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Biden administration extends forbearance and foreclosure protections
Big developments move forward in Bucks
Phoenixville to consider repeal of per capita tax
Media’s open space, parks and recreation survey closes soon
Lower Merion ranked among best places to live and work from home
‘Once-in-a-generation’ anti-poverty plan sends $4.5M to community groups
Find RPAC-endorsed local candidates on new website
The Southeast REALTORS® Political Action Committee (SERPAC) has created a website listing its endorsed candidates for the 2019 municipal election. Visit the site at www.suburbanrealtorsvote.com to see who Realtors® support in suburban Philadelphia. To learn more about how local elected offices affect real estate, click here. Election Day is Tuesday Nov. 5th.
Bucks lawmakers take crack at Sterling Act changes
Two Republican state representatives — Frank Farry (R-142), of Langhorne, and Wendi Thomas (R-178), of Northampton — are looking to amend a Depression-era state law that could bring millions of income tax dollars back into counties surrounding Philadelphia. Non-residents working in Philadelphia pay a 3.4481% wage tax to the city and do not have to pay their local municipalities Earned Income Tax (EIT). None of the city wage tax leaves the city limits, an unusual privilege for the city created by the Sterling Act, passed in 1932. Under House Bills 1765 and 1766, towns that have enacted an EIT could get the 1% tax back from the city. Bucks County Association of Township Officials (BCATO) board member David Nyman estimates that Bensalem could have collected more than $2.1 million in EIT revenue just from township residents working in Philadelphia, Northampton could have collected $1.3 million, and Warminster nearly $535,000. BCATO’s Chester County equivalent, CCATO, estimates nearly $4.8 million of municipal revenue is lost to the Philadelphia wage tax each year. “[People] should care because it’s affecting the revenue sources that fund their municipal government, and that loss to Philadelphia has to be made up someplace … real estate taxes,” Nyman said. HB 1765 and HB 1766 were both referred to the House Finance Committee on Aug. 30.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/14/2019
Lawmakers question Pa.’s hefty student loan debt
State Rep. Jennifer O'Mara (D-165), of Delaware County, and other lawmakers are asking the question: Why does Pennsylvania lead the nation in average student loan debt per resident, with a figure of $36,000? O’Mara and Meghan Schroeder, a Bucks County Republican and fellow freshman colleague, lead the new Student Debt Caucus in the state House. O’Mara said a variety of factors ― including societal pressure on high school students to reach for the most prestigious college, a lack of financial literacy and predatory lending ― have contributed to Pennsylvania’s status as the student debt leader. During a recent hearing of the House Democratic Policy Committee at Cabrini University, Ken Mash, president of the Association of State College & University Faculties, said the main cause is that Pennsylvania is under-funding higher education. State leaders made cuts to higher education funding years ago that have never been restored, Mash said, and as a result, the state is “drowning a generation” in a sea of debt. One recent estimate put outstanding Pennsylvania student debt at $68.2 billion, with more than 1.7 million borrowers. Of those figures, more than $7.2 billion is delinquent debt owed by 230,000 Pennsylvania borrowers. Testimony submitted by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency ― apparently using a different set of data ― said the state ranked second, behind Connecticut.
Source: Morning Call; 10/16/2019
Proposed legislation would give local officials a pay raise
Almost 25 years have passed since the state increased the salary caps for mayors, borough council members and township supervisors. Members of the bipartisan Local Government Commission have written two bills to raise the caps in line with changes in the Consumer Price Index since the last increase in 1995. State Sen. Scott Martin (R-13), of Lancaster County, is the primary sponsor of Senate Bills 688 and 689, which would give townships and boroughs the option to raise salaries for supervisors and council members by as much as 68% in some communities. The legislation contains six levels of compensation for borough council members and township supervisors, depending on the size of a community. The maximum annual salary in communities of fewer than 5,000 residents could rise to as much as $3,145 from the current $1,875, and in municipalities with populations over 35,000, the salary could rise to as much as $7,335 from the current $5,000. For mayors of large communities, maximum salaries could rise $840 a year for every 1,000 residents from the current cap of $500 for every 1,000 residents. Municipalities would have to adopt an ordinance for any salary change to take effect. Salaries could be increased to the new levels only after an incumbent is reelected or when a successor takes office. The legislation also includes a provision that would allow boroughs and townships to structure their pay based on meeting appearances to address concerns in some communities about elected officials who regularly fail to show.
