NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Infrastructure reform among 2019 NAR policy priorities

Bucks County
Warminster tax hike must be approved by court

Chester County
Landscapes3 adopted by Chester County Commissioners

Delaware County
Cost of new middle school in Clifton Heights to be evaluated

Montgomery County
Norristown budget includes $1.8M deficit

Philadelphia County
City council downsizes new protections for renters in ‘Good Cause’ bill
 

 



 

News Briefs Archive October 8, 2018

 

General News

Urgent Call for Action: Support the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account legislation
With only a handful of days left before the state legislature adjourns, many Pennsylvania Realtors® still need to tell legislators to move the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account legislation. If it fails to move this session, the legislation will have to be re-introduced next year. The legislative process will then have to start all over.  The program would allow Pennsylvanians to save money toward the purchase of a home, and the money saved would qualify as a tax deduction on their state income tax. Parents and grandparents would be eligible to save for children and grandchildren, as well. Many first-time homebuyers need help overcoming some of the obstacles to homeownership. Low wages and college debt make it difficult for young people to save money to purchase their first home. Research conducted for PAR showed that 56% of Pennsylvanians identified college student loans as an obstacle to homeownership. Contact your legislators today with just a few clicks. For more information on the program, visit FirstHomePA.com. Response rates for the Alliance’s three Shareholder Associations are currently: 8.4% for BCAR, 4.8% for MCAR, and 4.9% for SWRA.
Source: PARJustlisted; 9/25/2018 

Schools told max tax increase rate for 2019-2020
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has released Act 1 indices to the commonwealth’s approximately 500 districts, telling them how high they may raise real estate taxes in the 2019-2020 school year. The Act 1 index is used to determine the maximum tax increase percentage a district can levy before going to a ballot referendum or filing a referendum exception with the state. The new Act 1 base index drops 0.1 percentage points from 2018-2019. Districts have free rein to raise taxes any amount up to their indices. If a school district wishes to raise taxes over its mandated index, it can put the proposal to a vote by district residents through referendum, or a referendum exception may be filed with the state if the need to raise taxes higher is due to certain causes, including retirement contributions, special education expenditures or school construction debt. Filing for an exception does not automatically mean a district will ultimately raise taxes over the index. Created in 2006, the Act 1 index was signed into law to “ease the financial burden of home ownership by providing school districts the means to lower property taxes to homeowners” by way of gaming revenues.
Source: Daily Times; 10/3/2018

Realtor.com® economist provides Pennsylvania housing update
Homeownership in Pennsylvania is surpassing the national average. According to Danielle Hale, a Realtor.com® economist who presented at the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors’ Fall Business Meetings, the homeownership rate in Pennsylvania is 69 percent, while it is only 64 percent nationally. In the commonwealth, Washington Crossing is the area with the highest rate of homeownership, at 95 percent. Millennial homeownership is higher in Pennsylvania, at 46 percent, compared to 36 percent nationwide. Montgomeryville is the area with the highest millennial homeownership, at 96 percent. Chester County has the highest list price, followed by Bucks County. Montgomery County is currently the “hottest” market, according to Hale, followed by Delaware County. However, nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania zip codes are seeing growth, and that is expected to continue. “There is substantial growth across the state,” Hale said. Across the country, “inventory isn’t available,” she said, “but we are still seeing fair demand.” She noted that the summer market was “very competitive.”
Source: PARJustListed; 10/2/2018

Reminder: Register to vote
The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 General Election is Tuesday, Oct. 9. Register to vote here.

Bucks County

East Rockhill reports no settlement in quarry case
East Rockhill supervisors reported that there was no agreement reached at a court-ordered settlement conference with representatives of Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp. The case was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia because it involves parties from two states and the financial ramifications are greater than $75,000. Pierson is appealing a township zoning permit denial from earlier this year and also an injunction originally filed in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas by the township in May. The township is arguing that the quarry is a special exception in the township zoning ordinance, and that the asphalt plan at the site is a non-permitted manufacturing use in the Extraction District, where the quarry is located. Further, the township argues Pierson has constructed other structures and performed land developments on the property without the proper permits. According to Township Solicitor Patrick Armstrong, even if a settlement is reached in federal court, the case and current zoning appeal are two separate and distinct cases that may not necessarily affect each other. Armstrong did report that, although no settlement was reached, “there was a dialogue, and that’s the purpose of settlement conferences in lawsuits such as this.” Supervisors reported that Richard Pierson, owner of the quarry, seemed amenable to meet with a small group of residents to discuss their concerns over current quarry operations. The idea of the meeting received a lukewarm response from residents in attendance at the meeting. Supervisor Chairman Gary Volovnik encouraged residents to continue attending the township zoning hearings and other public meetings related to the quarry.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/27/2018 

