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
NAR cheers bill to extend Fair Housing protections to LGBT
The National Association of Realtors® supports legislation introduced in both chambers of Congress to extend protections under the Fair Housing Act to the LGBT community. “Realtors® have worked for [nearly] a decade to ensure the American dream of homeownership is not unfairly denied to those in the LGBT community,” NAR President John Smaby said in a statement. NAR amended its Code of Ethics to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2011 and gender identity in 2013. Last year, the association supported the Fair and Equal Housing Act, which would make those protections part of the Fair Housing Act. However, Congress adjourned before the bill could come up for a vote. The recently introduced legislation, called the Equality Act, includes the NAR-supported housing protections of the Fair and Equal Housing Act and also extends LGBT protections in the areas of employment, public accommodations, credit markets and voting. Shannon McGahn, NAR senior vice president for government affairs, will appear at a policy summit hosted by the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals next month in Washington, D.C., to talk about next steps for the legislation.
Source: Realtor Magazine; 3/14/2019
Debate continues over the cost of cyber charter schools
Over 34,000 children across Pennsylvania attend cyber charter schools. Although tuition is free for the student, the cost of the education is borne by the school district in which the student resides. A cyber charter student costs a school district the same as one attending a brick-and-mortar charter school, and that funding system is at the core of a debate over whether cyber charters are a wise investment for taxpayers. A 2012 study by Fordham Institute, a pro-charter group in Ohio, estimated that per-pupil costs for virtual schools range from $5,100 to $7,700, compared with $10,000 for a student in a traditional school. “We’ve reached the point where it’s unsustainable,” said Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pa. The group released a report last month calling for cybers to receive a flat $5,000 fee per student, with higher rates for special-education students. It is estimated that a flat-rate system would save Pennsylvania school districts $250 million. Click here for full article, including a chart of the estimated savings district-by-district in the Philadelphia region if such a funding formula were adopted.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer’ 3/18/2019
Pennsylvanians urged to provide transportation feedback to PennDOT
Pennsylvanians can view ratings of the state’s efforts in transportation safety, mobility, system preservation and accountability by way of the 2019 Transportation Performance Report, viewable at www.TalkPATransportation.com. The biennial report is the first step in the state’s transportation program planning proves and helps to evaluate the system’s performance and opportunities for progress. Public input helps guide the 2021 Twelve Year Program (TYP) update. The TYP is Pennsylvania’s multimodal, long-range transportation program that prioritizes projects over the next 12 years. It is updated every two years with input from the public and other transportation stakeholders. Input is gathered through an online survey available on the website through April 26. A printed survey copy can be requested by calling 717-783-2262 between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Source: PennDOT; 3/11/2019
Upper Southampton Authority inspecting sump pump connections at point of sale
Upper Southampton Municipal Authority (USMA) has instituted an inspection program for sump pump discharge for properties served by the authority’s sanitary sewer system. During recent periods of wet weather, the sanitary sewer system was operating at overload capacity due in part to excess flow from “inflow” into the sanitary system. Inflow occurs when storm water that should be discharged to lawns or storm water management systems is instead directly routed and discharged into the sanitary sewer system. Inflow burdens the system and creates additional expense. A major source of inflow is the use of sump pumps that discharge water through a connection to a building’s plumbing systems, which is then discharged into the sanitary system. This is a violation of Upper Southampton Township Ordinance #234. USMA is now inspecting sump pump connections at the point of sale. There is currently no charge for the inspection. If a sump pump is connected to the public sewer, it must be disconnected and rerouted to the lawn or another acceptable area. USMA is allowing 30 days for repairs. Realtors® listing homes for sale within the USMA service area should contact the authority at 215-364-1390 to schedule an inspection appointment before settlement. Click here for the notice. Visit the USMA website here.
