NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
New nationwide flood model says U.S. is unprepared

Bucks County
Neshaminy School District passes budget with tax increase

Chester County
County to help fund two affordable housing projects

Delaware County
Springfield schools increase taxes by 2.25%

Montgomery County
Lansdale to adopt comprehensive plan

Philadelphia County
Small Philadelphia landlords can apply for loans to offset missed rent due to pandemic

 

News Briefs Archive March 9, 2020

 

General News

Pa. approves $200K fine, orders 'remaining life’ study of leaky 89-year-old Sunoco pipeline
Pennsylvania regulators have finalized a settlement with Sunoco Pipeline to atone for a 2017 leak from the aging Mariner East 1 pipeline that includes a $200,000 fine and a promise to conduct a “remaining life” study of the 89-year-old pipeline. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) unanimously adopted a recommended decision by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth H. Barnes, which requires the study be completed six months after an independent expert is selected to conduct it. A redacted summary of the study will be released to the public. The PUC cited Sunoco for having inadequate cathodic protection of the pipeline, which allowed it to corrode and to leak ethane and propane. The material bubbled to the surface and evaporated without causing injury or explosion, but the episode heightened concerns about what might happen if the 300-mile pipeline experienced a larger failure. The pipeline, built by Atlantic Refining in 1931 to deliver motor fuel and heating oil from its Philadelphia refinery to Western Pennsylvania, was acquired by Sunoco in 1988. Sunoco Pipeline in 2014 patched up and converted the pipeline, now renamed Mariner East, to carry gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale fields to a terminal in Marcus Hook. The remaining life study, first publicly suggested by Gov. Tom Wolf a year ago, will assess the longevity and risks of the Mariner East 1. “The information collected in this study will be invaluable for any determinations regarding the operations of Mariner East 1," said PUC Chairwoman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/27/2020

Registration is open for PAR’s Public Policy Training
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) has scheduled a series of Public Policy Regional Training sessions. The interactive sessions are beneficial for members who are new to PAR’s advocacy efforts, as well as seasoned veterans. Attendees will learn about specific areas where member involvement is critical to the success of the Realtor® Party and how to play a crucial role in that process. The training is free and open to any PAR member, but space is limited and pre-registration is required. A session will be held on Wednesday, April 15, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Radisson Philadelphia Northeast, in Trevose, Bucks County. More information and other session dates can be found on the PAR website.

SRA creates web page for Delaware County reassessment
The Suburban Realtors Alliance website has a webpage with information about the Delaware County Reassessment Project. The page provides an overview of the project, its history and timeline, and links to other resources. Visit the page on the Alliance website. The page also includes a link to information about common level ratios and how assessments are calculated in the region. 

Reminder: New voting machines and registration deadline for April 28 primary
Due to new regulations, many of Pennsylvania’s counties have new voting systems and machines in place. The state website has clear instructions, with photos and videos, on how to use the various new paper-ballot voting systems here. The last day to register or change parties before the 2020 Primary is Monday, April 13. Learn more about voter registration here.

Bucks County

Judge orders injunction preventing asphalt plant at Rockhill Quarry
Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert J. Mellon issued an injunction preventing an asphalt plant at Rockhill Quarry. The ruling upheld East Rockhill Township’s zoning laws. Mellon issued a permanent injunction, preventing asphalt from being manufactured on-site, and said the asphalt plant is a “wholly separate” business from the quarry itself. Quarry owner Hanson Aggregates argued the township should have allowed the asphalt plant because a previous asphalt facility had operated for decades at the quarry and that the company had every intention of someday restarting the asphalt plant, which stopped operating in 1983. The ruling was good news for neighbors opposing the quarry, but it does not address ongoing quarry operations that have been halted due to asbestos concerns. The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered a complete halt to quarrying activities at the site after naturally occurring asbestos was found over a year ago. Residents and lawmakers have renewed pressure on state agencies to permanently close the quarry due to the asbestos.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/4/2020