Lower Southampton improperly collected some permit fees
A 2004 change in the Uniform Construction Code (UCC) excluded the need for permits for all residential alterations if there are no structural or egress changes. However, Lower Southampton Township’s zoning department improperly continued to require building permits for some of these improvements. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry made the township aware of the error after visiting the township during an investigation of the zoning department’s handling of permit applications. Zoning Officer William Oettinger confirmed that in early September, the township stopped requiring residential building permits for residential improvements such as roof replacement, siding, doors and windows. Township solicitor Frank Dillon said the error was “probably an oversight by somebody” and that the township’s liability diminishes after a six-month statute of limitations.
Source: The Intelligencer; 9/28/2018 

Boutique hotel coming to New Hope
Plans for a $25 million boutique hotel in New Hope, which have been stalled for two years, can finally take off. The Riverhouse at Odette’s project was awarded to Pancoast & Clifford, a West Chester-based general contractor and construction manager. Construction on the 54,000-square-foot luxury hotel will begin in the last quarter of 2018 with completion estimated to take 15 to 17 months. An existing structure dating to 1784 will relocate to South Main and New streets in New Hope where it will be restored as part of a comprehensive community revitalization plan. Riverhouse at Odette’s will feature a rooftop lounge, open air bar, meeting spaces, private dining rooms, an open-concept ballroom and Odette’s Restaurant and Lounge. Bucks County saw about 7.8 million visitors in 2016, or about 19 percent of the 42 million that visited the five-county region that year and generated about $969 million in economic impact.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 9/28/2018

Middletown schedules budget workshop
Middletown Township Board of Supervisors will hold a budget workshop on Monday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. in the second-floor conference rooms of the Middletown Township Municipal Center, 3 Municipal Way, Langhorne. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the 2019 proposed budget and other related issues. Visit the township website for more information.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/21/2018

Chester County 

Commissioners announce ‘Quality of Life’ survey of residents
As part of an ongoing strategic planning effort, the Chester County Commissioners announced a countywide Quality of Life survey that asks residents to comment on their experiences in using county services and interacting with county staff. The survey follows similar ones in 2009 and 2013, and it has been developed in partnership with West Chester University’s Center for Social and Economic Policy Research. Results of the survey will be incorporated in the county’s 2019-2023 strategic plan. The survey has been mailed to 12,000 households, which represents more than 7.5 percent of all residents. The survey is also available online at the county’s website, www.chesco.org/survey. The online version takes five to 10 minutes to complete and is available in both English and Spanish. To obtain a paper version of the survey, residents can call 610-344-6280. Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline said, “We are interested in hearing from those who use our parks and trails, those who visit our health clinics, anyone who appreciates our public safety services, our thriving downtowns, as well as all of the other vital programs and services that the county provides.”
Source: Chester County; 9/19/2018 

Preliminary approval granted for West Chester plaza plan
West Chester Borough Council has granted preliminary approval for builder Eli Kahn to construct a 44,000-square-foot, mixed-use structure at the Mosteller Building site. Kahn expects to complete construction sometime prior to the 2019 Christmas Parade. Kahn talked extensively about public art, including a landmark fountain planned for the intersection of Church and Gay streets. “The only thing people will talk about on this property 50 years from now will be the fountain,” Kahn said. The courtyard fountain would feature two levels with an infinity edge. The builder suggested that the Plaza Plan, also called 44 West, feature at least two pieces of local, rotating art. Kahn suggested that West Chester University students and the Chester County Art Association might display sculptures for about six months at a time, in both the plaza and the lobby. Kahn also expects to plant trees and increase the street lighting at the site, which will feature one or two restaurants and office space upstairs. Kahn said that the store fronts will contain great detail, with a metal façade. Borough ordinances require setting aside 2 percent for open space, or in this case, dedicating 430 square feet. Kahn said he could meet the requirement, but would prefer not to, and asked for the $40,000 in-lieu-of fee to be waived.
Source: Daily Local; 9/28/2018 