Source: Upper Southampton Municipal Authority
Fight over farm’s use in Hilltown
In 2008, Patricia and Caleb Torrice leased 10 acres of land with an existing farm store, bakery and delicatessen that would become Tabora Farm & Orchard in Hilltown Township. The Torrices purchased the land in 2014 for $2.1 million. For a decade, the farm hosted a strawberry festival and other events, along with a retail operation. In 2018, neighbors complained about increased traffic and noise, spurring a zoning inspection by the township and a stack of citations, including: an illegal apartment, a 4,000 square-foot deck and patio constructed without permission; lack of restaurant license for the deli; wine sales without permits; and improper expansion of the parking lot. However, documents filed with Hilltown Township show there was a paper trail for changes made to the business by previous owners — including the apartment, bakery and cooking equipment installed in the deli in 1999. A citation was also issued for entertainment not permitted under township zoning laws. The property is zoned rural-residential, therefore events not directly related to agriculture are not allowed. In December, the Hilltown zoning board ruled that Tabora’s store, bakery, and deli could remain, but the winery and nonagricultural events must stop. The Torrices agreed to comply with the ruling, which would end 15 of the farm’s 25 annual events and have a dramatic impact on the business. Then, in January, the Hilltown Township Board of Supervisors appealed the zoning board’s decision in a renewed attempt to permanently shutter the deli and all outdoor activities. Township solicitor Stephen B. Morris said the goal of the appeal is to find a more precise definition for an “agricultural event.” Morris used the example that a child’s Halloween event called the “Zombie Paintball Wagon Ride” was amended to “Protect our Pumpkins,” although the objective of the game — to shoot monsters with paintball guns — remained unchanged. The Torrices view the supervisors’ appeal as excessively punitive and said the constraints from the zoning board’s ruling have undercut operations and revenue, jeopardizing the employment of longtime workers. Supporters of the farm have rallied, signing several petitions, including one with more than a thousand signatures urging the Hilltown supervisors to drop their appeal. The supervisors did not respond to requests for comment.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/18/2019
Former Girl Scouts property in Haycock/East Rockhill eyed for agriculture
Haycock Township supervisors recently acknowledged the receipt of an Agricultural Security Area (ASA) application from the new single-family owner of a former 237-acre Freedom Valley Girl Scouts property. About 149 acres of the property off Richlandtown Road lies in Haycock Township, with the remainder in East Rockhill Township. ASA designation protects farm properties from nuisance complaints, such as those about odors during fertilizer application, and can also be a step toward preservation. A 2015 sketch plan calling for subdivision of the property into about 116 residential units was withdrawn after the developer realized it may have underestimated the costs for building on the rocky terrain.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/14/2019
Bucks homeless will soon have another place to turn for help
The nonprofit Family Promise of Lower Bucks announced plans to operate a 24-hour shelter service for pregnant moms and homeless parents with children. The nonprofit said it will start small, offering shelter services to three or four homeless families at a time through its new day center in Middletown, with families spending their evenings in donated sleeping spaces in area churches and synagogues, said Jessica Schwartz, director for the nonprofit. Schwartz believes there may be hundreds of children in Bucks County with no permanent address. A count of homeless people conducted in January by Bucks County found 359 men, women and children living outdoors, on the streets, in emergency shelters or transitional housing. Of that number, one in three were children and teens, county officials reported. Jeffrey Fields, director of housing services for Bucks County, said there are currently three year-round shelters in the county — Valley Youth House, A Woman’s Place and the Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter. If you or someone you know is experiencing a housing crisis in the county, call the Bucks County Housing Link at 1-800-810-4434.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/16/2019
Chester County awarded $3.7M to preserve farms
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board recently awarded Chester County $3.74 million to preserve farmland. The state board announced an overall spending threshold of $38 million for the purchase of development rights from farm owners statewide — the highest spending total in over a decade. Chester County’s award of state funds, added to certified county funds of $5 million for farmland preservation in 2019, positions the county as the state leader in funding for agricultural land preservation. The nine-member Chester County Agriculture Land Preservation Board (ALPB) guides the county on farmland preservation and reviews applications from farm owners. Board Chairwoman Melba Matthews said, “It is a great accomplishment to be state leader for farmland preservation, while leveraging federal, state, county, and township funds to support the local farming industry and preserve open space.” The ALPB is now accepting applications for farmland preservation. Farms 10 acres or more are eligible if they are adjacent to permanently preserved land. Farms not adjacent to permanently preserved land need to be a minimum of 50 acres in size for the state program and 25 acres in size for the Challenge Grant Program. The deadline for Chester County’s Farmland Preservation application is Aug. 1. For more information, see www.chesco.org/openspace.
