NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
NAR responds to administration proposal to reform Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

Bucks County
Bensalem approves 106 more townhouses at Waterside community 

Chester County
Embreeville Redevelopment zoning hearing postponed 

Delaware County
SEPTA upgrades Secane station

Montgomery County
New Hanover Town Center project raising concern 

Philadelphia County
Center City developers benefit the most from city’s tax abatement 

 

News Briefs Archive March 4, 2019

 

General News

Realtors® commend HUD commitment to affordable housing
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) applauded Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson’s announcement that HUD will encourage reforms to local zoning and land-use regulations as a way to address affordable-housing shortages. “America’s 1.3 million Realtors® strongly support efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing as we look to fill housing needs for both renters and prospective buyers across the country,” NAR President John Smaby said. “NAR commends Secretary Carson’s commitment to spurring additional affordable-housing construction through the FHA multi-family loan program and its Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, as well as his call to reduce regulatory burdens in local communities. While some communities have exacerbated this problem through zoning and land-use regulations that increase housing costs, NAR encourages states and municipalities to adopt zoning laws, building codes and other policies that facilitate market production of affordable housing units.”
Source: Realtorparty.realtor; 2/22/2019 

Register for PAR Public Policy Regional Trainings
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) is offering a series of Public Policy Training sessions to provide Realtors® the tools to be engaged in PAR’s advocacy efforts. Participants will learn how to tell their real estate stories to advocate for their industry and clients. A local session will be held at Crowne Plaza Valley Forge in King of Prussia on Thursday, March 21, from 2 to 5 p.m. Click here to see all available training sessions and pre-register.

NAREB announces down payment assistance agreement
The National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) and Utah-based United Security Financial (USF) signed a landmark $50 million agreement making down payment assistance funds available to expand homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income black American homebuyers. The two organizations said the money will come from LBC Funding LLC. “NAREB’s goal is to build black wealth through homeownership through its 2 Million New Black Homeowners in 5 Years (2Mn5) program,” said NAREB President Jeffrey Hicks. The down payment assistance funds will be issued in conjunction with first-mortgage home-purchase loans made by USF to clients of NAREB members — called Realists — over the next 12 months.
Source: NAREB press release; 2/26/2019

Bucks County

DEP to host public meeting on proposed Elcon facility in Falls
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will host a public meeting regarding Elcon Recycling Services’ proposed plans to construct and operate a hazardous waste facility to treat and store liquid waste at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Falls Township. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Sheraton Bucks County Hotel, 400 Oxford Valley Road, Langhorne. The purpose of the meeting is to answer questions regarding permit applications for the project. More information on the project can be found by visiting www.dep.pa.gov/elcon.
Source: Pennsylvania DEP; 2/6/2019

Warminster considers remedies to financial crisis
Warminster Township supervisors recently approved a valuation of the township assets, specifically its water, sewer and stormwater management systems, to determine their value and to see if changing ownership, operation and management of the assets could help end the township’s ongoing financial crisis. According to Township Manager Gregg Schuster, the township has a $2.3 million deficit, a police pension to finance, and diminishing operating and general funds. Schuster said Warminster will “run out of cash in the near future.” The township could face Act 47 status, in which the state would take over Warminster’s financial operations and come up with a plan that could liquidate many of the town’s assets. Under the act, the state would have all control over the financial situation and the local government would have to adhere to the state’s plan. Schuster said the sale of parks and buildings is a short-term solution and urged against selling the township-run Five Ponds Golf Course, which is self-sufficient and does not cost the tax payers anything. PMF, a financial advisory company, will perform the asset valuation over the next few months, presenting options for the sewer and water systems and also reviewing a possible property tax increase.
Source: Public Spirit; 2/26/2019

Centennial School District preliminary budget has 4 percent increase
Centennial School District recently passed a $125.4 million budget for 2019-2020 that includes a 4 percent property tax increase. The budget also includes about $744,000 in various capital spending projects. Under the state’s Act 1 index, Centennial is required to seek special exceptions to raise taxes more than 2.3 percent. A 4 percent increase, if approved, would raise the tax rate to 5.6872 mills — about a $150 tax increase for the owner of a property assessed at the district average of $26,400. The preliminary budget has about $500,000 from the district’s $10.73 million fund balance set aside as contingency, in case it is needed to balance the budget. The school board is tentatively scheduled to vote on a final budget at the Tuesday, June 11, meeting.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/25/2019 

