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 May 6, 2019

 

General News

SRA Municipal Database features new map and FAQ
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance’s Municipal Database now offers an interactive map, displaying 238 municipalities in the Philadelphia suburbs. Click on any municipality to see a link to its entry in the database, which includes information about resale inspection requirements, rental regulations, sign ordinances, tax rates and more. There is also a new section for Frequently Asked Questions about the database, including how to resolve common login problems. The municipal database is a member benefit for the SRA’s three shareholder associations — the Bucks County Association of Realtors®, Montgomery County Association of Realtors® and Suburban West Realtors® Association. Try the new map and learn more at www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com/database. 

EPA proposes weaker standards on chemicals contaminating drinking water
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under pressure from the Defense Department, has significantly weakened a proposed standard for cleaning up groundwater pollution caused by toxic chemicals commonly used at military bases. The Pentagon objected to language the EPA had proposed to set the cleanup standards and brought its concerns to the White House, which coordinates the review of major regulatory proposals. The EPA had originally suggested that a water contamination level of 400 parts per trillion of two types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — which are described as “immediate threats posed by hazardous waste sites” — could incite immediate removal action, also known as short-term responses. The short-term response suggestion is now gone. Instead, the recommendations focus on longer-term actions — which can take years — to address instances in which the government has confirmed that drinking water supplies have been contaminated. PFAS have been linked in recent years to some cancers, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and ulcerative colitis, among other diseases. PFAS were used for decades in everyday products such as nonstick pans, clothing, furniture and firefighting foams used on military bases, on airfields and by municipal firefighters. The Pentagon has confirmed the release or possible release of PFAS-related chemicals through firefighting foam at 401 locations nationwide, in some cases contaminating drinking water supplies. U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-2), of Philadelphia, has introduced a bill that would require the EPA to set a safe drinking water standard for PFAS within two years. H.R. 2377 is co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1), of Bucks County, along with representatives from New Jersey, Michigan and New York. The EPA’s “PFAS Action Plan” includes a commitment to announce whether it will pursue the creation of a federal drinking water standard for the chemicals by the end of year. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said he had “every intention” of ultimately setting a drinking water standard.
Source: The New York Times; 4/25/2019 & Bucks County Courier Times; 5/1/2019

Appeal of anti-toll lawsuit keeps SEPTA improvements on hold
SEPTA’s state funding is hovering at a more than 10-year low due to a federal lawsuit that just won’t go away. The transportation agency breathed a sigh of relief in early April when a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, which challenged the state’s use of Pennsylvania Turnpike toll revenue on public transportation and threatened hundreds of millions of dollars in annual transit funding. An appeal filed by the plaintiffs, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Inc., a group representing professional truck drivers and motorists, reopened the possibility that the state would have to return $6 billion in toll revenue and forced the state to continue a freeze on state spending. That turnpike-generated income accounts for almost a third of SEPTA’s $750 million capital budget. To date, the lawsuit has reduced SEPTA’s budget by $250 million and stopped 35 construction projects from moving forward. Projects now on pause include station improvements, such as an overhaul of City Hall Station, the restoration of a number of regional rail bridges, and the restoration of service between Elwyn and Wawa in Delaware County. “We’re funding our core infrastructure projects and vehicle procurements, but there’s many projects that we need to advance to bring our system back to a state of good repair that would be delayed until this funding issue is resolved,” Richard Burnfield, deputy general manager said Monday at a SEPTA budget hearing.
Source: Plan Philly; 4/30/2019

Bucks County

Falls Township supervisors deny Elcon hazardous waste treatment proposal
Falls Township supervisors voted unanimously to deny a land development application from Elcon services to build a “state-of-the-art” hazardous waste treatment facility on a vacant 33-acre lot in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex. The proposed facility would process 150,000 to 210,000 tons of pharmaceutical manufacturing, petroleum refining, chemical and semiconductor manufacturing wastewater each year, according to filings with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Falls supervisors cited multiple reasons for denying the proposal, including lapses in Elcon’s paperwork, emergency operations access and safety concerns at the proposed facility. The unanimous vote was met with a standing ovation from the large crowd. Elcon is still waiting on whether the DEP will approve the company’s technical application, and the company may appeal the township’s decision or submit a new proposal.
Source: Levittownnow.com; 5/1/2019 

