NEWS BRIEFS

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General News
Bill proposes state park entrance fees

Bucks County
Horsham water customers to receive PFAS reimbursement

Chester County
West Chester proposal would increase taxes by 32%

Delaware County
Nick’s House perseveres in long court battle

Montgomery County
Deed scam targets Montgomery County homeowners

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program now matching up to $1,500

 

News Briefs Archive November 11, 2019

 

General News

Airbnb working to fight ‘unauthorized parties’
Airbnb announced rule changes to its platform in response to a situation in which five people were killed at a house party in Orinda, California. CEO Brian Chesky wrote that the company is “redoubling our efforts to combat unauthorized parties and get rid of abusive host and guest conduct.” The San Francisco-based company, he said, is developing new safety initiatives, including a dedicated “party house” rapid response team and a ban on users who violate its guest policies. In the past, the company has made policy modifications relating to hidden cameras and other issues between hosts and guests. While the industry is making attempts to self-regulate, local governments have simultaneously pursued regulations to limit the platform in communities. The San Francisco Chronicle explores some of the challenges inherent in creating rules for the business model here.
Source: Market Watch; 11/6/2019 and San Francisco Chronicle; 11/4/2019

Scammers prey on rental-seekers
Consumers seeking to rent properties must be cautious about listings that seem too good to be true, especially when using an app or searching online, according to a report by Action News. Read more about scams relating to properties marketed online and watch the news video here.
Source: 6 ABC; 10/22/2019

Comment period now open for state parks plan
It’s been 25 years since the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks underwent its last strategic planning effort, dubbed StateParks 2000. A new strategic planning process called “Penn’s Parks for All” is underway, and its goal is to help guide Pennsylvania’s important work of caring for 121 state parks for the next 25 years. The public is invited to review the preliminary report and provide comments here. The comment period is open until Dec. 31.
Source: PA DCNR

Bucks County

Springfield abandons plan to regulate short-term rentals
The prospect of regulating short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs, in Springfield Township has been tabled indefinitely. The supervisors were at an impasse over whether to make the rentals principal or accessory uses. The township planning commission argued for an accessory use and crafted an ordinance that called for the rental to be the primary residence of the operator obtaining the license. The proposed ordinance also placed strict restrictions on the number of days permitted to rent. Township counsel Scott MacNair warned supervisors that doing nothing meant the township could be subject to litigation, but they remained hopelessly deadlocked. Supervisor Robert Zisko led the call for zero oversight, saying he didn’t see short-term rentals as a problem now or in the future. An estimated half-dozen such rentals currently operate in the township. Supervisor Tony Matzura initially favored the regulation, along with supervisors Karen Bedics and James Nilsen, but he later complained of overregulation.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/31/2019

Wrightstown budget looks to hold the line on taxes
Wrightstown Township Manager Joe Pantano presented a draft 2020 budget to the supervisors that does not recommend a tax increase. If the final figures for 2019 play out as expected, the municipal property tax in Wrightstown would remain at 9.23 mills. A mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Under the draft budget, a Wrightstown property assessed at $45,000 would owe about $415 in municipal real estate taxes in 2020. The supervisors must advertise the final budget and vote to approve it before the end of the year.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/31/2019

Taxes steady in Warrington for fifth straight year
The 2020 budget in Warrington Township forecasts fair financial conditions for the year to come. Warrington officials unanimously passed a $14 million budget that maintains a property tax rate of 16.12 mills for the fifth straight year. Supervisors Chairman Fred Gaines added that the vote also set a $3,000 homestead tax exemption. The exemption for qualifying single-family homes that applied prior to the Oct. 31 deadline could take about $50 off each township property tax bill. The average tax assessed value of a home in Warrington is about $35,000, but with a $3,000 exemption the township property tax would only apply to $32,000. The township is also projecting to end 2020 with a fund balance of $3.4 million. Credit rating firms take a healthy fund balance into consideration when determining a municipality’s credit rating. A copy of the 2020 budget will be posted in the finance section of the township website.
Source: The Intelligencer; 11/5/2019

Middletown’s new skate park completed early
Middletown Township’s new skate park was expected to be completed on Halloween, but better than anticipated weather helped the builders finish the project ahead of schedule. The new 8,600-square-foot skate park in Middletown Community Park at 2600 Langhorne-Yardley Road replaces one that closed in the winter of 2015 due to deterioration. A committee was formed and raised $72,000 in contributions for the new park. The township also acquired grant money from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to help cover the $325,000 cost. The park is open from dawn to 10 p.m., with lighting, seven days a week until Dec. 15. The lighting will then be turned off until March 15.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/5/2019