New Hope to amend Business Privilege Tax ordinance
New Hope Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, March 19, at 7 p.m. at the New Hope Borough Community Center, 125 New St., to consider amendments to the Business Privilege Tax ordinance. The ordinance amends certain definitions, makes the tax year a calendar year, and changes the deadlines by which initial and annual business privilege tax returns and remittances must be made to within 60 days of the date of commencing business for an initial return and by March 15 of the following tax year for a subsequent annual return. A complete copy of the proposed ordinance is available at the borough municipal building.
Source: The Intelligencer; 2/26/2019

Bedminster quarry zoning designation now a conditional use
Bedminster Township supervisors recently approved an amendment to the township zoning ordinance that changed extractive operation use in its Industrial Zoning District from permitted to conditional use. The supervisors also added “asphalt/ready mix concrete plant” as a conditional use there. Of the changes, Township Manager Rich Schilling said a review of the regulations found them “antiquated.” He said, “An extractive operation, such as a quarry, was listed as a permitted use, but changing it to a conditional use requires any proposal application to go through formal review by both the township’s planning commission and board of supervisors, toward proving it would not cause harm to the vicinity or the township as a whole.”
Source: Bucks County Herald; 2/21/2019

Chester County 

Coatesville City Hall renovated
Coatesville residents and elected officials gathered recently to celebrate renovations to the roughly 20-year-old City Hall building. The project was financed with a loan from BB&T Bank, according to City Manager Mike Trio, and the city was able to collateralize that loan with the county with a 10-year lease, making the debt on the bond practically zero. Some of the upgrades include: a new ground floor with administration offices; additional bathrooms in the building; and a 3,500-square-foot district court with holding cells, a courtroom and service areas. The second floor features a 4,500-square-foot community meeting area, which also can serve as an emergency area with warming facilities to house people during storms, and a secure council meeting chamber. “It’s really a win-win situation for everybody, and we’re really thankful that we were able to pull this off,” Trio said. He said the city is also working on improvements to the police station, which is located on the lower floor of the building.
Source: Daily Local; 2/26/2019

County agency receives $300K for affordable housing
The Chester County Department of Community Development (CCDCD) will receive $300,000 in state funding to continue implementation of its accessible housing program. “These funds will go a long way in supporting important programs that provide affordable and accessible housing options here in Chester County to some of our residents who need them the most,” said state Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-19). The funds, provided through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Keystone Communities program, will assist 30 applicants who are below 80 percent of the median income. Priority will be given to individuals whose household incomes fall at or below 50 percent of the median income and persons at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level. CCDCD will work with the Housing Partnership of Chester County to carry out accessible housing services. The grant comes as part of the $5.5 million in state funding approved to support 43 restoration, façade and housing projects across the commonwealth.
Source: Daily Local; 2/27/2019

Progress at Paoli rail station
Two years after groundbreaking ceremonies, substantial progress has been made on the first phase of development of a new Paoli train station, according to Chester County officials. Earlier this month, a pedestrian overpass bridge with elevators and staircases opened, connecting the incoming and outgoing sides of the train tracks. A center platform, with access to both incoming and outgoing trains, is under construction. According to Brian O’Leary, executive director of the Chester County Planning Commission, parking lots on the northeast side and the south side of the station are scheduled to be completed later in the spring. The large northwest parking lot is already completed. Once those lots are completed, the first phase of the construction project will be complete. The $36 million initiative is meant to improve accessibility and safety, and provide operational flexibility at the station.
Source: Daily Local; 2/25/2019

Unionville-Chadds Ford School board opts to borrow
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District has $100 million in debt, and the school board recently voted to increase the debt by an additional $11 million. The board voted 9-0 to borrow the money to help fund elements of the proposed long-range facilities plan, which includes plans for a controversial double-turf field. According to Ed Murray of the district’s underwriting firm, Boenning & Scattergood, the new debt comes in the form of a bond purchase of $9 million that, paid back through 2033, amounts to $11.3 million in principal and interest. Murray explained that the current $100 million in debt is based on both principal and interest on previous notes — the principal is $74 million, including $57 million remaining from the high school renovation. Board member Bob Sage said the debt is not a problem. “True, we have over $100 million in debt outstanding, but we pay down about $8 million per year,” he said. “As we issue $11 million of new debt … we’ll pay that off in less than two years.” The bond measure also includes refinancing that would bring down some of the interest payments on the outstanding debt, he said, and the increase fits into the budget and will keep the district within Act 1 limits. The $9 million will pay for the turf fields, two new grass fields and safety netting, and other elements of the long-range facilities plan.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 2/26/2019