Source: Daily Local; 3/20/2019
Restoration workshop scheduled in West Chester
A workshop to help those who have questions about historic home restoration in West Chester Borough will take place on Sunday, April 7, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the West Chester Municipal Building. The West Chester Downtown Foundation’s Preservation Award Committee and the borough’s Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) are co-sponsoring the workshop. The focus of this first event will be on windows, because they are the topic most frequently raised by residents. HARB Chairwoman Carol Quigley, an architectural preservation consultant at Frens & Frens Studio at Patterhn Ives, is scheduled to speak along with Mayor Diane Herrin and local restoration contractor Matthew Roberson of R&B Restoration Carpentry. All three speakers will take questions from the audience. “The workshop will cover restoration best practices, as well as energy-efficiency options for historic homes and businesses,” said James Breen, who serves on the boards of both sponsoring groups. “We will cite examples from West Chester and other communities to help people understand what should and should not be done.” The workshop is free and open to the public.
Source: Daily Local; 3/20/2019
Penn Township issues reminder about soliciting
Penn Township has informed residents and businesses that soliciting and peddling is prohibited in Penn Township under Ordinance 2012-06. The ordinance was put in place to protect people from unwanted harassment. Anyone wishing to solicit must first submit an application and receive approval from the township. To date, no one has ever submitted an application to solicit in Penn Township. Residents are advised to report illegal solicitation activity by calling 610-869-9620 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Penn Township; 3/14/2019
Mosteller building demolished in West Chester
The three-month demolition of the Mosteller Building will make way for the multiuse four-story 44 West project, which is slated for a February 2020 occupancy, according to builder Eli Kahn, of E. Kahn Development Corp. Kahn worked for years to convince borough council to allow him to build the modern-looking building and plaza at one of the borough’s main intersections. With the most recent election, the makeup of council changed and Kahn received the go-ahead. Kahn said that all three floors of offices are leased for the four-story building, and discussions with a dozen restaurateurs have taken place. Kahn said the first floor will host one or two restaurants. Completion of the project’s signature fountain will occur during early 2020. Kahn said that traffic patterns will remain the same.
Source: Daily Local; 3/19/2019
U.D. school board OKs study of proposed new school on Clifton fields
The Upper Darby School Board approved a contract to examine the viability of building a new middle school in Clifton Heights and putting an addition on an elementary school, plans known as phase one of the potential capital projects. An 8-1 vote of the board approved hiring KCBA Architects to complete schematic designs for no more than $2.5 million to see if a $65 million, 166,500-square-foot middle school building for 950 students is a possibility on almost 12 acres of developable land the district owns on North Springfield Road. The land currently has athletic fields that are used by community groups for sporting events and fundraisers. The plan includes rehabbing the fields and reconfiguring them to the back of the property for continued use by the community. Also approved is the viability of renovating almost 69,000 square feet of Aronimink Elementary School and building a 26,000-square-foot addition to allow the building to increase its student capacity from approximately 260 to 700. KCBA Architects was hired to do schematic work for this estimated $24.3 million project for no more than $1.2 million. The future of the athletic field on Springfield Road has sparked concern from residents of Clifton Heights.
