Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Pennsylvania to cover the cost of stamps for mail-in ballots
Hilltown delays vote on 194-unit, age-restricted development
County makes legal moves before PUC hearings
Rutledge finances force out Keffer as administrator
Comprehensive plan meeting scheduled in Abington
Grassroots group placing homeless families in PHA properties; PHA wants them out
Tell Congress not to let the National Flood Insurance Program lapse
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has launched a Call-for-Action so you can tell Congress not to let the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) lapse. Every time NFIP expires, the real estate industry sees a loss of 40,000 property sales per month. Without the reauthorization of the NFIP, which is set to expire on July 31, the program cannot issue or renew flood insurance policies in the 22,000 communities where flood insurance is required for a mortgage. The program is incredibly important to Pennsylvania. Our state is 12th in the U.S. in the number of NFIP policies issued and fifth in the nation in the number of flood claims filed. Flood claims have been filed in 66 of the commonwealth’s 67 counties. NAR has been advocating for Congress to reauthorize the program for the next five years. The association would like to see the bill’s private market reforms retained and expanded, enabling consumers to meet federal requirements with private flood insurance offers as an alternative to NFIP policies. NAR believes building on the risk mitigation provisions would help keep rates affordable. The association also recommends the NFIP should use modern mapping technology to produce building-specific risk assessments. Respond to the Call-for-Action and tell Congress how important the National Flood Insurance Program is to Pennsylvania homeowners and buyers.
Source: PARJustListed; 6/20/2018
‘Out of Reach’ report: 2-bedroom apartments unaffordable at minimum wage
A National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) report says there isn’t a single state, city or county in the U.S. where someone earning federal or state minimum wage for a 40-hour work week can afford a two-bedroom home at fair market rent. A one-bedroom home is affordable to someone working 40 hours per week at federal minimum wage in only 22 counties across the U.S., and in all of these counties the minimum wage is set higher than the national minimum of $7.25. The report estimates the national “housing wage” for a two-bedroom rental is $22.10, and $17.90 for a one-bedroom. The housing wage is how much an average renter in the U.S. would need to make to afford an apartment at fair market rent, without paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. The report contends that a shortfall in affordable units remains a stubborn problem. Between 2005 and 2015, apartments costing $2,000 or more increased by 97 percent, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, while those under $800 decreased by 2 percent. The future of affordable housing looks bleak as the Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to subsidized housing programs, and HUD Secretary Ben Carson has backed a bill that raises rents for households receiving housing assistance and tacks on mandatory work requirements. Click here for the NLIHC Out of Reach 2018 report. Click here for the CITYLAB article.
Source: CITYLAB.com; 6/13/2018
NAR applauds rule making Realtors® eligible to participate in association health plans
The U.S Department of Labor finalized its rule to expand the definition of “employer” to include “working owners,” allowing real estate professionals and other self-employed individuals to participate in association health plans. The ruling also makes AHPs available to independent contractors who are offered coverage through a spouse, the current source of coverage for roughly 40 percent of Realtors®. National Association of Realtors® President Elizabeth Mendenhall issued the following statement: “After years of advocating for independent contractors’ right to pursue coverage through association health plans, NAR welcomes today’s Department of Labor ruling. America’s self-employed, including real estate professionals, may now have the opportunity to purchase health insurance through a group health plan, taking advantage of economies of scale that may improve access to care while also receiving critical flexibility to choose between their spouse’s plan and an AHP.”
Source: nar.realtor; 6/19/2018
Middletown Township property owners get $68
Middletown Township sent $68 checks in early June as one-time “financial appropriations” to 14,361 “owners of improved property.” Township Solicitor James Esposito explained that “improved property” is any land that isn’t vacant. Supervisors decided in April to release $1 million of its general fund after a discussion on the merits of sending the money back to taxpayers compared to keeping it in the township accounts. Officials that supported the payment pointed to Middletown’s healthy general fund balance, which was $9.7 million at the end of last year. Supervisor Chairwoman Amy Strouse said the board has heard “loud and clear” from residents that they feel they pay too much in taxes. “We are in a situation where the general fund balance has crept up over time, and I think it’s irresponsible for a township to hang on to that level of funding when we have the opportunity to help people out a little bit.”
