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
The most — and least — prosperous places in Pennsylvania
Recent research by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution demonstrates that prosperity varies greatly from community to community. An interactive map allows users to track, down to the county level, how prosperity varies across the U.S. The Hamilton Project created a “Prosperity Index,” which combines factors such as a county’s median household income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, prime-age employment rate, life expectancy and housing vacancy rate. Suburban Philadelphia counties all ranked among the most prosperous in Pennsylvania — Chester County (1), Montgomery County (2), Bucks County (3) and Delaware County (4). Philadelphia County was ranked as the second-least prosperous county based on its Prosperity Index Score. Read more here.
Source: Pennsylvania Capitol Star; 3/4/2019
Proposal aims to ease government efforts to reclaim records
State and local government records that have been stolen or have otherwise ended up in private hands without authorization would be much easier to reclaim under legislation that could soon pass the Pennsylvania House. A bill would give the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission the power to demand the return of records with historical value and to ask Commonwealth Court to order that they be turned over. “A lot of records, they appear on eBay,” said commission spokesman Howard Pollman. “And we have no legal recourse to say, ‘Hey, don’t sell that, that’s ours.’” Local governments that believe their records are improperly in the hands of others would also be empowered to ask for the records or to request that the commission use the same process to procure their return.
Source: Daily Local; 3/10/2019
Transparency in government budget data is growing
According to Mark Mack, a manager at the research and consulting center of the Government Finance Officers Association, there is a growing appetite among local governments for transparency, especially about finances. As citizens demand information be made readily available, strides in technology have enabled smaller governments to offer the same types of online tools some of their larger counterparts started using years ago. Chester and Montgomery counties have used the Open-Gov platform for interactive budget tools since 2015. The openness raises a question, however: Do people know what they’re looking at? Simone Brody, executive director of What Works Cities, said governments should not just dump data online, but rather use online tools as part of a larger plan and “create bite-size ways for residents to engage with financial data.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/11/2019
Springfield targets septic tank neglect
Springfield Township’s Act 537 ordinance requires residents to pump their on-lot septic system once every three years. The township mailed reminder notices in December 2017 to approximately 500 households that are in violation of the ordinance. “People got a year grace period; now we’re going to do something about it,” said Supervisor Chairman Dave Long. Some board members favor another warning notice, and others are “okay with just issuing citations to gain compliance,” said Township Manager Mike Brown. The ordinance states that residents who fail to produce a certification of completion could face a court-imposed fine of $600 per day plus court costs between $80 to $100. Some opponents to the on-lot septic management ordinance maintain that it doesn’t accommodate people on fixed incomes or those with minimal sewage output.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/7/2019
Federal court rules mostly in favor of Rockhill Quarry
Judge Gerald McHugh, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled that East Rockhill Township had stepped beyond its authority in the matter of the Rockhill Quarry. McHugh ruled that state law gives the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) authority over mining operations, thereby “preempting” most local zoning regulations. The ruling prevents East Rockhill from enforcing regulations on issues like the quarry wall slope, land grading and building construction, or requiring the quarry to obtain a special exception to increase extraction activities. McHugh did not rule on whether the quarry is able to operate an asphalt plant on the site, which the township has said is not an allowed activity because the quarry is not located in the manufacturing district. He stated that Pennsylvania law does not expressly permit an asphalt plant at all quarry sites, and sent the matter to Bucks County Court for local consideration. According to Patrick Armstrong, lead attorney for East Rockhill Township, “The township is in the process of reviewing the decision and will not be in a position to comment until the board has had an opportunity to meet to discuss the issues involved.” Quarry operations were halted Dec. 5, 2018, after asbestos was found and the status of a DEP required investigation into its presence at the quarry is unclear.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/6/2019
Plumstead to draft EDU policy for water usage
Plumstead Township supervisors discussed their policy concerning equivalent development units (EDUs) at a recent meeting. An EDU is a standard unit of water demand equal to one single-family residence and is used in planning for subdivisions. Plumstead’s EDU allocation was limited in 2008 after a court-ordered settlement agreement between the township and Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority. Township engineer Tim Fulmer expressed the need for uniformity in the EDU allocation policy so developers understand the process and can confirm that EDUs are available and reserved, but not allocated, prior to presenting costly engineered preliminary or final development plans. Township solicitor Jonathan Reiss recommended a time limit of 12 months be placed on an EDU reservation. A motion was made and passed to have consultants draft a policy for EDU reservation and allocation within a time limit and a notification process to be discussed at the next meeting. Plumstead currently has 111 EDU’s remaining, with 50 reserved for village center improvements, 50 for failing private sewer systems, and others reserved for pending projects.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/7/2019
