council instructed Township Manager Andrew Haines to draft a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and the PUC requesting an immediate halt to pipeline construction on ME2 in the township. This action from the township follows an incident where an Aqua contractor struck the under-construction Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline with a backhoe, saying they had been given incorrect information about the depth of the pipeline.
Source: Daily Times; 6/12/2018
Springfield planners consider medical office building off State Road
National Realty Corporation (NRC) presented a conceptual plan to the Springfield Planning Commission for a three-story medical office building of about 30,000 square feet that would be part of the Estates at Coventry Woods. The office building represents only 2.3 acres of the 48-acre overall parcel, with considerable State Road frontage. It has taken some 13 years for NRC to return to the township after finishing Coventry Woods, comprised of 31 single-family homes. The office building is deemed Phase 1A and is planned for the parcel’s northwest quadrant. “We wanted to get a head start on this section only because we have a tenant that may be interested,” said project engineer Dave Damon of H. Gilroy Damon Associates Inc. The sketch plan also shows 40 townhomes in 10 four-house clusters. In connection with this section, planners reviewed and will recommend to commissioners amending the TND (Traditional Neighborhood Development) zoning to add an overlay district for “Active Adult Village” as a use. The overall project is tentatively scheduled to be back to planners on Thursday, July 12. An environmental assessment impact survey and traffic study are to be undertaken. The concept plan of the entire eastern part of the parcel shows an additional 100 townhomes and a larger building for assisted living residences, though the developer indicated those plans are subject to further discussion.
Source: Daily Times; 6/12/2018
Delaware County school districts spending more on kids
The amount of money spent per student by Delaware County school districts rose by 3.2 percent in 2016, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. School districts in Pennsylvania spent, on average, $9,446 per student in 2016, according to census figures. Delaware County school districts spent an average of about $10,500 in federal, state and county money per student in 2016. Per-student spending includes instruction, meal assistance, school administration, and teacher salaries and benefits, according to census data. See the district-by-district breakdown here.
Source: Chester Spirit; 6/6/2018
Aldan Council opposes EIT
Aldan Borough Council passed a resolution to oppose implementation of an Earned Income Tax (EIT) on residents of the borough by the William Penn School District. Council Vice President Sandra Urban said that, during a community meeting, the school district’s leadership suggested they were considering a plan to implement and levy an EIT upon residents of the district, which includes Aldan, Colwyn, Darby, East Lansdowne, Yeadon and Lansdowne boroughs. Urban read this statement: “Real estate taxes and the relative tax burden in the William Penn School District are already among the highest in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the imposition of yet another tax without any guarantee of real estate relief to our residents, including seniors and working families, would substantially affect the fabric of our neighborhoods in the Borough of Aldan and our school district.” As of 2018, 18 of the 49 municipalities in Delaware County have enacted an EIT of one percent. The City of Chester currently has an EIT rate of 2.75 percent for residents and 1.05 percent for nonresidents. Municipalities with a one percent EIT include: Aston, Brookhaven, Chester Township, Darby, Eddystone, Folcroft, Lower Chichester, Marcus Hook, Media, Millbourne, Parkside, Sharon Hill, Thornbury, Tinicum, Trainer, Upland, Upper Chichester and Yeadon. In these communities, half of one percent is paid to the municipality and the other half of one percent is paid to the corresponding school district.
Source: Chester Spirit; 5/12/2018
Swarthmore endorses financial agreement between college and authority
Swarthmore Borough Council approved a resolution which leads to a finance agreement between Swarthmore College and the Swarthmore Borough Authority. This long-standing collaboration is the vehicle used by the college for bond issuance. The aggregate principal amount is not to exceed $150 million. The project, which has been on the college’s long-range planning, is to construct and equip a new building that will house Biology, Engineering and Psychology departments. But the documents show other capital projects may include other facilities such as the dining hall, an existing laboratory and utility upgrades. A critical part of the resolution for this agreement says: “The foregoing approval and authorization shall not, directly or indirectly, obligate the credit or taxing power of the borough, or otherwise obligate the borough in any ways whatsoever.” In simple terms, the authority is a conduit, and will not affect borough finances.
Source: Daily Local; 6/13/2018
Lower Merion School District to purchase Islamic Foundation site for new school
Lower Merion School District officials announced the district has a tentative agreement to purchase the Islamic Foundation site in Villanova at a price of $12 million, plus brokerage fees, for a third middle school. The tentative agreement includes three conditions that, if not met, would give the district the right to withdraw from the purchase. The first condition is that Lower Merion Township must not update the historic status of the mansion to a Class 1 historic property. The second condition requires that the district is able to get any zoning or land development approvals from the township. And the third is that the district must acquire some other property for playing fields — which brings a 6.9-acre portion of the Stoneleigh Garden site back into the equation. No specific property was mentioned in the condition, but at the same meeting the school board also agreed to contract with Philadelphia law firm Duane Morris, a firm that specializes in eminent domain law. According to the engagement letter from the firm, most of the work will be billed at a rate of $550 per hour. Timing is important, said board member Ben Driscoll, the district wants to have the new school open for the fall of 2022.