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/19/2018
Palisades passes budget with tax increase
The Palisades School Board passed a $46 million final budget for the 2018-2019 school year that includes a one-mill tax increase. The 0.88 percent increase amounts to a median annual increase of about $35 per household. The final budget shows expenditure increases of about $290,000 (4.8 percent) for pensions, and $347,000 (31.5 percent) for private charter school tuition for district residents. The school board planned on the retirement increases and maintained a Retirement Spike Fund but did not have a similar fund for the charter school hike.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 6/15/2018
Hilltown to sell former Blooming Glen High School
Hilltown Township officials recently announced their intention to sell the former Blooming Glen High School. Hilltown has owned the building since 1965, and it served as the municipal building from 1972 to 1989. Recently the building has housed a library and a thrift shop, and it was a meeting place for Boy Scouts. Solicitor Stephen Harris said maintenance costs were a factor in the township’s decision to sell the property. “The township no longer wanted to incur the upkeep expense,” he said. Bids on the property may be submitted to the township by Tuesday, July 3. For more information, visit www.hilltown.org.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 6/15/2018
Newtown Township posts supervisor vacancy
Newtown Township Supervisor Jen Dix announced her resignation from the township board of supervisors. Dix is moving to New Hampshire with her family. “It has been an honor and privilege to serve the residents of Newtown Township,” Dix said. “I have done my best to serve the community and have no regrets. I thank my fellow board members both past and current and the township administration for their collaboration to make Newtown an even better place to live.” The remaining supervisors will vote to accept the resignation at their meeting on Wednesday, June 27. The board is accepting applications through Monday, July 2, for a new supervisor to fill the vacancy through the end of 2019. Interested candidates should submit a resume and letter of interest. Supervisors will interview candidates at a public meeting later in July. Click here for more information.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/19/2018
Chester County reaches milestone in farmland preservation
The Chester County Commissioners have announced an important agricultural land preservation milestone in the county. Since October of 1990, when the first farm successfully went into the program, Chester County’s Agricultural Land Preservation Board (ALPB) has approved the preservation of 40,000 farm acres on more than 500 farms. This farmland preservation represents a significant contribution to Chester County’s overall open space preservation program, which now accounts for 28 percent of the county. With even more farmland preservation as its aim, the ALPB is now accepting applications for two competitive programs funded by the Chester County Commissioners: The Commonwealth/County Program and the Chester County Challenge Grant Program. Both programs offer funds to qualifying Chester County farm owners who are interested in preserving their farms. The county pays farm owners for their development rights in exchange for a permanent agricultural conservation easement on their land. Farms with 10 acres or more are eligible for both the Commonwealth/County Program and the Chester County Challenge Grant Program if they are adjacent to other permanently preserved land. For farms not adjacent to permanently preserved land, the acreage minimums are 50 acres for the Commonwealth/County Program and 25 acres for the Challenge Grant Program. Even if land is enrolled in an Agricultural Security Area or Act 319 (Clean and Green) program, farmers are still eligible to receive additional funds to preserve their farms. Farmers still own the land and can sell it or pass it on to the next generation, as long as it remains in agriculture. The application deadline for both programs is Wednesday, Aug. 1. For more information, including applications and program guidelines, go to www.chesco.org/openspace or call Geoff Shellington at 610-344-6504.
