NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
$11B budget package passes state legislature

Bucks County
Bucks County releases preliminary budget

Chester County
Valley Township to consider vacant property registration ordinance

Delaware County
Delco 2021 budget calls for no tax hike, significant job cuts

Montgomery County
Schwenksville eyes 22% tax increase

Philadelphia County
City council passes bill to curb real estate scammers

 

News Briefs Archive June 29, 2020

 

General News

The high cost of bad sidewalks
Millions of residents have suddenly become aware of an often-overlooked element to infrastructure in their communities — neighborhood sidewalks. During the lockdowns, walking became an antidote for cabin fever, and people began to realize that sidewalks are too narrow to provide adequate social distancing, not maintained adequately or not available at all. A 2017 survey by the National Association of Realtors® found that 87% of respondents considered sidewalks and places to take walks “very” or “somewhat” important to deciding where they would like to live. In urban environments as well as smaller-scale boroughs and towns focused on transit-oriented development, sidewalks funnel people from bus stops, train stations and other options in a new movement to reduce auto usage. Crumbling and non-existent walkways have accumulated over decades of neglect. Where sidewalks do exist, they are “the most bizarrely funded thing ever,” said Emiko Atherton, a vice president at Smart Growth America. Some cities and municipalities force property owners to pay for publicly used sidewalks only when they sell their home, a practice that many find unfair. Relying on private citizens to fund sidewalk maintenance also means that a few laggards can create neighborhood-scale problems. Other cities assume responsibility for sidewalk maintenance but the budget priority is low and reliant on a hodgepodge of federal, state and local grant programs. Now might be the time for Congress to consider more funding for sidewalk infrastructure while lockdown memories are fresh. Click here for the full article.
Source: Bloomberg CityLab; 6/16/2020

Suburban Philadelphia counties set to go green on June 26
Gov. Wolf announced that Bucks, Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties were scheduled to officially move into the green stage of reopening on Friday, June 26. Philadelphia will proceed to the green stage the same day, but city officials have opted for a more phased option, keeping some restrictions in place until July 3 or later. In the green phase of reopening, all businesses may reopen and most restrictions are lifted. People will still be required to wear masks in crowds and at private businesses, and store and restaurant capacity will be limited. Groups of up to 250 people will be allowed to gather. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® has a rundown on what the green phase means for Realtors®.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/19/2020

Homeowners, renters may be eligible for assistance
Renters and homeowners who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic will be able to retrieve applications for rent and mortgage relief beginning Monday, June 29, via the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. The agency will begin accepting completed applications for rent and mortgage assistance on July 6, when people will be able to submit their applications and supporting paperwork to a county organization chosen by PHFA for review. To be eligible to apply, renters and homeowners must show documentation of at least a 30% reduction in annual income since March 1 due to COVID-19. The Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $3.9 billion for Pennsylvania and is intended to help people hurt economically during the pandemic. In late May, the General Assembly directed $175 million of these CARES dollars to PHFA to provide assistance for struggling renters and homeowners. The portion for rent assistance is at least $150 million, and $25 million was set aside for mortgage assistance. Read more here.
Source: Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®; 6/25/2020

Bucks County

Plumstead to consider short-term transient rental ordinance
Plumstead Township supervisors will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, July 14, at 7:30 p.m. to consider an ordinance that will regulate short-term transient rentals. The meeting will be held via video or telephone conferencing and those who wish to participate in the meeting must pre-register via a link on the township website. Public comment will be taken by email during and before the meeting, by phone during the meeting, or as part of the video conferencing. The proposed ordinance establishes regulations for short-term transient rentals, including an annual inspection and permit, and prohibits short-term transient rentals without a permit. Click here (PDF)  for the proposed ordinance.
Source: The Intelligencer; 6/23/2020

