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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 October 21, 2019

 

General News

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 

Long-awaited FHA condo rule went into effect Oct. 15
For many years, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) urged the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to finalize changes that would ease restrictions on Federal Housing Administration (FHA) financing for condominiums, enabling more first-time buyers, older adults, and low- to moderate-income families to achieve the dream of homeownership. On Oct. 15, HUD’s long-awaited final rule on project approval for single-family condominiums insured by the FHA went into effect. NAR will continue to work with FHA, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to insure that people who wish to purchase a condominium have safe, affordable access to mortgage credit. Read more about what the rule changes on the NAR website
Source: Realtor Party; 10/3/2019

Bucks County

Middletown approves zoning for housing at Oxford Valley Mall
Middletown Township supervisors approved a zoning change that will allow for a proposed 600-unit apartment near the Oxford Valley Mall. The amendment changes the General Business District (GB) zoning to allow for multi-family housing on parcels of 100 acres or more. Residents in attendance were concerned about the increase in traffic, as well as taxation and safety issues, but many conceded that the mall needs improvements. “The residents want to see something done with Oxford Valley Mall,” said Tom Tosti, chairman of the board of supervisors. Tosti said he understood the traffic concerns but that sometimes a town needs to take a leap of faith that something good will result from a decision. Attorney Denis Yarboff, representing mall developer Simon, said the developers were taking the residents’ traffic concerns into consideration as plans for the complex move forward. Tosti also reminded the residents in attendance at the meeting that there will be more opportunities for public comment as the land development plans are presented.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/9/2019

West Rockhill loses pipeline appeal
West Rockhill Township’s legal challenge to the construction of a natural gas compressor station along the Adelphia Gateway pipeline has been dismissed. The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board denied West Rockhill’s appeal on Sept. 25. The Adelphia Gateway project seeks to repurpose an underused oil and natural gas pipeline to run high-pressure natural gas from northwestern New Jersey to a refinery in Marcus Hook. The project is seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Adelphia’s plans included a 5,625-horsepower compressor station installed on a lot in the middle of a West Rockhill residential neighborhood. Residents, along with local and county officials, opposed the station, saying it would expose them to health and safety risks and also violates zoning ordinances. Despite the public outcry, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) granted an air-quality permit approval that would allow the compressor station construction to continue. That prompted the appeal from the township, saying the DEP “failed its obligation” to protect the environment of its residents. The Environmental Hearing Board decision stated that it didn’t have jurisdiction over the township’s appeal and referred the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court, which would require the township to first file a case with Commonwealth Court. Township Manager Greg Lippincott declined to comment on whether the township will pursue such a challenge.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/9/2019

Upper Makefield to keep taxes steady
Upper Makefield Township officials have reviewed a preliminary budget for 2020 that is currently under development and the early outlook is that there will be no tax increase. Township Manager David Nyman reported that the budget is expected to come in at $7.4 million in expenses for next year. The township budget pays for the police department, administration, public works, planning and zoning needs, and more.  If approved without a tax increase, the township property tax rate would remain at 7.6025 mills, with one mill equal to a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. A home assessed at the township average of about $66,000 would see a municipal property tax bill of about $500.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/10/2019

Sellersville considering adding fire tax
Sellersville Borough Council is considering adding a fire tax to the real estate property tax in 2020 dedicated to supporting fire protection services in the borough. The proposed fire tax rate would be three mills and is expected to generate about $115,000 in revenue. Borough Manager David Rivet said the three-mill tax would be added to the tax rate currently paid by Sellersville property owners. That rate is currently 24 mills, but since the borough’s 2020 budget is under development, it is unclear if the 24-mill rate will remain the same, increase or decrease next year. If the budget were approved at a 27-mill tax rate, the owner of a Sellersville property assessed at $28,000 would pay about $750 in borough property taxes.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/10/2019

Chester County 

Embreeville psychiatric hospital may be demolished in deal to preserve open space
After nearly six years of disagreement and litigation, West Bradford Township and a local development team may have reached a deal regarding the fate of a defunct Embreeville psychiatric hospital property. Township Manager Justin Yaich said the township has a “potential settlement agreement” with Embreeville Redevelopment LP, the team that has sought for years to transform the 16-building hospital site into a massive housing and commercial complex, despite vehement resident opposition. Residents have argued that the developers’ plans — including 1,100 housing units and 50,000 square feet of commercial space —were too dense. In the tentative deal, Embreeville Redevelopment will demolish and remediate the 900,000-square-foot psychiatric facility, which is believed to contain asbestos, mold and possible soil contamination. Once cleaned, the township is expected to buy the property for $22.5 million. The township plans to keep the land — measuring more than 200 acres — as open space, which will include a mix of untouched forest and “active” recreation. “This ensures that the property is cleaned up and preserved and isn’t developed as high-density housing,” Yaich said. “The impact that it would have had not just on our community, our traffic, our services, the school district — it would be such a big impact. The township felt the best way to control the outcome is to step up to the plate."
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/16/2019 