Chester County 

Proposed county budget shows no tax hike in 2020
Property owners in Chester County would pay no more in county real estate taxes next year under the proposed 2020 budget, which reduces expenditures by more than 10%. If approved, the real estate tax rate levied by the county would remain at 4.369 mills, with a projected tax of about $730 on an average home with a market value of about $340,000. It would be the fourth consecutive year that the county real estate tax has stayed the same. The proposed budget will be discussed at a public meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 19, but will not be voted on for approval until Thursday, Dec. 12.
Source: Daily Local; 10/30/2019

Devon Horse Show grounds once again out of Devon Center zoning change
The Easttown Township Planning Commission continues to mull a new Devon Center zoning district. At its October meeting, planners reversed a decision to include the Devon Horse Show & Country Fair grounds in the new district. Commission member Mary Hashemi brought up concerns that including the horse show grounds in the new zoning — which would also allow retail, office and residential uses — would open the door to the horse show’s eventual demise. Instead of including it, the planners seem to be leaning toward crafting an equestrian event overlay zoning district at some future time. Planning commission chairman Mark Stanish asked whether making a special overlay for the horse show would be spot zoning, which is illegal. Gene Briggs, assistant township manager and director of planning and zoning, said, “An overlay is a safer approach. We’ve seen it in other areas.” Putting an equestrian use in the Devon Center district “would expose that property to the other uses,” he said. Developer Eli Kahn, who has an agreement with the horse show to build a garage and hotel on what is now a parking lot, spoke during public comment. Kahn — who built Devon Yard and owns a property at 119 Lancaster Ave. — said the proposed zoning change will “not allow anything I’m proposing to be built in Easttown Township.” The planning commission set another meeting on the Devon Center zoning for on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. at Beaumont Elementary School.
Source: Daily Local; 11/4/2019

West Fallowfield to consider local services tax
The West Fallowfield Township Board of Supervisors will consider enacting a local services tax, not to exceed $52 annually. The ordinance: establishes criteria for claiming an exemption; imposes a duty on employers to collect the tax; requires employers to prepare and file returns; requires self-employed individuals to comply; and subjects nonresidents of the township who perform services within the township to the tax. It also requires the township to appoint a collector to administer and enforce the tax, and lays out penalties for violations. The proposed effective date of the tax is Jan. 1, 2020. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the township office, 3095 Limestone Road, Suite 1, Cochranville.
Source: Daily Local; 10/28/2019

Chesco makes CWA appointment
The Chester County Commissioners unanimously appointed a Kennett Square attorney to fill a vacancy on the embattled Chester Water Authority board of directors, as it continues to wage war to keep its assets from being sold to a private water supplier. Leonard Rivera will now retake the seat he gave up two years ago, but which was left vacant earlier this year by the resignation of his successor. Commissioner Michele Kichline said after the vote that the board would now move expeditiously to fill a second vacancy. She said the board would consider two residents they had interviewed for the seat that Riveras will now fill. Three county residents serve on the nine-member board, which provides water service to residents and businesses in 22 municipalities from Thornbury to West Nottingham.
Source: Daily Local; 11/1/2019

West Brandywine officials adopt resolution to end gerrymandering
West Brandywine Township supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution seeking to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania by supporting legislation calling for nonpartisan redistricting reform. Gerrymandering is the practice of a governing party gaining unfair political advantage by manipulating electoral district boundaries. The resolution documents the municipality’s support of legislation that would end the current practice of politicians drawing the boundaries of their own voting districts. It also calls on every elected official representing the voters of West Brandywine Township to publicly support and work for passage of that legislation. House Bill 23 creates, by statute, an Independent Citizens Commission to draw congressional maps. House Bill 22 extends the role of the independent commission, by state constitutional amendment, to put the redistricting power for both congressional and state legislative districts in the hands of an independent citizens commission. The two bills lead to one commission, the members of which would be randomly selected from a list of qualified candidates who would be held accountable to make the redistricting process fair, transparent and open to meaningful public input. West Brandywine Township joins 338 municipalities and 21 counties across the state in passing a fair districts resolution.
Source: Daily Local; 10/29/2019

Delaware County

Municipal preservation grants awarded
Delaware County Council awarded 26 municipalities grants totaling $4.5 million. These grants will support the acquisition of 102 acres of preserved open land, and fund approximately 7.3 miles of trails, 18 park and recreation improvements, and eight plans and studies. The Delaware County Open Space Task Force recommended the grant initiative to implement the county’s comprehensive plan, Delco2035.
Source: Delaware County Planning Department; 10/30/2019

Delco preps for 2020 Census
Delaware County has formed a Complete Count Committee to raise awareness that Census Day is April 1, 2020. Census results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities each year. Communities rely on census statistics to plan for a variety of resident needs, including new roads, schools and emergency services. Learn more about the census in Delaware County here.
Source: Delaware County Planning Department; 10/30/2019