Residents fight demolition of mobile homes in New Britain Township
A developer has begun demolishing a mobile home community near Lake Galena in New Britain Township, but a few residents are fighting to stay. RHG Properties LLC notified residents of Lake Ridge Mobile Home Park six months ago that the park is being terminated. A Feb. 20 letter from property manager ABC Home Sales to remaining residents ordered them to “vacate the leased property and give possession of leased property to the landlord within ten days.” Residents opting to stay say they cannot afford the price of a new mobile home. They are being represented by attorneys with the Community Justice Project as part of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network to negotiate an agreement with the mobile park owner to help displaced residents secure both more time to find a home and resources to appraise their homes so they can be compensated for more than what the developers are required to pay by state law, which is $2,500. Two residents have been offered $3,500 for their homes but are asking $5,000. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which works to find affordable housing for low-income residents, said RHG Properties did alert the agency, as required, in August.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/4/2020

Newtown supervisors decline to give conditional use approval for townhouse project
Newtown Township supervisors declined to approve Toll Brothers’ conditional use application to build 45 high-end, single-family townhomes off Durham and Twinning Bridge roads. At the end of a two-hour public hearing, none of the supervisors put forth a motion to vote on the developer’s conditional use request, so the application is in limbo awaiting a formal determination by the board. The parcel Toll Brothers wants to develop is zoned Conservation Management (CM), where the proposed cluster development is allowed as a conditional use, but not by right, meaning Toll must seek conditional-use approval instead of a zoning change. Township solicitor David Sander said the supervisors are legally permitted to discuss the matter behind closed doors. They are also required by law to have Sander prepare a written decision, which must be publicly voted on within 45 days of the Feb. 26 meeting. Over 50 neighboring residents packed the meeting to oppose the project, mainly for concerns over traffic and land conservation.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 3/3/2020

Bucks continues public voting machine demonstrations
Off-site public demonstrations of Bucks County’s new, paper-verifiable voting machine systems are underway. At the demonstrations, county Board of Elections staff and other county officials give an overview of how the new voting system operates and voters are then invited to try out the process for themselves. Click here to view the schedule.
Source: Bucks County; 2/27/2020

Chester County 

County officials launch new fraud detection program
Scams committed against seniors and disabled people in Pennsylvanian amount to an annual $1.2 billion criminal enterprise. Some schemes involve the fraudulent transfer of a home without the informed consent of the owner, their legal guardian or the court system that is empowered to protect them. In Chester County, the recorder of deeds, the register of wills and Orphan’s Court have launched a new intergovernmental pilot program designed to protect incapacitated seniors and disabled residents from falling victim to the fraudulent transfer of their property. The county officials are coordinating efforts to track and compare county guardianship orders with proposed deeds to help identify if an incapacitated person’s property is transferred illegally. Data obtained from this pilot program will help quantify elder abuse in Chester County and will be shared with all relevant agencies to help protect potential victims. “We know for a fact this type of fraud has been attempted in Chester County, but because systems were not in place to identify property owners who have legal guardianships, we do not know the scope and frequency of property transfer fraud here,” said Record of Deeds Chris Pielli. Learn more about the pilot program here.
Source: Daily Local; 3/2/2020

Downingtown school board plans to seize land for potential development
The Downingtown Area School Board approved a resolution for the district to acquire land for potential future development of a new school along Brandywine Avenue. According to the resolution, the district has the “right and power of eminent domain” to seize the property. During the past seven years, student enrollment increased by more than 10%, according to Jennifer Shealy, director of communications for the district. While there are 16 schools in the district, all sixth-grade students attend Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center. Some children spend more than an hour on the school bus getting there, thanks to ever-increasing traffic and ongoing congestion issues on regional roadways. “Through realigning grade levels, this project could help alleviate transportation issues while addressing future overcrowding in our district,” said Superintendent Emilie Lonardi. The Downingtown Area School District is scheduled to next meet before the public on Wednesday, March 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 540 Trestle Place in East Caln Township. For more information, visit www.dasd.org.
Source: Daily Local; 3/2/2020 

New Garden’s plan to ‘revitalize’ Toughkenamon
New Garden Township is seeking input from residents on a newly released streetscape and transportation revitalization draft plan for the unincorporated village of Toughkenamon. A grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission was put toward the new revitalization plan, which calls for the following major changes:

  • Rezone part of the village core into a focused retail and restaurant hub.
  • Rezone the village core and update zoning restrictions to attract developers to create new housing options for the community, including additional apartments and multifamily units.
  • Add sidewalks to interior village streets.
  • Add designated parking areas on interior village streets.
  • Build a playground.