Bucks, Montgomery rail lines get $900K in state grants
Gov. Tom Wolf announced that East Penn Railroad in Bucks County and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Bucks and Montgomery counties are among 27 rail lines that will receive state funding for rail line improvements. The state is divvying up about $23 million in grants. About $210,000 will go toward rehabilitating two miles of track on East Penn’s Bristol Line. SEPTA will receive about $700,000 to buy and install positive train control equipment on four Pennsylvania Northeast Railroad locomotives. State Rep. Steve Malagari (D-53) applauded the announcement, saying, “It’s crucial to invest in transportation in Montgomery and Bucks counties because it’s a public transit hub in Pennsylvania.”
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/1/2019 

East Rockhill challenges asbestos testing plan for quarry
East Rockhill supervisors sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stating that the asbestos sampling plan submitted for the Rockhill Quarry doesn’t do enough to identify the possible breadth of asbestos issues at the quarry. Mining and related activities at the quarry have been under cessation since Dec. 5, 2018, when naturally occurring asbestos was discovered. On April 3, DEP gave the quarry operator, Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp., permission to begin sampling for asbestos in accordance with a sampling plan given conditional state approval. East Rockhill supervisors requested that a licensed DEP geologist be present during sampling to avoid potential bias that could affect results of testing conducted by professionals contracted by Pierson. The township also maintains that planned sampling sites of rock coring and water areas appear insufficient, and have other concerns related to sediment sampling, roadway dust emissions and wind erosion of aggregate storage piles. East Rockhill Township Manager Marianne Morano said that DEP had given the township’s letter to EarthRes, the company contracted by Pierson for the sampling, to review and respond.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 4/25/2019 

Plumstead to amend peddling and soliciting ordinance
Plumstead supervisors will consider changes to the township peddling and soliciting ordinance at a public hearing on Tuesday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. in the municipal building, 5186 Stump Road, Plumsteadville. The proposed ordinance will: add a definition for garage/yard sale; establish a non-solicitation registry; require peddlers to exhibit official identification; set hours for peddling; and exempt garage/yard sales from the peddling regulations. The full text of the ordinance is available to view at the township offices during normal business hours.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/24/2019

Chester County 

Higher property values could pay for return of Phoenixville commuter rail
At a town hall-style meeting at Columbia Station, Phoenixville’s old train station turned wedding venue, members of the Mayor’s Task Force on Rail Transportation explained to about 70 people in the room and roughly 3,700 watching online, how financing for the project would work. The plan is to use “tax-increment financing.” The idea is to take advantage of the increase in property values when a commuter rail station is built. For example, a study showed that property within three-quarters of a mile of the Paoli train station is worth an additional $16,800 because of that proximity. If rail service is returned to Phoenixville, Schuylkill Township and King of Prussia, undeveloped properties will see an increase in value. And if the members of the task force can convince taxing bodies — municipalities, school districts and counties — to forgo banking the increased tax revenue after the property is developed for a period of years, that increased tax revenue can instead be used to pay off a bond used to build the infrastructure needed to bring the train. A new state law allows for the creation of a Transportation Revitalization Investment District, or TRID, within a three-quarter-mile radius of a new rail station. Watch the virtual town hall here
Source: Daily Local; 4/27/2019 

Plan to build housing on contaminated Bishop Tube site faces major setback
A Pennsylvania environmental board has essentially scrapped two state actions that would have paved the way for developer Brian O’Neill to build housing on the 13.7-acre Bishop Tube site on Malin Road in Frazer, East Whiteland Township. The ruling appears to be a major setback for Constitution Drive Partners, a limited partnership involving O’Neill. The company wants to build housing at the defunct Bishop Tube site, which is contaminated by a variety of hazardous compounds. The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board concluded that amendments to an agreement with the developer stretching back to 2007 and 2010 not only are “arbitrary and capricious,” but also “are void." Bishop Tube was a manufacturing operation that began in the 1950s and left behind hazardous substances, including trichloroethene, or TCE, in the process of making stainless steel and other metals into tubes and pipes. The property is listed as a hazardous site under the state’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act. Constitution Drive Partners purchased the site from the Central and Western Chester County Industrial Development Authority as part of a brownfield redevelopment plan.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/29/2019 