Toll Brothers offers new plan for Crebilly, but it’s much like the original
After losing an appeal in Common Pleas Court, Toll Brothers recently started over by filing “new plans” with the township to build the same 319 homes at the 322-acre Crebilly Farm. The plans feature a connector road from Pleasant Grove Road to Route 926 and show three access points into the development, but no access from Route 202. The Westtown Township Planning Commission recently heard testimony from Toll. Much of the talk centered around traffic, which often bottlenecks at the nearby Route 202/Route 926 intersection. Toll was represented by traffic engineer Nicole Kline, who said that the new homes would have no impact on traffic. The next planning commission meetings on the proposal are set for Oct. 21 and Nov. 7, 19 and 21, according to the township calendar. Supervisors are scheduled to hear the matter Nov. 18 and Dec. 18 at Rustin High School.
Source: Daily Times; 10/13/2019

West Fallowfield to consider soliciting ordinance
The West Fallowfield Board of Supervisors will consider a proposed soliciting ordinance to establish regulations for solicitations and protections for property owners. The draft ordinance would provide the procedure by which an application for a peddling license shall be made, along with associated fees. The ordinance will be considered at a meeting of the supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 6:30 p.m. at 3095 Limestone Road, Suite 1, Cochranville.
Source: Daily Local; 10/2/2019

WCASD approves construction of elementary school
The West Chester Area School District Board of Directors approved $23.6 million in construction contracts for the district's 11th elementary school. Construction of Greystone Elementary School is expected to begin in mid-October. The two-story, approximately 80,000-square-foot school will be located at the intersection of Route 100 and Greenhill Road, behind the Wawa in West Goshen. The school will accommodate about 588 students and is expected to be completed by August 2021. The district secured funding for the project through a $40 million general obligation bond sale with interest rates below 2%. The proceeds of the bond will pay for Graystone construction costs as well as continued renovations in the district’s other elementary schools. The school board also approved criteria to be used during the redistricting process that will be necessary because of the new school. Next month information will be sent to the community as the district begins selecting committee members to help with creating attendance boundaries for the new school. The current middle and high school feeder patterns (Fugett Middle to East High, Peirce Middle to Henderson High, Stetson Middle to Rustin High) will be maintained. A plan will likely be presented to the school board by June 2020, but full implementation will not take place until the building opens in fall 2021.
Source: West Chester Area School District; 9/24/2019 

Several school districts could lose their bets on interest rates
At least three area school districts — Upper Merion and Colonial in Montgomery County, and Avon Grove in Chester County — took the advice of advisors at Philadelphia-based Public Financial Management Inc. (PFM) to buy so-called interest-rate swaps. The districts were worried about rising interest rates and purchased the swaps as insurance against rising finance costs for the next few years. The school districts promised the banks a percentage of the money they hoped to borrow in exchange for payments that rise (or fall) with interest rates, and whoever owes more starting in June 2020 will pay the other the difference. PFM matched the districts, which bet rates would rise, against an investment bank, RBC Capital Markets (owned by Royal Bank of Canada), which bet that rates would fall. If interest rates rose as the districts expected, the districts would collect a net profit, lowering their borrowing costs. It hasn’t worked out that way, and based on how much rates have fallen since last year — and unless rates go back up — Colonial projects it will owe RBC $3 million next August, Upper Merion anticipates owing over $5 million, and Avon Grove may owe $1.8 million. Ed Jones, a spokesperson for RBC, said, “The purpose of the swaps was to protect the issuers from rising interest rates on their future debt issuance. As interest rates have fallen, the issuers will save money on their debt but pay to terminate their interest rate hedge. Essentially, the issuers gave up the benefit of falling rates in return for protection against rising rates.” Read the full article at the Inquirer.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/7/2019