Delaware County

County council files motion to intervene in pipeline lawsuit
Delaware County Council filed a motion asking the state Public Utility Commission to grant the county party status in a lawsuit brought by seven residents of Delaware and Chester counties against the owners of the Mariner East pipelines last fall. The residents’ complaint alleges that pipeline work was being done without an adequate emergency notification system or adequate emergency management plans, causing those individuals to be “at imminent risks of catastrophic and irreparable loss.” The residents also cite several mishaps that have occurred during construction of the pipeline, which will carry highly volatile liquid gases, and they allege that, “Sunoco’s integrity management program is not operating in compliance with applicable law.” Delaware County Solicitor Michael Maddren filed the petition based on council’s responsibility to its approximately 563,000 residents. The petition states, “Sunoco’s lack of adequate emergency planning and public awareness directly affects the ability of Delaware County to devise and implement an emergency evacuation plan.”
Source: Daily Times; 2/22/2019

Radnor Historical Society plaques tell stories of historic homes
About 60 houses and buildings in Radnor have plaques to mark their historical importance. The plaques are a way to recognize what a building was or when it was built, said Philip Graham, a member of the Radnor Historical Society (RHS). The RHS plaques do not prevent renovations to a house or trigger the historical architectural review board process. Most of the houses in Radnor that have plaques are in either North or South Wayne. For more information visit: www.radnorhistory.org/marker/.
Source: Suburban Main Line Times; 2/22/2019

Upper Darby middle school proposal faces opposition in Clifton Heights
More than 100 residents in the Upper Darby School District got their first chance to publicly voice their opposition or support for a proposed new middle school in Clifton Heights. The school board’s finance and operations committee reviewed two draft plan options to build a school on a portion of 13.7 acres the district owns on North Springfield Road. The proposal is to build a middle school for grades six through eight on the front portion of the property to house either 750 or 950 students, with various recreational fields on the back portion of the property. Public outcry, particularly from Clifton Heights community members, began back in the fall when the plan was first mentioned, because the area proposed for the middle school is a cornerstone of borough recreation. Although owned by the district, the borough is in a revolving lease agreement for $1 annually to host community events and various sports programs. Clifton Heights Borough officials are hoping to persuade the Upper Darby School Board to change its plans to build a school at the site.
Source: Delaware County News Network; 2/26/2019 & Daily Times; 2/27/2019

Unionville-Chadds Ford School board opts to borrow
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District has $100 million in debt, and the school board recently voted to increase the debt by an additional $11 million. The board voted 9-0 to borrow the money to help fund elements of the proposed long-range facilities plan, which includes plans for a controversial double-turf field. According to Ed Murray of the district’s underwriting firm, Boenning & Scattergood, the new debt comes in the form of a bond purchase of $9 million that, paid back through 2033, amounts to $11.3 million in principal and interest. Murray explained that the current $100 million in debt is based on both principal and interest on previous notes — the principal is $74 million, including $57 million remaining from the high school renovation. Board member Bob Sage said the debt is not a problem. “True, we have over $100 million in debt outstanding, but we pay down about $8 million per year,” he said. “As we issue $11 million of new debt … we’ll pay that off in less than two years.” The bond measure also includes refinancing that would bring down some of the interest payments on the outstanding debt, he said, and the increase fits into the budget and will keep the district within Act 1 limits. The $9 million will pay for the turf fields, two new grass fields and safety netting, and other elements of the long-range facilities plan.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 2/26/2019

Montgomery County

Concerns hamper Pottstown’s land bank launch
The Pottstown Land Bank, established by a local ordinance in 2017, is a nonprofit, quasi-governmental entity whose purpose is to get control of problem properties in the borough and turn them over to qualified developers who will restore the properties to productive, taxpaying use. The land bank is governed by a five-member board appointed by borough council. Councilman Joe Kirkland has voted against several land bank matters because he is concerned that one member of the board has a conflict of interest — Twila Fisher, who is manager for community and economic development for Hobart’s Run, an initiative of The Hill School. Hobart’s Run is involved in land acquisition on its own, and Kirkland feels that Fisher’s presence on the board constitutes a conflict of interest because it could give her an unfair advantage in identifying properties ripe for redevelopment. Kirkland and Councilwoman Rita Paez both voted against adopting the land bank policies and procedures at a February meeting because they do not do enough to protect against such conflicts. Land Bank Solicitor Matthew Hovey wrote that the policies and procedures are in line with those of other land banks and said he is preparing a “conflict of interest policy.” He also noted the land bank is subject to the same open meeting law and right-to-know regulations as other public bodies.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 2/25/2019 