Source: Daily Times; 3/14/2019
Chadds Ford Village map under consideration
Chadds Ford Township supervisors opened and continued a hearing into the adoption of an official map that would delimit the village area of the township. According to Supervisors’ Chairman Frank Murphy, the township can apply and enforce the V–Village Zoning District that supervisors approved in July of last year once an official map is adopted. The map does not expand the village area. The area officially designated as the village runs east and west from Hank’s Place restaurant on the west side of North Creek Road through to the Barn Shops on the east side. It runs north and south on both sides of Route 1, north along Creek Road to the Chadds Ford Historical Society and south along S. Creek and Station Way roads including Brandywine Conservancy and River Museum of Art property. That total area currently includes three zoning districts — R-1, R-2 and B-Business. Those districts would be replaced within the zone with the V designation. Uses currently permitted would still be permitted, Murphy said. Murphy and Vice Chairman Samantha Reiner both said changes, such as installation of sidewalks, are only for new construction. Murphy further said that Pennsylvania state law automatically grandfathers in existing conditions and that the township “can’t make it retroactive.” The board continued the hearing to Wednesday, April 3, at 7 p.m. as part of the regular April meeting. Text of the ordinance for the V-Village District can be found here.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 3/7/2019
New community wellness center coming to Chester
A new community wellness center is coming to the former Family Dollar at 1929 W. Ninth St. in the City of Chester sometime this year. Keystone First announced its entry into a lease agreement for the 7,000-square-foot site and preliminary plans for a health resource hub in a recent press release. “We are still trying to determine the specific services to offer at the Chester center,” company spokesman Jawanza Keita said. “Historically, we do it based on the needs of local residents.” According to the release, Keystone First is meeting with providers, community partners and members to determine what the Chester center will offer.
Source: Daily Times; 3/15/2019
Radnor considers plastic shopping bag restrictions
The Radnor Board of Commissioners recently discussed requiring that businesses charge customers to use plastic bags to carry their purchases home. After some discussion, the board punted the topic to its environmental advisory council for a recommendation for a possible ordinance. Business owners in the community had mixed reactions to the idea.
Source: Daily Times; 3/18/2019
Norristown Day set for April 6
The Municipality of Norristown, Norristown Chamber of Commerce and other community groups have set Saturday, April 6, for Norristown Day. The event showcases positivity, progress and civic pride in Norristown. It will begin at 9 a.m. with Little League Opening Day; a beautification project of the DeKalb Street gateways, also at 9 a.m.; Norristown Recreation Center open house from noon to 2 p.m.; a Party in the Park from noon to 3 p.m., hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, with a variety of vendors; and free admission to the Elmwood Park Zoo. The event is also sponsored by Wawa, Elmwood Park Zoo, TD Bank and Five Saints Distilling. Click here for more information.
Source: Times Herald; 3/18/2019
Skippack supervisors call for fair redistricting
Skippack Township supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution calling for an independent commission to draw the new legislative district lines after the next Census. The rationale for the resolution is in the text: “The creation of a truly independent citizens redistricting commission devoid of political motivation or partisanship will: ensure a fair, transparent, and accurate legislative and congressional redistricting process that protects political subdivisions; prohibits districts from being drawn to favor or discriminate against a political party or candidate; require the use of impartial and sound methodology when setting district boundaries; require public input and fully comply with the Constitutional requirement that ‘no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward’ be divided ‘unless absolutely necessary.” It took a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision to redraw Congressional districts across Pennsylvania before the 2018 election, after the districts drawn by the Republican majority were deemed to be skewed to favor the GOP. The court-imposed maps will expire in 2021, and the same legislative leaders in Harrisburg could “proceed as usual” resulting in another 10-year cycle of gerrymandered Congressional and state legislative maps, according to Rich Rafferty of Fair Districts PA. Skippack joined more than 250 Pennsylvania municipalities and 20 counties in passing support resolutions.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/18/2019
Lansdale officials see early plans for apartment building
Lansdale Borough Council saw a preview of a conditional use application to be filed later this month for updated plans to construct an apartment building at Third and Walnut streets. Plans for the location have been discussed since 2015, were approved in 2017 and then revised in 2018. The developer is in the process of purchasing several properties in the immediate area and updated the plans for the proposed apartment building, necessitating a new round of approvals. Changes to the current plan include apartments on the first floor, with parking behind. Lansdale’s business overlay district requires the first floor to be commercial use on Walnut Street, but engineer Jason Smeland said first-floor residential is more appropriate for the area. The plans make two stories of the façade resemble a townhome. Other changes include the use of an automated parking system that could stack cars, using significantly less space than a standard garage. The project was the subject of a conditional use hearing at the March 20 meeting of borough council.