Morton to change parking rules in certain areas
Morton Borough Council will consider an ordinance amending Chapter 15 of its municipal code to prohibit nonresident parking in certain areas. The ordinance adds Bridge Street from Stoney Creek to Taylor Avenue as an area requiring residential permits for parking. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. at Morton Borough Hall, 500 Highland Ave.
Source: Daily Times; 10/30/2019

Montgomery County

Pottstown stakeholders discuss $62M revitalization plan
It could cost more than $62 million over the next eight years to sustain revitalization efforts in Pottstown Borough — that’s the conclusion of the Urban Land Institute, a 72-year-old think tank that recently presented a preliminary report and recommendations for the borough’s revitalization. The report was commissioned by the borough, Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, Pottstown Area School District and Tower Health. The process involved extensive interviews, a tour of the borough, and research of past revitalization projects and Pottstown’s industrial and commercial history. The The consultants who worked on the report included city planners, economic development professionals, architects and Realtors®. Among the report’s recommendations: improve, upgrade and build new infrastructure; prepare residents for living wage jobs; invest in education; stabilize, renovate and diversify housing stock; and clearly define the borough’s role as a regional hub. Click here to read the full article that details each recommendation.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/2/2019

Limerick to adopt 2015 International Fire Code
Limerick Township supervisors will hold a public hearing and consider adoption of an ordinance that will enact the 2015 International Fire Code. The hearing will be on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Limerick Township Municipal Building, 646 W. Ridge Pike. Click here for the township website.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/5/2019

Public hearing in Douglass Township to discuss traffic impact fees
The Traffic Impact Advisory Committee of Douglass Township will hold a public hearing to gather input concerning the proposed Land Use Assumptions Report for the update and implementation of impact fees for transportation improvements. The hearing will be held on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. at the township building, 1320 E. Philadelphia Ave., Gilbertsville. The report can be examined at the municipal building during normal business hours.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 10/30/2019

Pottstown superintendent to head urban schools group
Pottstown School District Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez is an outspoken advocate for his district and for fair public school funding. Rodriquez’s outspokenness has resulted in him being elected as the new president of the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools (PLUS). The Pottstown School Board approved the post because it is “in line” with the fifth goal in Rodriquez’ contract — advocacy for fairer school funding. Pottstown School District is underfunded by more than $13 million every year by a state funding system that favors some districts over others. PLUS also advocates for cyber charter and charter school reform, as well as special education reforms. Urban school districts in southeast Pennsylvania include: Pottstown, Norristown, Coatesville Area, Southeast Delco, William Penn, Chester-Upland, Philadelphia and Reading.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 10/24/2019

Philadelphia

Philly steps up fight against deed fraud with new tools
The City of Philadelphia has unveiled a new online tool that aims to combat deed theft, a growing problem in the city. Philadelphia has a history of unscrupulous actors looking to cash in on rising property values by effectively stealing real estate by forging deeds or misleading owners. In instances where legal owners are absent, elderly or deceased, the scam may not be detected until after a fraudster has already flipped land for profit –– creating a legal nightmare. The new system, dubbed “Fraud Guard,” is an email notification system that would send an alert when a given name appears as party to official real estate documents filed with City Hall, giving property owners a heads up about transactions filed in their name but without their consent. Users would have to voluntarily register with the system to receive alerts and follow up with the city if they suspect a fraudulent transaction. The city currently notifies owners of deed activity via mail service, but listed mailing addresses may be out of date. Commissioner of Records James Leonard said that 136 deed theft cases were reported in 2018. The city is on track to meet or exceed that count this year, with 111 cases reported to date.
Source: WHYY; 10/30/2019

Philly strives to build and preserve affordable housing as rents rise
City Council is looking to the private market to help with affordable housing, hoping to harness the booming real estate business to bankroll affordable housing. At a time when those same forces are making apartments more expensive, city council wants to ensure affordable units don’t vanish overnight. One bill from Councilmember Derek Green would allow commercial property owners to build taller and larger structures if they pay into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Another bill from Green would require landlords who own apartments where affordability regulations are going to expire to present the city with their plans for the buildings two years in advance. This would, in theory, give city officials time to plan for the mass evictions that come when an affordable building is reformatted to market-rate purposes. A 2016 study from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve found that almost one-quarter of the affordable housing in Philadelphia will see its affordability restrictions expire in the next few years. The Philly Fed researchers found that 1,099 units are especially vulnerable to market rate conversions because they are located in hot market neighborhoods and are owned by for-profit entities. Landlord groups seemed wary of the idea, arguing that their industry has already faced a substantial amount of new regulation from City Hall in recent years. A new lead remediation law for older rental properties recently went into effect, while bed bug regulations and a right-to-counsel bill for those being evicted are also advancing. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 11/4/2019

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