New housing developments in Upper Dublin
Two new housing developments are slated for land formerly used by St. Mary’s Villa for Children and Families. Goldenberg Group will soon break ground on a residential subdivision called Mattison Estate, which will feature 30 carriage homes and 72 villa-type housing units on 35 of the 50 acres the group acquired. South Bay Partners Inc. purchased roughly eight acres at the site and plans to break ground on a senior living community called Sage at Mattison Estate. The senior living community will have 156 independent-living units, 62 assisted-living units and 32 secure memory-care units in a four-story building. The property was previously owned by sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and functioned as a residential facility for at-risk youth since 1936. The land to be developed includes a lake on the property, but not Lindenwold Castle, a residence built by one of Ambler’s founders, Dr. Richard Van Zeelust Mattison. Lindenwold Castle was retained by Aquinas Realty Partners, who plan to restore the building.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 2/1/2019

State of the county is ‘strong,’ commissioners say
The state of Montgomery County is “strong,” according to the three county commissioners. Commissioners’ Chairman Val Arkoosh began the “State of the County” remarks by saying the county’s financial health is “stronger than ever,” with a general fund reserve of $88.5 million and an upgrade to a triple-A bond rating from Moody’s, the highest attainable. Arkoosh also noted Montgomery County now has the lowest county property tax rate among the four counties surrounding Philadelphia. Other accomplishments highlighted by Arkoosh include the implementation of the Montco 2040 grant program that helps communities meet the goals of the comprehensive plan through matching funds, the Lafayette Street Expansion Project and the King of Prussia Rail Project. Commissioner Ken Lawrence addressed the issue of homelessness, a problem that persists despite the overall prosperity of the county. He hailed the work of the county’s housing crisis response team — a public/private partnership called Your Way Home — for helping to decrease homelessness by nearly 40 percent since the group formed in 2014. Lawrence also spoke about the county’s new paper ballot system, reviewed the $400 million county campus redevelopment plan, highlighted the county’s recreational offerings, and thanked the county’s 2,000 employees for their hard work and dedication. Commissioner Joe Gale highlighted public safety and job creation, noting that the county continues to be a net importer with more jobs than resident workers and the most manufacturing jobs of any county in the state.
Source: Times Herald; 2/25/2019

Pottstown School Board supports computers for every student
The Pottstown School Board supports the One-to-One Initiative, a plan to provide each student with a mobile computer within the next two years. According to Gail Kennedy, director of the office of technology services for the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, if the district uses less-expensive Google Chromebook computers, as well as savings earned through a state electronics rebate process, the initiative can be implemented in a budget-neutral way. A new PC laptop for a student, with licensing, costs about $1,100, while a Chromebook with licensing costs just $343, said Kennedy. The plan calls for the new devices to be distributed beginning at the high school level, and the re-purposing of all devices in good condition first to the middle school and then to elementary levels.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 2/27/2019

Philadelphia

Philly looks to replace embattled chief assessor amid outcry
Philadelphia is seeking to replace the leader of its Office of Property Assessment. The move represents a reversal for Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, which had defended chief assessment officer Michael Piper and his office amid growing criticism. The search for a replacement comes in an election year for the mayor and city council — and weeks before the city is expected to finalize assessments that will take effect in 2020. The Kenney administration chose to launch a national search to replace Piper because council members have not voted on Piper’s nomination to another term and would prefer a new leader for the office, said Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for the mayor. Piper’s job has been in limbo since last June, when his four-year term expired. Under the city code, the mayor nominates a chief assessment officer, and a majority of council must approve the appointment. Kenney submitted a resolution to grant him another term, but no council member introduced it for a vote.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/26/2019

Developers flout city design board recommendations, study finds
Philadelphia’s six-member Civic Design Review (CDR) offers developers suggestions on major projects. The intention is to raise the bar on design and give the public a voice on projects reshaping the city and its skyline. But Philadelphia is one of few major American cities with a design review process that is entirely advisory. Peers like Boston, Portland, Baltimore and Seattle all give CDR counterparts some degree of binding power. A city planning commission report that has yet to be released found that developers often ignore the committee’s recommendations. Forty projects reviewed by the CDR have been completed over the past five years. Only one-third of them were built in accordance with its recommendations, according to Alex Smith, a planning commission staffer. Even when developers told the design panel they complied with recommendations, promises were broken. Design review entered the Philadelphia development process in 2012 as part of a sweeping zoning code reform initiated under Mayor Michael Nutter. A project undergoes review if it is over 100,000 square feet or more than 100 residential units anywhere in the city, or if it is half that size and next to a residential zoning district. Commission staff are considering changes to strengthen Philadelphia’s design review process. They are also considering changing the zoning code to address design issues the board repeatedly asks developers to address.
Source: Plan Philly; 2/21/2019

 


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