Planned construction of new high school puts strain on Avon Grove budget
The Avon Grove School District’s 2019-2020 proposed budget was approved by a 5-4 vote. The $98.6 million budget is supported by a 3 percent tax increase to 31.61 mills, the maximum percentage increase allowed to the district by the PA Act 1 index without special exceptions. “This is a preliminary budget. There still are opportunities to work this going forward,” said Bill Wood, a member of the school board. The board has scheduled additional budget work sessions Thursday, May 16, and Tuesday, May 28, prior to final approval of the budget so that changes could still be made. Meeting schedules can be found on the district website, www.avongrove.org.
Source: Daily Local; 4/29/2019 

West Whiteland residents moving from pipeline-adjacent homes
Seven West Whiteland homeowners appear to have moved out of their Lisa Drive residences. Backyard sinkholes at the site of Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline construction first appeared in the neighborhood in November 2017. The seven homes have Sunoco easements on their properties and make up 25 percent of the neighborhood. Agreements of sale for two Lisa Drive homes on April 17 were set at approximately $400,000. The documents, posted on the Chester County Recorder of Deeds website, show the residents agreed to sell at a site where Sunoco has struggled to build and operate the Mariner East pipelines because of unstable limestone geology. Those residents are subject to nondisclosure agreements. The circumstances of the other homes are unclear, but the lawns appear uncared for and moving vans have been seen in the driveways. Sunoco’s activities at Lisa Drive have been shut down twice by regulators on the grounds that public safety is endangered by construction of two new pipelines — Mariner East 2 and 2X — plus the operation of an existing natural gas liquids pipeline — Mariner East 1 — on a geologically unstable site. A section of Mariner East 1 pipeline was exposed by the latest Lisa Drive sinkhole in January, and the whole cross-state pipeline was shut down by Public Utility Commission investigators for about three months before being allowed to restart on April 22.
Source: Daily Local; 5/1/2019 and State Impact Pennsylvania; 4/30/2019

County maintains online Pipeline Information Center
Chester County has an online information center with maps, updates and other information relating to pipelines in the county. The site is intended to serve as a resource for landowners and residents, including those who may have an existing or proposed pipeline right-of-way on or near their property. The site includes a disclaimer that the information is not intended to be, and should not be considered to be, a substitute for legal advice and planning.

Delaware County

Delco Council offers annual state of county update
According to Delaware County Council’s annual state of the county address, the county is a thriving, growing community with low unemployment and construction everywhere. County Council Vice Chairwoman Colleen Morrone presented this year’s rendition of the county’s synopsis, touching on topics including economic development, reassessment, the county’s bond rating, and the work of the heroin task force. Morrone highlighted the county’s Aa1 bond rating from Moody’s Investor Services and AA rating from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services, and the 2.5 percent decrease in county taxes last year. After the address, Councilman Brian Zidek said the county must be vigilant in its finances “so that we maintain our bond rating and pay as low interest as possible when we do have to borrow money.” Development projects noted in the address included the 860,000-square-foot Promenade at Granite Run, which opened a leasing office in February for 192 luxury apartments with the potential for 208 additional units, Ellis Preserve, where a new Whole Foods supermarket opened in January and an upscale Mexican restaurant, a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and a cinema with a bar and restaurant are still to come. Morrone touched on the countywide reassessment project, which will result in new tax bills for more than 200,000 properties in 2021. “The reassessment does not raise additional money for the county,” Morrone said. “Ultimately, it is intended to more fairly distribute school, municipal and county real estate taxes.”
Source: Daily Times; 4/27/2019 