Source: Daily Local; 6/18/2018
Avon Grove property owners will pay 3.1 percent more in taxes
The Avon Grove School Board adopted the 2018-2019 budget with 3.1 percent increase in their property taxes, the maximum increase allowed under the state’s Act 1 index. A larger increase would have required the district to put the question to a voter referendum. The current property tax rate of 29.77 mills will go up to 30.69 mills. Out of total district revenues predicted for the new school year of $89.9 million, local real estate taxes generate $58.6 million. Revenues also come from state and federal sources. The remaining amount needed to meet budgeted expenses will come from the district’s fund balance. The estimated net change to the fund balance is about $4.4 million. That will leave about $16 million remaining in the fund balance at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. For the future, the district has approved a potential $127 million construction plan to build a new high school and renovate existing buildings.
Source: Daily Local; 6/16/2018
Downingtown school district adopts $220M budget
Downingtown Area School District board members approved the 2018-2019 budget of $220 million without a tax increase. This is the sixth consecutive year that a Downingtown budget has been approved without a property tax increase. The 2018-2019 real estate tax millage remains at 27.182 mills. A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. During prior discussions of the budget, Downingtown Superintendent Emilie Lonardi thanked the administration, school board members and others, and said the district will continue to provide students with a quality education. The Downingtown Area School District is the largest school district in Chester County and has 16 schools.
Source: Daily Local; 6/17/2018
Developer seeks zoning change to permit townhouses on former Tredyffrin swimming pool property
The Picket Post Swim, Tennis and Paddle Club in Devon has agreed to sell the 4.8-acre Chase Road property to a developer who plans to build townhouses at the site. Some local residents object to the property being rezoned to facilitate the project. The pool and tennis courts were built in the 1970s to attract buyers to a sprawling development of nearly 3,000 townhouses on what used to be rolling Pennsylvania farmland. In 1991, after Chesterbrook was “built out,” that developer turned the swim club over to Picket Post for $1. The club is managed like a country club, but after the last recession, with membership dwindling, Picket Post did not have the funds to maintain the pool and the large, old barn on the Chase Road property. David Miller, president of the Chesterbrook Civic Association, said he believes the proposed 35 to 40 townhouses will lower property values nearby and opposes rezoning the parcel to permit the development. David Ludin of Green Bridge Development LLC, the builder, said that he’s met with area residents twice to explain the plans and the necessary zoning change and to “share as much information as I can.” At this point he plans to build 40 townhouses, with four located inside the old barn, which many “people on the historic preservation side are very much in favor of saving.” The plans were scheduled to go before the township planning commission on June 21, Ludin said.
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 6/13/2018
Clifton focuses on code enforcement issues, starts vacant property registry
Clifton Heights Borough officials have approved rental property and vacant property regulations at the recommendation of John Gould, the new code enforcement officer. The newest rules, establishing a vacant property registry and rental property regulations, were adopted to address complaints in residential and commercial areas. “Vacant and poor-performing commercial and industrial properties remain a large problem and concern,” Gould said at a recent meeting. The board approved a resolution to establish a registry and fee for vacant buildings, charging $300 for residential and $500 for commercial vacant property inspections after 30 days. The vacant property ordinance includes language that allows for a six-month exemption from the fee if a property is actively marketed. “This will help us with the large amount of vacant properties we have a problem with,” Gould said. “We’re trying to go from reactive to proactive.” Officials also approved the 2018 International Property Maintenance Code, last updated in 2000. The Alliance staff reviewed both ordinances.