Judge approves sale of vacant Bristol Township schools
Bucks County Judge Jeffrey Finely recently approved the sale of three vacant Bristol Township elementary schools — John Fitch, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington — to McGrath & Son Homes. Court approval is required when vacant public school properties are sold through private sale and not by public auction or public bid. McGrath’s next step will be to submit plans to Bristol Township Council for approval. McGrath is proposing age-restricted housing on each of the properties. Age-restricted housing requires that at least one occupant in each dwelling unit be at least 55 and no children under 18, meaning the housing would not add any children to the Bristol Township school system.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/12/2019
Historical groups get $43k in state funding
Six cultural and historical organizations in Chester County have been awarded more than $43,000 in state funding from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). The funding comes through the PHMC Cultural and Historical Support Grant Program, which provides support for resources and operating expenses to museum and historical organizations according to a formula based on their size and operating budgets. The following organizations in Chester County were awarded the grants:
Source: Daily Local; 3/11/2019
Chester Valley Trail public meeting scheduled
The Friends of the Chester Valley Trail (CVT) will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, March 19, at 7 p.m. at the Tredyffrin Township Building, 1100 Duportail Road in Chesterbrook. There will be an update on improvements to the Route 100 crossing and on the extension of the CVT further west through Exton. Learn more about the trail here.
Source: Friends of the Chester Valley Trail; 3/11/2019
Realtor® summit planned at West Chester Area School District
West Chester Area School District will hold a Realtor® Summit on Friday, April 5, at 9 a.m. at West Chester East High School, 350 Ellis Lane in West Chester. The district recognizes that local real estate agents are the critical first link for newcomers to the area. The Realtor® Summit will offer a “State of the District” report, providing the latest demographic, performance and financial statistics, and a complimentary breakfast prepared by the West Chester East culinary arts students. To register, visit www.wcasd.net/Domain/1030.
Source: West Chester Area School District; 2/28/2019
Officials consider plan to spruce up Unionville Park
East Marlborough Township supervisors will consider a proposal to spruce up the entrance of Unionville Community Park. At a recent meeting they heard an update from Jim Hatfield, the township engineer, who said staff members at his firm VanDemark & Lynch and the township’s landscape planners, Glackin Thomas Panzak, were putting together a proposal to improve the “gateway” to the park. Hatfield said the proposal would reduce the amount of paved area to help control stormwater runoff, among other benefits.
Source: Daily Local; 3/11/2019
New development moves forward in Nether Providence
Malvern-based Progressive New Homes has secured the unanimous backing of the Nether Providence Township Planning Commission for a proposal to build 10 single-family homes on a five-acre property on Wallingford Avenue. The land is in the South Media section of the township, located adjacent to Sapovits Park in the South Media section. The houses would carry a price tag of about $500,000 each. Under the plan, two-thirds of the property will be developed while one-third will remain wooded. Because it was a “by-right” application, there was a clear path to approval, though the planners did recommend several conditions. A final decision on the plan is expected to be rendered later this month by the township board of commissioners. However, Sarah Peck, the owner of the development firm, indicated she is still in discussions with neighbors of the property about an alternative vision for the site. That option would involve 32 units in 16 buildings, with pairs of homes on two different levels in the same structures. The upstairs units would have two garages while the downstairs units would have a single garage. Costs for those units would range from $250,000 to $375,000, which Peck said could be affordable for those in the community.
Source: Daily Times; 3/11/2019
Penn-Delco issues tiny refunds
Within the past few weeks, approximately 9,500 residents received property tax refunds from the Penn-Delco School District, with the majority of the checks issued worth between $1 and $4. School District Business Manager Tracy Marshall said the refunds were due to a miscalculation of millage equaling a 2.5 cent overcharge per $1,000 of assessed value. “We consulted with our solicitor and our only legal remedy was to return the overpayment to our residents,” Marshall said. “The bottom line is the money does not rightfully belong to the district, and it needed to be returned to the taxpayers. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused, but our goal is to be honest and transparent.” Marshall said legally the district cannot credit or intermingle funds from different years and the books need to be closed at the end of every year.