Source: Main Line Times; 6/13/2018
New $67M apartment complex coming in East Norriton
Ground has been broken at the Residences at Brentwood, a $67 million apartment complex at the Brentwood Executive Campus in East Norriton. The complex at 201 E. Germantown Pike will have 261 units and will be the first multifamily development built in the township since 2015. Tornetta Realty Corp. planned to build 450,000 square feet of office buildings in the 25-acre Brentwood Executive Campus, but a lagging office market resulted in just one 100,000-square-foot building, a 130-key Hyatt House hotel and a KinderCare child care center being developed on the site. Tornetta decided to switch gears and team up with the Altman Group to pursue developing apartments. Both firms approach real estate as a long-term asset rather than working as a merchant builder, which constructs a project and then sells it. The project is expected to be completed in April 2019.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 6/1/2018
Tax increase in Wissahickon School District
The Wissahickon School Board approved a $102 million budget for the 2018-2019 school year that includes a property tax increase of 2.98 percent. The increase brings the property tax rate to 20.02 mills. A mill is a tax of $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. A homeowner with a property assessed at the district average of $207,000 can expect to pay $4,144 in taxes — an increase of about $121 over last year. The district attributed the need for a tax increase to “significant increases in mandated pension and health care costs.”
Source: Ambler Gazette; 6/12/2018
House Bill 2468 introduced to limit use of eminent domain
A bill introduced by state House Reps. Warren Kampf (R-157), Marcy Toepel (R-147) and Kate Harper (R-61) would limit the use of eminent domain for land that has been set aside for open space or green space. House Bill 2468 is a direct reaction to the Lower Merion School District’s consideration of taking a portion of the Stoneleigh Garden, Kampf said. Stoneleigh is the former Haas Estate in Villanova that was left to the Natural Lands organization and opened as a public garden in May. The school district expressed interest in 6.9 acres of Stoneleigh in March, but in April sent a letter to the Natural Lands informing them it wanted to look at the entire site for possible condemnation. House Bill 2468 doesn’t outright ban the taking of preserved land, but it makes it much harder by having to prove in court that “there is no other place that this can be done, because that land has been preserved for a very good reason and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen simply because the district says we need it,” Kampf said. The bill is currently in the Local Government Committee that is chaired by Harper, who said in a statement, “Eminent domain laws are important, but must be used sparingly, and not as a tool to develop land set aside as open space.” Co-sponsor Marcy Toepel agreed, saying, “We must limit a government agency’s ability to use Eminent Domain Code to override the preservation of our open space and parkland.” Kampf’s goal is to have the bill over to the Senate in time for them to act on it before the budget is done at the end of June.
Source: Main Line Times; 6/12/2018
Rebuild legislation passes City Council
A key piece of legislation tied to the mayor’s signature capital program, Rebuild, sailed through City Council with uncharacteristic ease. The first project statement for Rebuild — and a second piece of related legislation — passed the full council after lingering in a committee for most of the winter and spring. Its passage effectively releases $8 million in capital funds to be spent immediately on Rebuild sites. When those infrastructure upgrades occur, likely beginning later this year, they will mark a turning point for Rebuild — a projected seven-year, $500 million program that aims to reinvigorate recreation centers, libraries, playgrounds and parks throughout the city while also boosting equitable development in neighborhoods — by advancing the program from its hotly contested conceptual stages into actual shovels in the ground. The Kenney administration originally anticipated 150 to 200 sites would receive Rebuild money over the long term, although the funding currently available will not make it to many of them due to the ongoing litigation involving Philadelphia’s beverage tax. The bulk of Rebuild’s financing will arrive via $300 million in bonds the Kenney administration has yet to issue. It has declined to do so until the beverage tax is upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Until that verdict comes, the city will use $8 million it has already banked from the capital budget to get the project going. Last month, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the first two sites to receive Rebuild money: Vare Recreation Center in Point Breeze and Olney Recreation Center. “In the coming weeks, we’ll be announcing additional sites that will start this year, using money from the capital budget,” Rebuild Executive Director Nicole Westerman wrote in a statement.
Source: Plan Philly; 6/8/2018
PennDOT, Wolf announce plans to ease I-76 traffic
Governor Tom Wolf announced a multiyear, $8.6 million initiative to ease traffic on the notoriously gridlocked Schuylkill Expressway. “This will not, in and of itself, solve all the problems,” he said, standing in front of a wall of screens in PennDOT’s regional traffic-management center that showed a long line of cars crawling along on I-76 near the Conshohocken curve. “But it’s a real start and an important start.” The initial phase of the initiative will see new digital signs installed on I-76 that will warn motorists of upcoming jams around the bend. PennDOT will also implement variable speed limits along the expressway, meaning the road’s top legal speeds will be adjusted up or down to match real-time traffic and weather conditions. Work on this first phase should wrap up in summer 2019. Perhaps the largest of the many changes announced is also likely to be the last one implemented: converting the highway’s shoulders into travel lanes along some stretches of I-76. PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said her agency, along with state and local police, traveled to Virginia to study highways there that made the switch, and determined that the added capacity outweighed the risk of massive backlogs caused by no breakdown lanes.
Source: Plan Philly; 6/8/2018
Philadelphia railroad ruins transformed into elevated park
A long-abandoned rail line is open for business again in Philadelphia, having been transformed into an elevated park and the city’s answer to New York’s High Line. The quarter-mile-long Rail Park is to open to visitors, and it marks the first phase of a park that supporters hope will eventually span three miles through the center of Philadelphia via former Reading Railroad tunnels, rail cuts and elevated platforms. The end result would be about twice the length and width of New York’s High Line. The first phase is a walkable oasis that rises above the gritty, post-industrial neighborhood called Callowhill. It features art installations, spaces for lounging, durable porch swings and amazing views of the city. A timeframe for the next phase hasn’t been established.
Source: Daily Times; 6/12/2018