Source: Daily Times; 6/18/2018
$1M anonymous donation revives Radnor’s Willows Mansion
The Willows Mansion, a century-old property owned by Radnor Township that has fallen into disrepair, will be preserved, renovated and kept as a public space after the township and a newly created private preservation organization recently signed a 10-year lease. The agreement, signed last week by Radnor officials and the nonprofit Willows Park Preserve, gives the organization permission — for the first time — to oversee Willows Mansion, a 10,000-square-foot house built in 1910. The lease doesn’t include the 45-plus acres that surround the mansion. That expanse of land will continue to be maintained by the town’s Public Works Department. A $1 million donation from an anonymous benefactor helped give the Willows Mansion new life after the township had done nothing with the property while rejecting other proposed uses for it. “We recognized the need to do something, because there was no will in the township to really let this wonderful asset go,” said Tish Long, president of the Willows Park Preserve. “So we decided the best thing to do was to give it back to the people.” After years of using the mansion as a community meeting place, Radnor closed the once-opulent dwelling in 2012, when the cost of maintaining it grew beyond what the town could afford. Long said the goal of the Willows Park Preserve was to remodel parts of the mansion and continue to allow the public to explore the house and park. The mansion will host up to 25 private events a year to bring in income, and will accept money from major donors and corporate sponsors, she said. That money will fund upkeep for the mansion and bypass the need to rely on the township for money, she said. Renovations are scheduled to begin on the mansion in 2019 and finish in about 18 months. Meanwhile, the public can continue to walk around Willows Park.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/18/2018
Ridley schools OK new budget with a tax increase
The Ridley School Board gave final approval at its June meeting to a final 2018-2019 budget listing expenditures of $107.6 million, which is about $28,000 more than the proposed budget adopted last month by the board. The real estate millage rate will increase by 0.83 mills for a total millage rate of 40.73 mills, or $4.07 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The millage hike means an increase of $84 for a house assessed at the district average of $100,000. District Superintendent Lee Ann Wentzel noted that local revenue will increase because interest earnings are going up due to changing investment rates. The new budget also reflects an overall debt service decrease of 2.72 percent. There is also an increase of $3.9 million in the district’s total taxable assessed value.
Source: Daily Times; 6/16/2018
Debate ensues over proposed Drexel Hill development
In Drexel Hill, officials and residents are fiercely debating a proposal to turn the Drexeline Shopping Center, a Delaware County institution, into a “town center” development. The center is set to include an expanded ShopRite, an apartment building, a new Wawa, a medical complex, and a large building of self-storage units. Many Drexel Hill residents who have taken to packed zoning meetings and Facebook forums to voice their concerns about $100 million project that would replace the dated Drexeline Shopping Center on 17 acres near busy Route 1 and State Road. One of their gripes: The center won’t look like the restaurant- and shop-filled centers that have sprung up around the region. “There are different types of town centers,” said Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie, noting they did not want to close ShopRite or the Anthony’s Ristorante and Banquet Center on the property. “We didn’t have an alternative.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/15/2018
Lower Merion School Board approves budget
The Lower Merion School Board approved a $271.7 million 2018-2019 school year budget that includes a tax increase of 2.4 percent. The tax increase falls within the Act 1 limit set by the state, and the district did not seek exceptions to raise taxes higher than the index. The millage rate will increase from 28.072 mills to 28.7477 mills, with one mill equal to a tax of $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value. A homeowner with a property assessed at the district average of $250,000 can expect a tax bill of $7,206 – an increase of about $168. The district educates approximately 8,600 students, and the $272 million budget brings the total cost per student to over $31,500. District officials cite growth as the driving force behind district budget increases.