Source: Daily Local; 10/21/2019
Some homes with tainted water to get water treatment systems
A group of 12 Bucks County homes will receive water treatment systems nearly three years after toxic PFAS chemicals were found in the residents’ well water. The homeowners have been using bottled water for drinking and cooking while officials searched for the source of the contamination. Though the source remains undetermined, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will begin work to install treatment systems at the homes located in East and West Rockhill townships. A second area of contamination in Warwick Township has yet to reach a resolution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to do more testing to figure out who is to blame for the contamination. The military has denied responsibility for the contamination and is refusing to fund public water hookups, but is paying for bottled water for the homes. PFAS contamination has affected communities nationwide, particularly those near military bases where the chemicals were used for years and infiltrated the water supply. The PFAS in East Rockhill and West Rockhill is not believed to have come from area military bases, so the state is responsible for addressing the contamination.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/18/2019
Rockhill Quarry asbestos concerns continue
Controversy over the reopening of the Rockhill Quarry in East Rockhill is approaching the two-year mark, with the legal dispute winding its way through the courts. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ordered a cessation of quarry operations last December after asbestos was detected. DEP ordered Hanson, the operator of the quarry, to implement an investigation to determine the extent and risk of the asbestos and come up with a safety plan if necessary. A number of residents have formed Rockhill Environmental Protection Alliance (REPA) and hired their own geologist to analyze asbestos issues. REPA raised concerns that the methods used by Hanson to sample, measure and analyze asbestos were deficient. In late September, DEP performed asbestos sampling at the site and said some of its results “varied widely” from those found by the quarry. On Sept. 20, DEP sent a letter to Hanson requiring it to redo asbestos sampling using similar methods. In an Oct. 18 email, DEP regional spokeswoman Virginia Cain said the department is “still working with Hanson to address the concerns and requests” laid out in the letter. Court arguments for the addition of an asphalt plant at the quarry are set to begin Nov. 12 before Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert Mellon. The township has argued an asphalt plant would only be allowed in an industrial zoning district, while the quarry is zoned in an extraction zone.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/21/2019
West Rockhill to appeal compressor station approval
West Rockhill Township officials are continuing an appeal fighting state approval of a natural gas pipeline compressor station planned on Rich Hill Road. Adelphia Gateway LLC is seeking federal approval for an 84-mile natural gas pipeline through Northampton, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania and New Castle County in Delaware. West Rockhill Township and residents oppose a proposed 8,000- to 10,000-square foot pumping station that would pump about 250 million cubic feet of natural gas daily, nonstop, near a residential area. West Rockhill appealed the April air quality plan approval issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with the state’s Environmental Hearing Board. That board dismissed the appeal on Sept. 25, ruling that only the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to overturn DEP approval of Adelphia’s proposed interstate pipeline. The federal appellate court might be the ultimate venue for the appeal, but the township first needs to file in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/18/2019
Bucks YMCA gets $20M low-interest loan to fund improvements
The Bucks County Commissioners announced the approval of a $20 million, tax-free financing project to support the refinancing of long-term debt and planned improvements to YMCA facilities in Fairless Hills and Doylestown. “We are pleased to be partnering through the county’s Industrial Development Authority with YMCA of Bucks County on these important projects that will benefit many residents in the community, and especially the children and families of Lower and Central Bucks,” said Robert G. Loughery, chair of the county commissioners. “Safe and affordable recreation in a family setting is a key ingredient in helping our communities in reducing the opioid epidemic." Click here for the press release.