Source: Daily Times; 3/11/2019
Delco D.A. launches probe of Mariner East pipeline
Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland added her voice to the growing din seeking an investigation of the controversial Mariner East pipeline issue. Copeland announced she was launching an investigation of the pipeline in conjunction with the state Attorney General’s office. Copeland said her office and the A.G.’s office are conducting a joint investigation regarding allegations of criminal misconduct by Energy Transfer LP, the Texas-based owner of the Mariner East project, along with their local affiliate Sunoco Logistics Partners, and related corporate entities. The investigation will focus on pipeline construction and related activities for Mariner East 1, 2 and 2X pipelines. “There is no question that the pipeline poses certain concerns and risks to our residents, and as district attorney, I am working to do everything possible within my power to ensure the safety of residents,” Copeland said in a statement. “At this time, we are thoroughly reviewing the evidence available to us, working with the attorney general’s office, and seeking action within our jurisdictional boundaries.” Copeland encouraged county residents to contact her office with their concerns about the pipeline. Because it’s an active investigation, many details have not been made public. Delaware County Council also filed a motion last month to intervene as a full and active party in a lawsuit against the company filed by seven residents of Delaware and Chester counties. The 350-mile pipeline project crosses 17 counties in Pennsylvania.
Source: Daily Times; 3/13/2019
Businessman again makes offer to U.D. schools for school site in Clifton
A businessman is again pushing for the Upper Darby School District to consider his Clifton Heights property for new school space. Jim Duffy presented to school district leaders his property at 4 Rockbourne Road as the district prepared for a March 12 vote to approve the initial steps to build a new middle school on North Springfield Road in Clifton Heights. Duffy has offered this property, and another right across Darby Creek at 4000 Bridge Street in Drexel Hill, for at least $60 million, a figure that matches what the district may spend to build a 150,000-square-foot middle school to house 750 students in Clifton Heights. A look at Duffy’s proposal shows that the five-story Rockbourne property has two options: an elementary school with 30 classrooms plus 20,000 square feet for administrative offices, or a middle school with 50 classrooms. Duffy says he would build a gym and cafeteria on the Bridge Street property.
Source: Daily Times; 3/10/2019
Condo group in Chadds Ford requires pre-settlement safety inspection
Painters Crossing Condominiums in Chadds Ford requires an inspection when a unit becomes vacant before a buyer or a new tenant may occupy the unity. There is a $100 fee payable to the Painters Crossing Condominium Association, and no fee is charged if a second inspection is necessary. The inspection is for preventative maintenance purposes, and the owner has 30 days to complete any repairs or replacements. This requirement has been in place since 2011.
Source: PENCO Management; 3/11/2019
County announces dates for public to view new voting system
Montgomery County Commissioners have announced opportunities for the public to become familiar with the county’s new voting system. The system, which uses a voter-marked paper ballot, was approved by commissioners in December to accommodate 425 polling locations and nearly 600,000 registered voters in the county. The kickoff event is scheduled for Saturday, April 6, from 9 a.m. to noon at Ambler Borough Hall. Additional voting system demonstrations will take place at 6 p.m. on four dates in April and May, before the “Conversations with Commissioners” events begin at 7 p.m. Click here for the schedule.
Source: Times Herald; 3/11/2019
Hatfield Township approves land transfer for Route 309 Connector
The Hatfield Township Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to transfer about six-and-a-half acres of right-of-way to PennDOT for a portion of the Route 309 Connector. The connector currently ends at Wambold and Allentown roads, and this phase would bring the connector “all the way to Hatfield-Souderton Pike,” said Township Manager Aaron Bibro. The connector project has been discussed since the 1960s as a vision to create a new direct link between the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Route 309 in Hatfield. The first phase of the planned connector, with upgrades along Wambold Road to Allentown Road, were finished in 2012. Two additional phases of the project were then defined by PennDOT and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission: Allentown Road to Township Line Road, and then Township Line Road to Route 309. PennDOT announced that construction from Allentown Road to Township Line Road will begin in 2020 and run through 2023. Hatfield residents in attendance expressed concern about increased truck traffic in their neighborhoods since Towamencin voted to restrict trucks on their portion of Derstine Road last year. Once the connector route is completed, Bibro said, large trucks that currently travel through local neighborhoods will have a more direct route.