Lower Makefield sewer sale could net up to $56M
Lower Makefield Township officials have received multiple bids for the township’s sewer system. The system serves 11,800 customers. The township began the sale process in April 2019, when it hired a consultant to determine if it was more cost effective to sell or fix the aging system. The township is facing pump station and sewer line repairs, as well as a $50 million obligation to the Morrisville Municipal Authority (MMA) for required upgrades to the treatment plant that serves Lower Makefield, Morrisville and Yardley. To make the fixes, supervisors approved a 37% sewer rate increase this year as part of the 2020 budget, after raising rates by 24% in 2019. The township’s “financially strained utilities, particularly the sewer fund” led to a 2019 downgrade of the township’s bond rating to AA2. Eight separate bids came in, providing a multitude of options for the township, including paying off the obligation to MMA and freezing rates, but no action has been taken by supervisors. Required approvals from the Public Utilities Commission would push settlement to mid-2021 if American Water or Aqua are selected. A sale to Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority would be quicker since it’s not regulated by the PUC, officials said.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/22/2020

Solebury reviews Route 202 development plan
Solebury Township supervisors received a presentation on the proposed development on the old Cartwheel property along Route 202, from Heritage Senior Living/New Cartwheel Partners. The developer is proposing a 93-unit assisted living facility, an adjacent urgent care center and four small stores next to the Route 202 Giant shopping center. Click here for the recorded Zoom meeting video and a link to a PDF of the development presentation. The developers have asked for a reduction in parking spaces for the assisted living section and changes to a relief road.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 6/18/2020

Doylestown Borough to launch pedestrian area pilot program
The Borough of Doylestown will launch a pedestrian area pilot program on Friday, June 26. The initial program will close a portion of West State Street (Restaurant Row) and the block from Hamilton Street to Clinton Street will close on two recurring weekends to allow outdoor dining and shopping to have a larger footprint. The designated area will close to vehicular traffic from 4 p.m. to midnight. Sidewalks will be closed to pedestrians and reserved for neighboring businesses to expand dining and shopping setups. The street will be reserved for pedestrian traffic. Social distancing remains critical in efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and pedestrians will be expected to maintain a safe distance between one another. Doylestown is open to feedback regarding all reopening initiatives, which are designed to be fair and safe for all downtown businesses and residents. Click here for more.
Source: Doylestown Borough e-news; 6/2020

Chester County 

West Chester approves plan to close roads, 'save Main Street'
West Chester Borough Council voted 4-3 to approve a plan created by the Main Street Strong Committee that will close off portions of Walnut, Market and Gay streets uptown 24-7 to create a spacious, safe and pedestrian-friendly environment. “We’re trying to save Main Street,” Mayor Dianne Herrin said. “Part of this is because we need to save our businesses and we need people to come into town, spending money, and spending time.” Councilman Bill Scott said it was not necessarily a permanent change. Cross streets High and Church are slated to stay open, while the plan calls for Gay Street to close between Matlack to Darlington streets.
Source: Daily Local; 6/19/2020

Lower Oxford to fire zoning officer, make changes to position
The Board of Supervisors of Lower Oxford Township plans to lay off the township’s full-time zoning officer, eliminate the position, appoint a temporary zoning officer and begin a search for an engineering firm and individual to act as zoning officer on a case-by-case basis. A special meeting on the matter will be held on Friday, June 19, at 9 a.m. in the Lower Oxford Township Building, 220 Township Road.
Source: Daily Local; 6/18/2020 

Kennett council to consider library’s conditional use application
Kennett Square Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, July 6, at 7 p.m. to consider the conditional use application of Kennett Library. The library leadership proposes to construct an approximately 17,225-square-foot building on the property located at 320 E. State St., and is seeking to eliminate side yard setbacks and relief for certain improvements therein. The hearing will be held online via Zoom, using meeting ID 86803349026 and password 19348.
Source: Daily Local; 6/22/2020

East Brandywine posts supervisor vacancy
East Brandywine Township has a vacancy on its board of supervisors, following the departure of Kenneth Ader. The board will appoint a replacement to finish the term, which runs through Jan. 1, 2022. Residents interested in applying for the position should email a letter of interest and an application form to the township manager. Applicants should be prepared to make a brief presentation about their motivation and qualifications at the supervisors meeting on Thursday, July 16. Applicants must have resided in East Brandywine Township continuously for one year. For more information and application process instructions, visit the township website.
Source: East Brandywine Township; 6/2020