Delaware County

U.D. councilman’s call for rental crackdown draws rebuke
Upper Darby Borough Council member Sheikh Siddique introduced a draft ordinance to oversee property owners and tenants in terms of upkeep of their yards and trash in rental units, prompting Mayor Thomas Micozzie and others to call Siddique a hypocrite. Micozzie noted the number of rental properties the councilman owns and the fact that he owes $60,000 in registration, trash and sewer fees and back taxes. During the committee work session, Siddique suggested the township check the lease on properties to determine who has responsibility, the landlord or tenant. Solicitor Kelly Sullivan announced property owners are responsible. “When we issue rental licenses, we remind owners of their responsibility,” Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Judge Jr. said. According to Judge, Siddique did owe $60,000 earlier in the year and has made arrangements to start a payment plan through the vendor Portnoff Associates, an agency contracted to collect delinquent taxes.
Source: Daily Times; 10/16/2019

Radnor OKs final change to old Wyeth Lab property plans
The redevelopment of the site of the old Wyeth Labs on King of Prussia Road received final approval from the Radnor Board of Commissioners. The long process, which included various zoning changes, will permit Brandywine Real Estate Trust, operating as BDN Radnor Hospitality and BDN Radnor Property I, to build an office, hotel and parking garage on the property just west of the Penn Medicine development. Commissioners approved a financial subdivision for the two sites as 145 and 155 King of Prussia Road. The rezoning process to allow mixed uses at the 26-acre site was contentious in the township, with numerous public meetings, but the final approval went off quickly and quietly. The Penn Medicine portion of the development includes a medical building and parking garage. Township Commissioners also agreed to send the planning commission a proposal from Aberdeen Associates LLC to amend the zoning code to permit residential uses in the C-3 commercial zoning. This would permit residential development of a former swimming pool supply store at 210 N. Aberdeen Ave.
Source: Daily Times; 10/14/2019

Ridley unveils $46 million revamp of district buildings
Ridley School District Superintendent Lee Ann Wentzel unveiled the results of a study of the district’s seven elementary schools and the middle school at the school board’s October meeting. The study ranges from assessing building needs to finalizing a plan, including financing. In January, the school board authorized MM Architectural Firm to evaluate all district systems, including structural and architectural, electrical, roofing, HVAC and plumbing. That study produced no recommendations for new construction or additions, but recommends renovations costing $46.8 million that will be financed through a series of bond issuances, starting in November and ending in May 2022. MM Architectural was selected as project manager through the design phase. The project cost and timing schedule will be as follows: Ridley Middle School phase 1 and Edgewood School in summer of 2020; RMS phase 2, Amosland, Lakeview and Leedom schools in summer of 2021; and Woodlyn, Grace Park and Eddystone schools in summer of 2022.
Source: Daily Times; 10/11/2019

Senior housing, health care coming to former Community Hospital in Chester
Chester City Council gave its support to one facet of the new Silvercare Nursing and Rehabilitation Campus under development on West Ninth Street. Council passed a resolution committing $100,000 in U.S. Housing and Urban Development HOME funds to a proposed 49-unit affordable senior housing development on the Silvercare site. Silvercare parent company Everest Health Management Group LLC is currently renovating the former site of Community and Sacred Heart hospitals at 2600 W. Ninth St. for a comprehensive senior health care complex and all-ages urgent care center. The facility is expected to generate 200 to 300 jobs. “The mayor and council are supportive of the project. It’s a great reuse for a building that no longer serves as a hospital,” said Lisa Gaffney, Chester Economic Development Authority (CEDA) director of housing. Everest is applying to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency for a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit for the project. Gaffney and Everest officials both estimated that construction on the housing component of the project will begin in 2021 with an additional one to two years for completion, should the company be awarded the credit. The proposed residential development will aid CEDA’s goal of keeping viable housing stock in the city along with the economic boost from facility’s health care component.
Source: Daily Times 10/11/2019

Montgomery County

Pottstown unveils draft 2020 budget
Pottstown Borough officials unveiled a $45.3 million 2020 draft budget that includes a 4.25% tax increase. The proposed tax hike would amount to a $46 increase for a property assessed at $85,000. Finance director Janice Lee and Borough Manager Justin Keller said they want council to understand it is better to have smaller, steady tax increases than years with no tax increase followed by a “big spike.” The smaller proposed increase follows 11% and 9% tax hikes in the past two years. Lee and Keller said they had taken lessons from an Early Intervention Program Report that recommended the borough keep future tax increases within the rise of inflation — a move that won’t smother economic development or stress property owners. Some bright spots for the budget include fewer successful assessment challenges and more than expected property tax revenues because Pottstown properties are not lingering on the real estate market, Lee said.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 10/11/2019