Source: Main Line Times; 6/15/2018
Pottstown School District budget hurt by hospital sale
Pottstown School District is poised to enact a tax increase for the first time in three years. District Business Manager Maureen Jampo reported to the school board finance committee that revenues from the previous year are flat — mainly due to property assessment challenges that reduced revenues — and expenses increased due to pensions and salary costs. Pottstown is facing a $1.4 million deficit and the district will use reserve funds of about $432,000 that was set aside for pension hikes and another $1 million will be generated by a 3.5 percent tax increase called for in the budget. Jampo noted that Pottstown Hospital was pulled from the tax rolls due to its sale to nonprofit Tower Health. Had the hospital property remained on the tax roll, the district would have only faced a $36,000 deficit. If the budget is finalized as is, a home assessed at the district average of about $79,000 can expect to pay an additional $99 in taxes. The school board will meet to finalize the budget before June 30.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 6/18/2018
Boyertown final budget includes 5.4 percent tax increase
The Boyertown Area School Board approved a $118.6 million 2018-2019 final budget that raises property taxes 5.4 percent. The tax rate will increase 1.35 mills to 26.37 mills, an increase of $135 for properties valued at $100,000. The vote was 6-3. The school board also voted 7-2 to reinstate the $14.70 per capita tax, which was scheduled to sunset on July 1 as the result of a resolution passed by the school board in July 2013. According to board Vice President Steve Elsier, the district nets about $160,000 from the per capita tax after the cost of collection. If it had been allowed to sunset, the school board would have needed a district-wide referendum to bring it back. The board also unanimously approved a one-year extension to its contract with the Boyertown Area Education Association. The existing contract was scheduled to end June 30 and the new deal runs through June 30, 2019. The two sides used a mediator, who proposed the extension that the board adopted. The teachers union has already approved the extension.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 6/14/2018 & Reading Eagle; 6/13/2018
CHOP to open new hospital in King of Prussia
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is building a new, 250,000-square-foot inpatient hospital in King of Prussia. The hospital will be located on South Goddard Boulevard and will include 52 inpatient beds, 16 pediatric intensive care unit beds and 36 medical surgical unit beds. It will operate alongside the existing Specialty Care and Surgery Center in King of Prussia and will allow continuous care of patients without relocation to the University City campus. CHOP officials hope the new hospital will be operational in 2021.
Source: Limerick Patch; 6/20/2018
Lower Moreland planners to consider Philmont Country Club townhouses
The Lower Moreland Township Planning Commission will meet on Thursday, June 28, at 7 p.m. in the Community Room (above the Huntingdon Valley Library), located at 625 Red Lion Road, Huntingdon Valley. The commission will review a preliminary plan application submitted by Philmont Country Club/Concert Philmont LLC and FC Gold Group II LLC, proposing an active adult housing community with 176 townhouse units. A copy of the plan is available for public inspection at the township building during normal business hours.
Source: Lower Moreland Township; 6/14/2018
Realtors® association mailer attacks Kenney's budget plan
Many of Philadelphia’s real estate groups have complained about the proposed increase to property taxes, the real estate transfer tax, and “unpredictable” assessments. But the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors® (GPAR) has gone so far as to issue glossy mailers, distributed recently in neighborhoods as disparate as Spruce Hill and West Kensington. “What Philly needs now is accountable government and collecting unpaid taxes,” the mailer reads. “Not another tax hike!” The GPAR mailer has an accompanying website, www.AnotherPhillyTax.com. Council members have floated their own budget proposal, which would be accomplished without the property-tax increases. Their alternate offer includes $93 million in uncollected taxes to be secured through a process known as sequestration, which the administration says is unlikely to prove as lucrative as the council claims.
Source: Plan Philly; 6/20/2018
With $24M parking lot deal, Goldenberg Group mulls Market East development
A co-owner of the massive parking lot at Eighth and Market streets in Center City has a deal to buy an adjacent parcel from the city’s parking authority, with possible plans for a hotel, offices and shopping at the consolidated property. The Philadelphia Parking Authority voted Tuesday to sell the 30,100-square-foot lot on the northwest corner of Eighth and Chestnut streets to Blue Bell-based Goldenberg Group for $24.13 million, PPA executive director Scott Petri said in an interview. The tract forms a potential development site of about 2.7 acres when combined with the larger parcel just to the north that Goldenberg controls in partnership with Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, owner of the Gallery at Market East shopping mall across Market Street. “Eighth and Market is one of the most significant intersections in the city,” Seth Shapiro, Goldenberg’s chief operating officer, said in an email. “It affords, and even demands, a significant, sizable, mixed-use development. The development site formed by the two parcels was once dominated by the original branch of the now-defunct Gimbels department store chain, which was demolished in the late 1970s when the store moved to the then-newly built Gallery.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/20/2018