Delaware County

Official property reassessment values will go out July 1
Official reassessment notices will be mailed out to Delaware County property owners on July 1. The deadline to appeal those updated property values will be Sept. 1. The notices are part of a court-ordered countywide reassessment project. In 2017, then-Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles B. Burr ordered the comprehensive reassessment, stemming from a pair of assessment appeals that noted a lack of uniformity. Delaware County Council hired Tyler Technologies, and the values will become effective for the 2021 taxing season. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance has a webpage providing an overview of Delaware County’s reassessment project.
Source: Daily Times; 6/19/2020

Chester Upland welcomes new superintendent amid charter tumult
Dr. Carol D. Birks is the new superintendent of the Chester Upland School District following her selection by state-appointed receiver Dr. Juan Baughn, who was formerly the district’s superintendent. Birks has a four-year contract with the district. She previously served as superintendent of the New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut for one and a half years. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, master’s degrees from the University of Bridgeport and Columbia University Teachers College, and a doctoral degree from Columbia University Teachers College. Birks joins Chester Upland at a pivotal time for the district, following a county court ruling last month issued that opens the doors for charter schools to completely take over district operations. “I believe that parents should have the right to choose between attending traditional public school — and it’s interesting how people always talk about charters as if they’re not public schools, but they are — they should have the right to choose between public schools and charter schools,” she said. “But I have no preference. I think parents should have the opportunity to choose what is the best learning experience for their children.” Read more about Birks’ background here.
Source: Daily Times; 6/24/2020

County council, DELCORA meet in court
Attorneys representing Delaware County Council and the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) on Thursday laid out a road map of issues to work through surrounding council’s attempt to block a pending sale of the water system to Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Inc. Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Dozor said there seem to be two main issues: the county’s complaint that a trust was illegally created to take in sale proceeds as part of a “rate stabilization plan” under the $276.5 million merger, and a pair of cross-injunctions filed by both parties concerning DELCORA’s termination under a county ordinance adopted June 3. Current county council members, all Democrats, claim the move to amend DELCORA’s bylaws and establish the trust was politically motivated so the sale could go through and benefit Republican Party members and donors. Aqua and DELCORA assert that the sale is only intended to stave off approximately $1.2 billion in expected new costs over the next decade and that the trust would act as a fund to keep increases pegged at just 3% for ratepayers instead of an expected 10%. Aqua has petitioned to be added as a party in the case. Attorneys from both sides said they’d work toward an agreement on the injunctions rather than litigate them, which would allow the authority to continue providing services to its ratepayers without interruption as the court proceedings go on. They anticipate limited discovery and possibly taking depositions on the trust issue, and requested a hearing date in August.
Source: Daily Times; 6/19/2020

County approves CARES funds for businesses and nonprofits
Delaware County Council unanimously voted to authorize a second round of Delco Strong grants to be distributed. Applications will be accepted over several days beginning on July 7, and a total of $14 million in grants is expected to be released to eligible businesses and nonprofit organizations. Eligibility requirements for the program and application instructions are posted online. The funding comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The county first launched the Delco Strong program in April, under which eligible applicants could apply for up to $7,500 to pay for rent, mortgage, utilities and inventory. More than 1,000 business owners applied. Members of the Delco Strong Team are in the process of approving valid and qualifying grant applicants and notifying applicants. The first round of Delco Strong will award approximately 800 grants with over $6 million in funding.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 6/18/2020

Montgomery County

Bryn Athyn to consider sewer maintenance and inspection ordinance
Bryn Athyn Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, July 6, at 7 p.m. via Zoom to consider a proposed ordinance that will provide for sanitary sewer system design requirements, system maintenance, repair and upgrade requirements and responsibilities, permitting and inspection of sanitary sewer systems, and penalties for violation. A summary of draft Ordinance 695 is on the borough website and a copy of the full text can be viewed at the Montgomery County Law Library. For Zoom meeting login details or to submit public comment ahead of the hearing, contact Borough Manager Vikki Trost at vikkit@brynathynboro.org.
Source: The Intelligencer; 6/15/2020