Lansdale budget deficit widens
Lansdale’s 2019 budget is likely to finish on track, but a growing deficit could be a problem for the 2020 budget. Finance director John Ramey reported that an anticipated budget gap has increased to $350,000. Ramey said an agreement for utility providers like Comcast and Verizon to use borough-owned utility poles may not be finished in time to count that revenue for the budget, causing the early budget deficit to increase. In the original draft version of the budget, Ramey included the projected $190,000 in new revenue from the pole attachment agreement, but now there is some indication that “some companies are going to try and fight us on it” and that Lansdale may be better off removing the pole revenue out of the draft 2020 budget. For information about upcoming meetings, visit www.lansdale.org.
Source: The Reporter; 10/11/2019

Plymouth Township to present Parks, Recreation and Open Space comp plan
The Plymouth Township Parks, Recreation & Shade Tree Advisory Board has scheduled a special meeting to present the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Comprehensive Plan. The public is welcome to attend the meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m. at the Greater Plymouth Community Center, 2910 Jolly Road.
Source: Times Herald; 10/11/2019

Several school districts could lose their bets on interest rates
At least three area school districts — Upper Merion and Colonial in Montgomery County, and Avon Grove in Chester County — took the advice of advisors at Philadelphia-based Public Financial Management Inc. (PFM) to buy so-called interest-rate swaps. The districts were worried about rising interest rates and purchased the swaps as insurance against rising finance costs for the next few years. The school districts promised the banks a percentage of the money they hoped to borrow in exchange for payments that rise (or fall) with interest rates, and whoever owes more starting in June 2020 will pay the other the difference. PFM matched the districts, which bet rates would rise, against an investment bank, RBC Capital Markets (owned by Royal Bank of Canada), which bet that rates would fall. If interest rates rose as the districts expected, the districts would collect a net profit, lowering their borrowing costs. It hasn’t worked out that way, and based on how much rates have fallen since last year — and unless rates go back up — Colonial projects it will owe RBC $3 million next August, Upper Merion anticipates owing over $5 million, and Avon Grove may owe $1.8 million. Ed Jones, a spokesperson for RBC, said, “The purpose of the swaps was to protect the issuers from rising interest rates on their future debt issuance. As interest rates have fallen, the issuers will save money on their debt but pay to terminate their interest rate hedge. Essentially, the issuers gave up the benefit of falling rates in return for protection against rising rates.” Read the full article at the Inquirer.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/7/2019

Philadelphia

Tipster busts E-Z Park for stealing public land
E-Z Park, a large Philadelphia parking company, said it will bring the parking spots in a Chinatown lot back within its property boundaries after the company was discovered to have seized public land without permission. An anonymous tipster told Philadelphia Weekly that years ago he witnessed the company paving over and moving its concrete parking bumpers into area that was formerly public sidewalk near the E-Z Park Inc. lot off 12th and Vine streets. The change added roughly 25 spots to the parking inventory. After watching two men struggle to get a wheelchair down the smaller sidewalk, the tipster called Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I), the Philadelphia Parking Authority, E-Z Park Inc., City Councilman Mark Squilla, and disability rights advocates. L&I inspectors were sent out to investigate in mid-September, and issued 27 code-violation notices to the lot owner for parking vehicles in the sidewalk — a $100 fine for each violation. L&I made it clear to the owner of the lot that “each day this occurs is a separate violation” and that they will keep going back and ticketing. The approach had an impact, and Harvey Spear, E-Z Park’s owner whom city officials call the “parking czar,” told L&I he would restore the lot to its proper boundaries. L&I gave Spears one month to follow-through on the promises. Click here for the full article.
Source: PhiladelphiaWeekly.com; 10/11/2019

Philly considers preservation fund for owners of historic homes
Philadelphia officials want to create a fund to help homeowners with limited incomes cover the costs of complying with the city’s historic preservation regulations. The economic impact of designating historic homes for protection has long stymied preservation efforts in some areas of the city. The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, an advocacy group working with city officials, described a proposed fix at a recent city council hearing. The initiative is modeled after the Housing Trust Fund, which serves as a city-administered bank to provide subsidy for affordable projects. The housing fund relies on city fee revenue and money from developers who pay into the trust in exchange for zoning bonuses that allow for denser and taller buildings. Similarly, the proposed preservation fund would operate under a bonus-based funding model. Developers could pay into the fund in exchange for permission to build higher or more densely than zoning regulations would otherwise allow, under the concept now being outlined by the city’s law and planning departments. The trust fund would then dispense grants to homeowners to help them repoint bricks and replace windows to the specifications in the city’s historic regulations. Councilmember Mark Squilla said the draft legislation is not yet ready for introduction. Philadelphia currently offers no local historic incentives.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 10/9/2019



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