Some Toughkenamon residents have complained that they feel disconnected from the process. New Garden is accepting public input on the draft revitalization plan until Tuesday, March 10. Residents can view the Draft Toughkenamon Streetscapes and Transportation Improvement Plan online and email comments to office@newgarden.org.
Source: Daily Local; 3/7/2020

West Bradford Township to amend peddling and soliciting ordinance
The West Bradford Township Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance amending Chapter 298 of the township code, regarding peddling and soliciting. According to the draft ordinance, applicants for a license to peddle and solicit must submit: a photograph, fingerprints, a written description of himself or herself, a criminal history/record from the Pennsylvania State Police, and an application fee. Ordinance 20-03 can be viewed on the township website and is scheduled for consideration at the supervisors meeting on Monday, March 9.
Source: Daily Local; 2/28/2020

Delaware County

Aston moves to a resale affidavit and sidewalk inspection
Aston Township has made changes to its resale inspection procedures. The township will no longer perform interior inspections at point of sale, but it will still require a sidewalk inspection. The resale certificate includes a notarized affidavit relating to smoke alarms, sump pumps, carbon monoxide detectors and public water supply. The township will complete a property history search for open permits, open complaints and zoning enforcement issues. A $100 fee will be collected, and the resale certificate application should be submitted at least two weeks prior to settlement. Township staff have been responsive to commentary from Suburban Realtors® Alliance relating to the language on the application. The application form is expected to be available on the Aston Township website soon. Overall, these changes should streamline the resale process in Aston. 

Marple gets preview of new plan for Don Guanella site
At a recent Marple Township Planning Commission meeting, Sproul Road Developers presented a new proposal to build on acreage behind the former Don Guanella Village. The meeting was the first review of the preliminary land development/subdivision plan to build 141 single and twin homes on 89 acres of the 213-acre tract bordered by Sproul and Reed roads. The front portion of the land is zoned institutional; the rear is residential, and the applicant indicated building houses on the latter would be a by-right usage. “The township has not yet completed its full review, but will have it done by the next planning commission meeting,” said township solicitor Adam Matlawski. “This will probably be a two-meeting process.” The new plan is at least the third presented to the township regarding development of the property, which is owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In 2015, Goodman Properties proposed close to one million square feet of business/consumer-oriented retail space, nearly 250 residential units and recreational amenities. The accompanying traffic, environmental and other issues raised the ire of local homeowners, who formed Save Marple Green Space with the aim of protecting the tract. The Marple Township website has created links to the documentation filed in relation to the plan. The planning commission review will continue on Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m., at the township building, 227 S. Sproul Road.
Source: Daily Times; 3/1/2020

Delco officials: Don't panic over new assessment values
Delaware County Council is reminding homeowners not to panic as they get new home assessment values in the mail. The assessments are part of a court-ordered reassessment of all properties in Delaware County. After many years without a countywide review of property values, newer construction was a lot closer to actual value, while older homes had fallen way behind. Since taxes are calculated off the assessed value of a home, some residents are panicking when they see the new numbers, thinking their taxes will be calculated based on old tax rates. But County Councilwoman Christine Reuther says before anyone panics, remember, "The total tax dollars that the county or any municipality can raise from the property tax has to stay the same.” That means they’ll have to come up with new tax rates once they get all the final values of all properties in the county — homeowners can’t use the old rate to estimate what they’ll be paying. For now, Reuther said, the only thing to be concerned with is whether or not the number you’re getting is what you think your home would actually sell for. If it isn’t, you can set up a meeting with the assessment company. Tentative assessment values have been mailed to many property owners already, with the rest going out within the next couple weeks.
Source: KYW; 2/29/2020