’Nova stadium lights hearing delayed again; residents irked
The Radnor Township Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) agreed to a request from a lawyer for Villanova University and a township solicitor to delay a hearing regarding a dispute with the township over the school’s stadium lights — but only until June 20, rather than July as requested. Peter Nelson, a township solicitor, said at the April 25 meeting that the township and Villanova are trying to work out an agreement. Also, the issue is expected to be before the board of commissioners at its Monday, May 20, meeting, he said. At a December meeting, Commissioner Jack Larkin said a 1980 ZHB decision conflicts with a 2006 BOC resolution on the stadium lights, and the township would like the ZHB to enforce its 1980 decision. That decision permitted the university to have six 100-foot-tall light standards, rather than 50-foot standards, allowing the lights to be lit Monday through Thursday evenings from 6 to 10 p.m. The 2006 resolution said the lights should be reduced to no more than 50-foot standards after 9 p.m. and off at midnight. Township Manager Robert Zienkowski said at that time that he is working with Villanova to try to get the lights turned down at 9:30 p.m. as university officials agreed to in 2012. Last fall, they pushed back the shutoff time until 10:30 p.m. Residents have complained that the stadium lights cause light pollution issues, and they are frustrated with the lack of progress.
Source: Main Line Media News; 4/26/2019

Nether Providence moves forward with development proposal
The Nether Providence Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 to send a sketch plan for a 32-unit development proposed for a currently wooded site on Wallingford Avenue to the township planning commission and county planners for their review. The site, adjacent to Sapovits Park, has already been approved for 10 single-family homes on a cul-de-sac that would fetch an estimated $500,000 each. The board approved that plan on March 28, but developer Progressive New Homes has returned with an alternate plan calling for an eight-building development holding four duplex units each — for a total of 32 units — with the downstairs units likely to be priced at roughly $250,000 apiece and upstairs units at $375,000. The project would also be built closer to the busy roadway. In order for that proposal to advance, the planning commission and county planners would have to support a change in zoning from R-3 to R-5 and thereby clear the way for the higher-density plan.
Source: Daily Times; 4/26/2019 

Tax increase ahead in next Upper Darby schools budget
School taxes will go up again in Upper Darby for the next school year. A proposed final budget of $213.1 million with an $8.86 million deficit may be supported by a 3% tax increase if current figures are unchanged before the final vote by the school board in June. The increase is lower than the 3.4% that was approved in the 2018-2019 budget, which was the biggest increase since the 2012-2013 budget of 3.5%. The proposed 3% hike will add $84 to the tax bill for an average assessed home of $75,000, bringing in a total $3.2 million of revenue to the district. On top of the tax increase, $5.7 million of fund balance is projected to be used to cover the remaining shortfall. As in the 2018-2019 budget, 0.5% of the increase will generate $500,000 in funds for its capital reserves budget for school improvements. Acting Superintendent Dan McGarry said there are still real estate transactions and other factors that may contribute positively for the budget, making him “optimistic” the proposed 3% increase will diminish. The board is scheduled to adopt the proposed final budget at its Tuesday, May 14, meeting, followed by final adoption during a special voting meeting on Tuesday, June 18.
Source: Daily Times; 4/25/2019

Montgomery County

Ribbon cutting held for long-delayed Ardmore One project
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and former Gov. Ed Rendell were on hand for an official ribbon-cutting at the One Ardmore project on Cricket Avenue. Rendell was Pennsylvania’s governor when the project was first proposed, and developer Carl Dranoff gave both Rendell and Wolf credit for helping to keep the project on track through financing. The mixed-use project, with 110 apartments, retail, a public parking garage and a resident parking garage is being credited with helping to spur new economic development in downtown Ardmore. Dranoff said that the state provided some of the money due to the transit-oriented development aspect of the project and to support the “reversal of the gradual decline and disinvestment to a community that is now becoming vibrant, pedestrian-friendly and walkable.” SEPTA will soon begin replacing the Ardmore Train Station to complete the revitalization.
Source: Delco Times; 4/24/2019 

Schwenksville to consider amendments to simplify residential rental ordinance
Schwenksville Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Thursday, May 9, at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 140 Main St., to consider enactment of an ordinance that will repeal and replace Chapter 124 of its code, “Rental Occupancy and Registration.” The borough will still require landlords to register their rental units and tenants on an annual basis and require a rental inspection prior to a change in tenancy. The information required on the application has been simplified to conform with current standards. The proposed ordinance will: set guidelines for new rental units, including conversion into multi-family units; set re-sale property transfer inspection and registration guidelines; set minimum standards; authorize inspections/re-inspections and entry into premises; and set forth violations and penalties. A full copy of the proposed ordinance is available for review at Schwenksville Borough Hall during normal business hours and on the borough website.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 4/23/2019 