Source: North Penn Life; 3/18/2019
Big changes at Blue Bell Country Club
Blue Bell Country Club, in its 25th year, recently completed a $2 million renovation to add sod and a new drainage system to the golf course. Now, owner Hansen Properties is investing another $3 million to enhance the player and visitor experience and position the country club for the next 25 years. Updates include the addition of a sports bar and restaurant, a fire pit lounge, an outdoor cocktail area, an updated men’s locker room, a redesign of the pro shop, updates to the driving range and a new outdoor bar to the club’s lower terrace. “Lifestyle and social clubs in the local market are certainly trending recently,” said Bud Hansen. “Our latest round of renovations positions us as the club of the future.” Golf is big business in Montgomery County, with 54 courses, of which 20 are open to the public. Visit the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board for more about golf in Montgomery County.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 3/15/2019
Philadelphia launches $40 million home repair loan program
A new low-interest loan program aimed at helping Philadelphia homeowners fix aging or damaged homes will provide $40 million worth of repairs to qualified applicants, city officials said Wednesday. The Restore, Repair, Renew program signals the city’s focus on stabilizing and fixing the tens of thousands of Philadelphia homes threatened by aging bones and disrepair. These older homes hold the key to keeping Philadelphia affordable for families who can’t pay for new construction, advocates argue. But without access to credit for repairs, people can’t keep them livable. City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker and Council President Darrell Clarke spearheaded the creation of the program, which will be managed by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. The $40 million came from a 2016 proposal to issue a $100 million bond that council members said would be paid back through an increase in the city’s realty transfer tax. Restore, Repair, Renew will be available to homeowners with credit scores of at least 580 and income of up to about $105,000 for a family of four. The program will allow loans between $2,500 and $25,000 over 10 years, with interest rates fixed at 3 percent. Univest Bank and Trust Company and Finanta, a nonprofit lender, will provide the loans. The Redevelopment Authority also plans to roll out a separate home-repair-oriented loan program later this year to help landlords who own four or fewer units make fixes.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/13/2019
Urban farming plan could include thousands of vacant lots
Philadelphia has a thriving urban farm and garden culture — a trend officials want to encourage. But many plots are on vacant land that owners might not have given permission to use, might be owned by the city, or might even be full of contaminated soil, a legacy of past industry. Officials want to create a plan to coordinate, promote and grow urban agriculture while ensuring it is practiced safely and within acceptable areas. “This isn’t about regulations," said Christine Knapp, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. "Rather, it’s more a matter of coordinating or supporting the appropriate ways these gardens and farms should exist and could exist and serve a role in the city.” The Urban Agriculture Plan will start with a $125,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation to the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund. The city will use the money to hire a consultant to research the issue, reach out to residents to find out what they want, and make recommendations. As of 2016, the city knew of at least 470 gardens scattered across 600 parcels, according to the proposal for the plan. Almost half of the parcels are on publicly owned land. A third are on private land, which often was abandoned by owners who had stopped paying taxes. According to Land Bank data, there are 28,500 vacant lots within the city. And 14,800 properties with vacant or abandoned buildings on them. Residents sometimes begin cultivating lots after homes are razed. So, in all, the city has more than 43,000 potential lots that neighbors could turn into gardens or farms that may, or may not, fit in with a plan for use of the properties by a lien holder, developer or the city. The city is hosting a Q&A session on Tuesday, April 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. at One Parkway Building, 15th and Arch streets, 18th Floor, for those interested in helping to craft the plan. Questions can also be directed to email@example.com and Elisa Ruse-Esposito at firstname.lastname@example.org by April 9.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/20/2019