Source: Bucks County; 10/17/2019
Oxford Sewer Authority raises rates by 4%
The Oxford Sewer Authority has set a 4% rate increase across the board for all users. Rate payers will see the increase in their bills in January, with a new base rate minimum of about $81 per quarter in zone 1, and about $84 in zone 2. In zone 1 (most of Oxford Borough), the fee will be $16.22 per 1,000 gallons used after the first 1,000 gallons used in that quarter. Zone 2 rates will be $16.78 per 1,000 gallons after the first 1,000 gallons. Rate payers in Lincoln Village will pay a flat rate of about $149 per quarter. When ownership of a property is transferred, there is usually a meter reading and request for documentation of any pending fees. There will now be a $25 fee for each certification request. The authority is also planning to enforce surcharges for commercial/industrial waste that exceeds treatment standards for solids, grease or other materials that increase the cost of processing the waste. With the potential sale to Delcora now off the table, the authority’s past due debt of $1.2 million on a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan becomes a more pressing issue. The authority is making current payments but has been unable to catch up on missed payments that started about three years ago. One condition of the restructuring of the loan, originally totaling $27 million, is that the authority show its seriousness about repaying its debt. A balanced budget that shows the loan payments and a rate increase are two ways that the authority is demonstrating its commitment.
Source: Daily Local; 10/20/2019
Forum highlights destination towns in county
Chester County’s urban centers are becoming destination towns where people want to live, work and visit to enjoy unique experiences offered by breweries, tasting rooms, farmers’ markets, food trucks and short-term rentals such as Airbnbs and VRBOs. That was the message that came out of the Chester County Urban Centers Forum last week at Victory Brewing Company in Parkesburg. “Our urban centers are a key focus within the County and their success is critical to the County’s overall success,” said Michelle Kichline, county commissioners chair. County Planning Commission Urban Planner Kevin Myers said short-term rentals are popular options in communities with higher lodging demand, and municipalities considering allowing them should take into account factors like potential neighborhood opposition, the effects on housing availability and affordability, and effects on hotels and bed and breakfasts. Brian O’Leary, director of the county planning commission, said the forthcoming Landscapes3 comprehensive plan will provide additional guidance for boroughs and urban centers. He said the Vision Partnership Program (VPP) is available for all municipalities in Chester County to help improve their planning programs.
Source: Daily Local; 10/21/2019
244-unit apartment complex set to open in Malvern
Berwyn-based residential developer LCOR Inc.’s latest project, Arlo, is a 244-unit apartment community just off Route 202 in Malvern that will open in coming weeks. Arlo will consist of two four-story buildings, including a clubhouse that houses a fitness center and screening room. A 439-square-foot, one-bedroom studio apartment at Arlo will rent for $1,400 per month. At the high end, a three-bedroom, two-bath unit comprising 1,416 square feet will rent for $3,140 per month. The rental market has been ticking upward for the past few years. Apartment demand in the second quarter of 2019 has spiked 11% from just a year ago, and the built-for-rent share of housing starts is nearly double its recent historical average.
Source: Daily Local; 10/13/2019
County to host housing forum on ‘Creating A+ Homes’
The Chester County Planning Commission will host a housing forum, “Creating A+ Homes,” on Thursday, Nov. 14, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Chester. The event will be an opportunity to learn about new residential designs, housing tools for municipalities and policies regarding affordably priced homes. View case studies on successful approaches to affordably priced housing on the county website. Register for the forum here.