Source: The Reporter; 3/13/2019
Developer presents revised land plans in Lower Salford
Lower Salford Township supervisors were encouraged by recent land development plans presented by Metropolitan Development Group. Metropolitan’s rezoning request for two tracts of land on Oak Drive and Maple Avenue was rejected last year. Large crowds of residents opposed the rezoning that would have allowed a combined 133 new homes to be built on the properties, leading to the supervisors rejecting the rezoning request last November. The new plans came after meeting with residents and the planning commission, said Metropolitan’s lawyer Robert Gundlach Jr. The new plans call for single-family detached homes, instead of twins, on the Maple Avenue tract. Changes to the Oak Drive tract plans include an increase in the size of the townhome unit footprints that will decrease the number of units per building to four instead of five and six, and a decrease to two-story buildings. Supervisors said the new concept plans are a step in the right direction. No decisions were made and more detailed plans would have to be developed and reviewed before final approval, said Supervisor Chris Canavan.
Source: The Reporter; 3/12/2019
Lansdale readies for fire safety inspections for commercial properties
Lansdale Borough staff and council continue to discuss an update to borough fire codes that will set in place a new program of fire safety inspections for commercial properties. The borough is expected to adopt the newest international code soon, setting into motion fire safety inspections of commercial properties, such as those with residents living in apartments above. The previous state construction codes do not make any provisions for fire safety inspections, which had been left up to municipalities, but the state has now mandated that municipalities adopt the 2015 international code, which does. The new code will require the town to establish a program of commercial property inspections for fire safety measure, said Borough Manager John Ernst. The cost for the inspection must be revenue-neutral, meaning the borough cannot profit off the inspections. Once the changes are adopted, staff will begin work on communication materials for local businesses to understand the reasons for the new inspections. The inspections, Ernst said, are “to ensure the safety of the residents, of customers, to help keep insurance rates down, and help us provide the safest possible experience in Lansdale, for those who visit and those in live in apartments above businesses.”
Source: The Reporter; 3/13/2019
Troubled city land sale office facing takeover after scandals
A once-obscure city office that critics link to Philadelphia’s pay-to-play political culture will soon be taken over by the Philadelphia Land Bank, according to a memorandum of understanding obtained by PlanPhilly. The memo outlines a plan to effectively merge the staff functions of the controversial Vacant Property Review Committee (VPRC) into the Land Bank, which was created in 2015 to centralize and simplify city land sales. Under the current system, these staffers are charged with vetting prospective buyers interested in public land. VPRC staff mistakes and missteps played a central role in recent accounts detailing chronic undervaluation of land and political meddling in land deals. In the wake of these stories, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority –– which must finalize public land sales –– froze all VPRC transactions, pending reform. Although its staff functions will be absorbed by the Land Bank, the board itself, which signs off on the majority of city land sales, will remain. The VPRC was initially intended only to advise the city’s Department of Public Property regarding sales of some 2,500 unused publicly owned lots controlled by that office. But the tiny office and its staff members instead became an integral part of appraising and processing the sale of the department’s land, which comprises 52 percent of all city-owned lots listed for sale. “Although the review committee is staffed by administration officials, it is controlled by council,” Pew Charitable Trusts wrote in a 2015 report that described the VPRC. “Its operations follow no written bylaws or guidelines, officials say, and its work gets little public attention.”
Source: Plan Philly; 3/8/2019
A park that makes money? Dilworth generated $2.5M in 2018
The quasi-governmental organization that leases Dilworth Park from the city, the Center City District (CCD), is growing — and much of that growth comes from an explosion of revenue coming from the park. Budget documents show that CCD brings in more than $2.67 million annually from lease agreements, advertising, event sponsorships, and other moneymaking efforts on public parcels, including the park. Historically, nearly the entire CCD budget is covered by a special tax levied on downtown real estate, but by the end of 2018, park revenues accounted for 11 percent of the District’s $23 million budget. A separate budget projection indicates that CCD expects these revenues to increase by 58 percent by 2022. The vast majority of the park’s revenues come from leases, ads and private events at Dilworth and City Hall’s underground SEPTA station entrance, which the CCD has managed since 2014 through a 20-year lease agreement with the city. Money made inside the park now covers about 61 percent of the $4.7 million CCD plows into it annually to provide security, maintenance and programming — events like free concerts, movies and light shows that help attract eight to 10 million visitors annually to the plaza. Certain encroachments, like private parties or the new Starbucks, are trade-offs needed to create a world-class public space in a city with a 25 percent poverty rate, according to Paul Levy, CCD executive director. “If you’ve been in Philadelphia for more than three or four years, you know that these used to be failed public spaces,” Levy said. “The city did not have money in its operating or capital budget to transform or upgrade them.”
Source: Plan Philly; 3/8/2019