Bucks, Montgomery rail lines get $900K in state grants
Gov. Tom Wolf announced that East Penn Railroad in Bucks County and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Bucks and Montgomery counties are among 27 rail lines that will receive state funding for rail line improvements. The state is divvying up about $23 million in grants. About $210,000 will go toward rehabilitating two miles of track on East Penn’s Bristol Line. SEPTA will receive about $700,000 to buy and install positive train control equipment on four Pennsylvania Northeast Railroad locomotives. State Rep. Steve Malagari (D-53) applauded the announcement, saying, “It’s crucial to invest in transportation in Montgomery and Bucks counties because it’s a public transit hub in Pennsylvania.”
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/1/2019 

Lansdale gives conditional use for apartment plan
Lansdale Borough Council voted unanimously to grant conditional use approval for a six-story apartment building on the corner of Third and Walnut streets. Council members warned that there are still several steps to go before a final development plan is approved for “Walnut Crossing.” Developer Ross Ziegler secured ownership to two more properties next to the proposed parcel, leading to an expanded version of a development plan that now includes 204 apartment units, using credits in the borough’s downtown overlay zone for energy-efficient features to seek permission for a building six stories and roughly 77 feet tall. One change added a third lift to an automated system that will carry resident’s cars into a spot below the building. The original plan only called for two lifts. Residents in the area are concerned that the building is too large for the neighborhood — a concern echoed by some council members. Borough solicitor Sean Kilkenny told council that the applicant had met the criteria spelled out in the borough’s conditional use codes, and any denial by council could lead to costly legal battles.
Source: The Reporter; 4/29/2019

Upper Gwynedd seeks guidance for comprehensive plan
Upper Gwynedd Township has formed a steering committee to guide the Upper Gwynedd Comprehensive Plan 2040 process. The committee is asking community members to share their vision of the township for the next 20 years through an online survey, the results of which will help to shape the goals and objectives of the plan. 
Source: Upper Gwynedd Township; 4/22/2019

Philadelphia

Philly housing costs rising faster for poor and middle class than for the wealthy
As the Philadelphia region’s poorest residents spend more to keep a roof over their heads, the area’s wealthiest residents are spending less, according to new research from economists at Apartment Life, a San-Francisco-based real estate company. “If you’re well-off already, your income seems to be growing faster. But if you’re not doing so well, your housing costs are outpacing your income and making it even harder to get ahead,” said Igor Popov, the company’s chief economist. Between 2007 and 2018, housing costs for households in the region earning less than the national median income grew 8%. They didn't rise at all for households earning above that mark, according to census data crunched by the company. The median household income was $61,400 in 2017. Philadelphia and other big cities have seen an influx of wealthier residents moving in. That’s hiked the demand for higher-rent housing, and effectively flooded the market with sleek and shiny multi-family properties.
Source: Plan Philly; 4/29/2019 

Lawsuit seeks to break Building Trades’ hold on city construction contracts
A lawsuit filed in federal court is challenging Philadelphia’s long-held tradition of reserving city construction work for certain labor unions. But the suit comes from a surprising source: rival union contractors, teamed with a right-wing, anti-union lawyer. The April 18 filing takes aim at documents called “project labor agreements” (PLAs) that the litigants say favor a prominent labor consortium called the Building and Construction Trades Council, a group of 31 locals led by indicted electricians’ union leader John Dougherty. While PLAs are traditionally viewed as a kind of protection for organized labor that ensure work lands with unions, the lawsuit claims they exclude members who aren’t part of the consortium. The city has already reacted to the suit, removing PLAs from both projects named in the brief. Building Trades spokesperson Frank Keel downplayed the significance of the suit, suggesting it was solely the result of a lost bid. If the suit advances, it could reshape how the city hires labor for the public works project known as Rebuild, potentially slowing or creating new political challenges for an already troubled and behind-schedule process.
Source: Plan Philly; 4/25/2019


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