Source: Chester County Planning Commission; 10/22/2019
SRA sues Borough of Glenolden for violating homeowners’ rights
The Suburban REALTORS® Alliance has filed a federal lawsuit against the Borough of Glenolden for refusing to issue residential use and occupancy certificates after municipal code inspections in accordance with state law. The Alliance’s co-plaintiff in the suit, Mohammed Rahman, recently sold a property in the borough and was subjected to the enforcement of unconstitutional ordinances that violate the Pennsylvania Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act (MCOCA). “Not only did Glenolden Borough ignore state law and impose unconstitutional conditions on the transfer of his property, the borough also extracted from Mr. Rahman more than $1,200 in fines and has forced him to defend himself against criminal charges,” said Jamie Ridge, president and CEO of the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance. “Glenolden denied him a use and occupancy permit to which he was entitled, then levied criminal sanctions against him for his failure to have the permit. It's ridiculous, arbitrary and wrong.” Among the unconstitutional conditions that the borough imposed on Mr. Rahman were requiring that he post a $5,000 escrow in return for the issuance of a use and occupancy permit, and requiring that code inspection repairs be made within 30 days, both of which are prohibited by MCOCA. For more information, read the SRA press release and the Delco Times article.
Source: Suburban Realtors Alliance; 10/15/2019 and Delco Times; 10/17/2019
Rep. Kirkland announces $9.9M loan for Chester stormwater project
State Rep. Brian Kirkland (D-159) announced a $9.9 million low-interest loan for stormwater renovations and restorations in the city of Chester. The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) approved the loan. The funding will provide for selective replacement of inlets, piping and outfalls, including approximately 9,200 feet of pipe, 126 catch basins, 50 manholes, and roadway restoration. Additionally, water quality devices, such as porous panels, inlet inserts and filters, will be installed to remove trash and sediment from the system and pollutants from the water. A street sweeper and vacuum truck will also be used to remove debris, sediment and water from the system.
Source: Daily Times; 10/19/2019
SEPTA, Upper Darby ready for next step on 69th Street project
Upper Darby Township leaders and state representatives joined SEPTA officials to announce the next major steps for infrastructure improvements at the 69th Street Transportation Center. Bid packages have officially gone out for the estimated $30 million project to build a multi-tiered parking garage accommodating 431 vehicles and to improve an additional surface lot for 89 more vehicles. Current parking arrangements at the transportation hub accommodate 182 vehicles. An accessible walkway will connect commuters to the various terminals, and a covered walkway will connect the parking garage to the transportation center. A covered bus berth will be created along the Market Street side. Over 35,000 commuters pass through the center daily traveling by bus or rail. In addition to commuter parking, the garage will be open as an economic development boost to the numerous shopping, eating and entertainment options available in the immediate 69th Street area of the township. Funds for the project will be provided by state Act 89 dollars. Construction is expected to start before summer 2020 and to last 18 months.
Source: Daily Times; 10/20/2019
Architects hired for redevelopment of Chester waterfront
The Riverfront Alliance of Delaware County announced the hiring of Boston-based architecture firm NBBJ for its waterfront master plan contract to develop the area surrounding Talen Energy Stadium and the Wharf at Rivertown office complex. “This signing of NBBJ is huge. It is going to be a significant and foundational step for the waterfront to have this plan,” said Tom Shoemaker, alliance board president. According to Shoemaker and alliance Deputy Director Lisa Gaffney, NBBJ has experience in both riverfront and stadium-area development in cities comparable in size to Chester along with larger markets including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. The firm has offices in three countries and has performed work on the design of Lincoln Financial Field and master plans for Pittsburgh’s riverfront revitalization and the Dallas Arts District. The master plan is scheduled to be completed in June. “We’re starting community focus groups in November, when [consultants] come for their next visit,” Gaffney said. “November and December will be a key time for meeting with the community, nonprofits, business, and government and religious organizations.” Open meetings with the public are planned, but dates have not been finalized.