Chester moves on residential parking issue
Chester City Council passed a parking ordinance that brings the Chester Parking Authority one step closer to implementing a new residential parking program. The approved ordinance repealed and replaced the “administration and adjudication of parking violations” section of the city code, clarifying responsibilities of the parking authority, which launched in 2019. Among its responsibilities is “to receive and process answers to charges of alleged violations and to refer contested answers to the Parking Code Hearing Division for hearing and determination.” Struck from the code were responsibilities relating to “installment payments of parking penalties” and “hearings by telephone.” Ticket recipients contesting the violation will appear before a parking hearing examiner. Chester Parking Authority spokesman Anthony Campisi said the changes lay further groundwork for the authority’s relaunch of residential parking. The residential zones will be located in Sun Hill, “Widener North” (the area of the First Ward directly north of the Widener University campus), and Nova Vista.
Source: Daily Times; 2/27/2020

Legal fees mount in middle school standoff in Clifton
The impasse between Upper Darby School District and Clifton Heights Borough over the proposed construction of a middle school on North Springfield Road has delayed the project a year and is costing the district $20,000 to $30,000 a month in legal fees, as well as a 5% increase in construction costs, according to district officials. The school was scheduled for completion in time for the 2022 school year, but due to the delays is now scheduled to open in 2023.” Through the normal land development process, you hear a lot about sitting down with the municipality and discussing issues, and that is typical,” said land development attorney Andrew Stoll, who is representing the district in the project. “It has not been typical for this project. We have had some roadblocks from the municipality.” During Tuesday’s school board finance and operations committee meeting, Michael Kelly of KCBA Architects presented a detailed update on the proposed $65 million, 147,000-square-foot educational facility, including a virtual time-lapse video of the construction. The state-of-the-art school will include a full-size gymnasium with fitness and wrestling area, classrooms on each floor, a large cafeteria with a stage, STEM space, a walking trail, three ball fields, learning areas and much more. Many Clifton Heights residents and borough officials are opposed to the project, citing potential law enforcement issues, stormwater runoff, lack of infrastructure, increased traffic, loss of open space and other quality-of-life issues. Mayor Joe Lombardo said previously the project will have a major impact on the borough and officials are insisting the district “dot their I’s and cross their T’s.”
Source: Daily Times; 2/27/2020

Montgomery County

Upper Moreland approves controversial land swap
Upper Moreland Township supervisors voted 4-3 to approve a proposed land swap with Abington-Jefferson Health. The deal would give Abington-Jefferson Health roughly 2.7 acres of the existing North Willow Grove Park in return for approximately 5.25 acres from the old Woodlawn School property. Abington-Jefferson Health would also: demolish the existing structure on the school property; rid the area of any asbestos or lead paint, and seed the land; allocate $190,000 for lighting of a baseball field at Masons Mill Park; commit $90,000 to build a new playground; and approve an easement on the property for a trail. Residents from a community near North Willow Grove Park came out to protest the swap, and expressed concerns about traffic congestion, property values, and noise and light pollution.
Source: The Reporter; 3/3/2020

County commerce department launches Montco Site Select
The Montgomery County Commerce Department recently launched Montco Site Select, an initiative to help local businesses looking for space connect with people who have available buildings and land for sale or lease. Click here to read the press release.
Source: Montgomery County; 2/27/2020

Commissioners kick off ‘Tourism Talks’ panel
Montgomery County Commissioners recently held a Tourism Talks panel, hosted by Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, at Valley Forge Casino Resort. Topics included economic development, transportation and affordable housing. Commissioner Ken Lawrence Jr. highlighted Norristown as “the next big thing,” drawing attention to its access to the rail system and Schuylkill River Trail. The commissioners discussed transportation, including a new 4.5-mile high-speed rail system from Norristown to King of Prussia, which Lawrence and Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh support, to alleviate traffic concerns on major interstates and increase overall sustainability. Commissioner Joe Gale opposes the initiative, citing the $1.2 billion price tag. Arkoosh said affordable housing is a high priority that goes hand-in-hand with the county’s manufacturing efforts. The county has 46,000 jobs in more than 1,200 locations. The commissioners also noted the Montgomery County Manufacturing and Trade Expo — or “Manufest ”— on Tuesday, March 10, which they hope will get younger generations interested in trades. The next Tourism Talks panel is scheduled for Thursday, May 14, at Legoland Discovery Center in Plymouth Meeting.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/3/2020