Lower Merion extends deadline for residential mortgage, rental, business relief funding
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has made limited funds available to Lower Merion Township to assist residents and businesses who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. The township will accept applications and distribute funding to low- and moderate-income households, and small businesses who employ members of such households. The application deadline has been extended until the funding runs out. Click here for guidelines.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 6/22/2020

West Norriton to authorize commercial property fire inspection program
West Norriton Township supervisors will hold a public hearing with the intention to adopt the 2015 edition of the International Fire Code (IFC) on Tuesday, July 14, at 7 p.m., via Zoom and/or at the West Norriton Township Building located at 1630 West Marshall Street, Jeffersonville. The proposed ordinances would update the existing fire code to reference the 2015 IFC; add a commercial fire inspection program; and update the alarm system program for both police and fire. A copy of the proposed ordinances are available for review on the township website. Members of the public wishing to listen or participate in the meeting should visit the township website for login instructions. The public may also submit questions and comments related to agenda items to info@wntwp.com by 3 p.m. on Tuesday, July 14, along with the sender’s name and address.
Source: Times Herald; 6/23/2020

Towamencin receives $190k county grant for trail
Towamencin Township has received a $190,000 Montco 2040 Implementation Grant for the Kriebel Road Fischer Park Trail Project. The grant, aimed at implementing the county comprehensive plan, “Montco 2040: A Shared Vision,” is one of 15 recently awarded by the Montgomery County Commissioners. The township will construct a multi-use trail along Kriebel Road to connect an existing trail segment with the farm buildings within Fischer Park. The trail will bring a recreational opportunity to nearby residents and connections to the many amenities at Fischer Park, which has an internal network of recreational trails.
Source: Towamencin Township e-news; 6/16/2020

Philadelphia

City council passes housing bills to aid renters during pandemic
Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed five housing bills Thursday meant to assist tenants who are struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed bills are an attempt to prevent mass evictions and further strain on city services. Council voted to extend the eviction moratorium — which is scheduled to end statewide in Pennsylvania on July 10 — until Aug. 31 for Philadelphia’s residential renters and small businesses. Council also created an eviction diversion program that runs through the end of the year and requires landlords and renters to go through mediation before formal eviction proceedings. Other programs created by council allow renters struggling financially due to the pandemic to take nine months to pay back rent using repayment plans, allow renters illegally locked out of their homes to recover damages, and prevent landlords from charging late fees or interest on back rent during the pandemic and for nine months after the emergency period ends on Aug. 31. Click here for the full article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/18/2020

13,000 Philadelphians applied for pandemic rental assistance, but funds ran out after 4,000
Almost 13,000 households applied for the rental assistance program Philadelphia created to support tenants who lost income because of the pandemic. Funding for the program came from $10 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. Of those, more than 10,200 met the program’s requirements, but the city ran out of money after pledging support for 4,000 households. The city is asking for donations from residents and businesses to expand the rental assistance program. Some applicants were disqualified because their landlords didn’t cooperate. Eligible landlords must: not pursue evictions while receiving rental assistance for six months; waive late fees for back rent in April and May; and give tenants six months after the end of assistance to repay missed rent. Landlords also need to have a rental license and be current on city taxes. Click here for the full article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/18/2020

Philly proposes $43M Schuylkill trail extension to include bridge with scenic overlook
Philadelphia has applied for a federal permit to build an extension to the Schuylkill River Trail with a bridge along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill that would allow runners, walkers, and cyclists to go over railroad tracks that have long blocked access to the river. The $43 million project would allow for an uninterrupted trail from Valley Forge to Bartram’s Garden. “The project has been in the works for years, and we’re just finishing up the design,” said Joseph Syrnick, president of the Schuylkill River Development Corp. He hopes the project goes to bid in the fall, with possible completion by summer 2023. Eventually, the Schuylkill River Trail is to be extended to the Delaware River, but there are no firm plans yet for when that will be completed. The proposed trail is divided into five sections and would extend over the river for 775 feet with a cable bridge. The bridge would carry the trail for about 650 feet along the river running parallel to the eastern bank. It would be about 25 feet wide, with the two overlooks roughly 50 feet wide, and would need to be supported by pylons and piers placed in the river. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/22/2020



 
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