Source: Daily Times; 10/22/2019
New developer for former Ashbourne Country Club property
Matrix Development Group has sold the former Ashbourne Country Club property in Cheltenham Township to Liberty Commercial Development Corp. Liberty purchased the 104-acre site for $9 million. Bucks County-based Liberty will build the 166 houses Matrix had been approved to construct, set aside 33 acres as public green space and give Cheltenham $150,000 to maintain the open land. The open space will consist of trails, park and recreational land, and conservation areas. Liberty Development plans to begin construction by Dec. 25.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/18/2019
Lower Merion to discuss draft zoning code on Oct. 30
The Building & Planning Committee of the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners will discuss the draft zoning code on Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 6 p.m., at the township building, 75 E. Lancaster Ave, Ardmore. The discussion will center on proposed changes emanating from a public hearing held on Sept. 18. The agenda is available on the township website. If the discussion is not concluded on Oct. 30, it will be continued to the committee meeting on Nov. 6. For more information about the zoning code and subdivision code update, click here.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 10/16/2019
Pottstown considers different option for fifth-graders
Pottstown School District officials have been discussing how to handle the overpopulation of the district’s middle school. In 2014, all district fifth-grade students were moved into the middle school, making it the largest school, population-wise, in the district. Since that time, parents, teachers and students have complained about behavior problems and bullying. Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez had first explored turning the former Edgewood Elementary School into a fifth-grade center, but that idea was shelved by the school board. Rodriguez has given the problem more thought and wants to start discussions about moving fifth grade back into elementary school and creating a kindergarten center in the Edgewood building. There are three public meetings scheduled to review benefits and concerns with this option. Click here for the meeting information.
Source: Pottstown Mercury & The Digital Notebook Blog; 10/22/2019
Lower Merion school officials to recommend later secondary start time
Lower Merion School District officials are planning to recommend a change to later school start times for secondary students. Under the proposed changes, the hours for the district’s six elementary schools will move from the current times (9 a.m. - 3:35 p.m.) to new times of 7:45 a.m. - 2:35 p.m. The middle schools (currently 8:15 a.m. - 3:05 p.m.) would switch to 9:05 a.m. - 4:05 p.m. The high schools (currently 7:30 a.m. - 2:40 p.m.) would change to 8:25 a.m. - 3:25 p.m. The district will host four community listening sessions regarding the plan. They will also send out a survey to gather feedback on the plan and solicit input through the email address email@example.com.
Source: Main Line Times; 10/22/2019
School board votes to take back control of two charters
The Philadelphia Board of Education recently voted against renewing the charters of Olney Charter High School and John B. Stetson Charter School. The two schools used to be district schools and were handed over to Aspira, a charter school operator, in 2010 and 2011, as part of a district initiative to turn around underperforming schools. With the agreement went tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. The schools continue to perform poorly academically, and Aspira has not followed through on the promises of their charter agreements. Aspira has also engaged in inappropriate fiscal and organizational practices, according to district evaluators. “If we ignore that, I don’t know how we would say no to any charter in the future,” said school board member Christopher McGinley. Olney and Stetson received $38 million from the district in 2018. The schools have the right to appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/17/2019
Despite loud opposition, business improvement districts for Fishtown, South Philly advance
Though property values are soaring and high-end tenants like La Colombe and Lululemon have moved in, litter remains a constant presence in Fishtown. “We need to clean it up. It’s unsanitary and unsightly,” said Paul Kimport, co-owner of Johnny Brenda’s said, adding that there are often needles and other “dangerous” items on neighborhood streets. Kimport is part of a group of Fishtown property owners now pushing to create a business improvement district (BID) in the growing neighborhood. They believe the creation of the assessment-funded organization could help address issues like street cleaning that individual shopkeepers can’t handle on their own. The recent success of Frankford Avenue can help buoy the fortunes of the other commercial corridors, he said. The BID would have a $544,000 annual budget, derived from assessments charged to commercial property owners at 0.18% of their property’s assessed value. The money would go toward cleaning and maintaining the streets and public spaces, with a special emphasis on the area around the Girard Station on the Market-Frankford line. As commercial corridors across the city experience newfound and often fragile renaissances, BIDs are growing in popularity. But not without conflict. Some scholars who study urban inequality argue that BIDs represent the privatization of what should be public services, hoarding privilege in areas that are already more economically successful. Other opponents say they are simply unfair — property owners already pay taxes. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 10/17/2019
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