Plymouth Township to adopt International Fire Code
Plymouth Township Council will hold a public meeting on Monday, March 9, at 7 p.m. at the municipal building, 700 Belvoir Road, to consider the enactment of an ordinance adopting the International Fire Code. The proposed ordinance will also require operational permits for specific businesses. A complete copy of the ordinance may be reviewed at the township building or the Montgomery County Law Library.
Source: Times Herald; 2/28/2020

Philadelphia

500 properties Philly sold for $1 are blighted or owe back taxes
In recent decades, the city of Philadelphia has sold thousands of abandoned properties for $1 each. In theory, new owners would earn their bargains by fixing up dilapidated houses and sprucing up vacant lots, returning once-derelict parcels to the tax rolls. Unfortunately, many of the people who were offered these deals have fallen behind in taxes. Nearly 400 people who purchased $1 properties over the past 20 years owe back taxes and penalties totaling more than $867,000. Out of 2,300 properties sold for $1 over two decades, nearly 800 parcels have since been flipped — for a total of $54 million in sales. Playgrounds and lots meant for affordable housing have been turned into market-rate homes in neighborhoods that are gentrifying. Many of the owners have left their lots vacant or abandoned them, racking up violations from the city department of licenses and inspections. Through a “reversion clause” in most of the $1 deeds, the city has the right to take back parcels that have not been fixed up or developed, but The Inquirer found only 24 such instances of the city doing so over 20 years. The city has another tool: tax-delinquency sales. But former heads of the Redevelopment Authority say that taking properties to sheriff’s sale can be difficult. As of January 2020, the city has new terms for its $1 deals. Houses are not sold for $1 any longer, only vacant lots. And applicants have to show they have the money to deliver whatever they promise they’ll do with the lots, which now come with either permanent deed restrictions or mortgages structured so the city gets some money back if the property changes hands within 30 years. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/3/2020

Philly City Council wants to lift 100K residents out of poverty
Nearly 400,000 Philadelphia residents — or about a quarter of the city’s population — are living in poverty. It’s not a new problem, but city council has a new plan to address it. The set of initiatives includes providing a “basic income” to all Philadelphians, a policy that would guarantee cash assistance to households in poverty. While basic income policies are used in other countries, few U.S. cities have tried it. Stockton, California, became the first American city to offer universal basic income last year. The policy also gained attention when then Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang proposed a nationwide universal basic income policy. Other proposals in Philadelphia’s poverty action plan include offering rental subsidies and stipends to help residents in job training or education programs. The plan comes with a goal of lifting 100,000 residents out of poverty by 2024, the end of the current city council term.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/3/2020

Councilwoman Kendra Brooks wants to bring rent control to Philly
Kendra Brooks made rent control a key piece of her platform in her insurgent campaign for city council last year. She called for hearings on rent control at her first council meeting after a historic win for the Working Families Party. Although the council approved Brooks’ resolution in January calling for hearings, there won’t be any for at least several months. And she said she’s not ready to introduce legislation for rent control in Philadelphia. Beginning this month, she plans to host meetings around the city about “community stabilization" — a phrase she said she’s now using instead of “rent control” to include different kinds of renter protections, as well as support for long-term homeowners. Her colleagues have noted that rent control, at least as it’s been implemented in other cities, may not be right for Philadelphia. “As soon as you reference a term that was used in other cities, you’re going to take either the baggage or support from that other city,” Council President Darrell L. Clarke said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” Brooks’ resolution noted that 182 municipalities have laws limiting the amount by which landlords can increase rent annually, including New York City and Washington D.C. Statewide rent control legislation took effect in California this year. Philadelphia’s business and landlord communities are sure to fight against any rent control efforts.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/4/2020

 

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