Judge upholds Westtown decision against development at Crebilly Farm
Open space advocates are celebrating a decision by Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark L. Tunnell to uphold a decision by the Westtown Township Board of Supervisors denying builder Toll Brothers a conditional use application to construct a 319-home subdivision at the 322-acre Crebilly Farm. Toll has the option to appeal. Hundreds of residents packed auditoriums for two years of public meetings, including 10 public hearings, concerning the project. “I am shocked and relieved,” Mindy Rhodes, of Crebilly Farm Friends said. “Massive public outcry has made a difference in this much bigger picture. Perhaps, just maybe, all parties involved will come to a more reasonable compromise. … I will continue to remain cautiously optimistic.” The Robinson family owns the farm, and Toll Brothers is the equity owner. Proponents for open space hope to see the scenic property, which is likely the site of action during the Battle of Brandywine, preserved permanently as park space. The farm is the last large chunk of open ground along Route 202 between Wilmington and King of Prussia. Tunnell denied Toll’s request on four grounds: failure to include a collector road; lack of a plan to mitigate traffic impacts at the South New Street and Route 926 intersection; failure to show alternate access; and failure of the applicant to account for conservation design standards.
Source: Daily Local; 10/3/2018 

Plan for new Avon Grove high school on Sunnyside Road advances
Avon Grove School District directors voted for major steps toward the construction of a new high school on their Sunnyside Road property. In spite of differences at earlier stages in the process, the nine board members all voted in favor of motions to approve the site plan, the new preliminary budget, a traffic impact study, and environmental soil testing on the property. “That’s a significant hurdle to cross in this project,” Superintendent Christopher Marchese said. “It’s very exciting that it’s starting to happen now.” The approval of the budget sets a target of $107 million for the construction project, including $7 million in contingency fees. It does not take into account a potential $2 million grant and the possibility of $8 million in PlanCon funding from the state. The public will have a chance to hear more about the high school project, conceptual design and schedule of events moving forward at two informational meetings. One session will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Intermediate School, and the other will be held on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 6 p.m. in the high school library. Learn more on the district website.
Source: Daily Local; 10/1/2018

Delaware County

Chester prepares to exit state oversight
Chester’s state-appointed Act 47 coordinator is on track to submit the city’s exit plan to the state, complete with recommendations to improve the city’s financial status. City council has until Thursday, Oct. 25, to adopt an exit plan. The city has been under Act 47 since 1995, and its May 2013 amended plan scheduled the city to exit out of distressed status within five years. “This administration has always been focused on bringing the city’s finances to a point of stability,” Aigner Cleveland, press secretary for Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, said. “We have, in turn, worked feverishly with the state and our state-appointed financial coordinator to end our fiscal morass. We made hard but very necessary decisions in order to move this city in a forward trajectory.” From 2013 until 2016, the city had a deficit. However, by 2017, the city had balanced revenue and expenditures — an accomplishment made more impressive, the state coordinator said, because the city continued to pay down its pension debt at the same time. Major changes incorporated into the exit plan include the fire department consolidation, interactive gaming revenues and parking revenues, according to Cleveland. One thing not being recommended by city officials is the sale of the Chester Water Authority, a recommendation that was made by Econsult in its May 4 report, “Financial Condition Assessment of the City of Chester.”
Source: Daily Times; 10/3/2018 

SEPTA announces new parking garage for 69th Street
SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel recently announced that a 431-space parking garage will be built next spring with an additional 89 spots on a new surface lot that will be adjacent to the planned 69th Street Transportation Center. The garage will be built on top of the center’s south terminal bus and taxi berths, and will include an elevated pedestrian walkway from the garage into the transportation center. Parking availability at the transportation center will increase from 182 spots up to 520 when the garage and new surface lot are completed. The parking facility will double as a place for commuters to park their cars during the day, and as a place to boost economic activity along the 69th Street business corridor at night. This is a $31 million project that will be covered through the state’s Act 89 transportation funds. So far, Upper Darby used $7 million to build a 375-foot long retention wall along the Market-Frankford Line (MFL) and moved an electrical substation for the MFL in order to make the garage project shovel-ready. The parking garage project and updated south terminal will be utilized by as many as 35,000 daily riders who use one of the four rail routes and 18 bus routes that begin at the center.
Source: Daily Times; 10/2/2018

Eddystone to consider ordinance for high grass and weeds
Eddystone Borough will consider adopting an ordinance amending Chapter 80, which outlines nuisance conditions for brush, grass, and weeds. The borough has determined that it is in the best interest of the community that grass or weeds on any lot, yard, area or tract of ground within the borough not exceed a height of eight inches. The changes will be considered during a meeting on Monday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. at Eddystone Borough Hall, 1300 E. 12th St.
Source: Daily Times; 9/30/2018 

Delco seeks solutions to parking woes in Media
Delaware County has had plans to replace its office and garage complex on Orange Street for more efficiency and parking, but the project gained new urgency in July with the partial collapse of a garage wall. Hazardous conditions compelled county government to close the garage, move departments in the Sweeney and Toal buildings, and plan a new facility. County Executive Director Marianne Grace, Council Chairman John McBlain and Councilman Kevin Madden came to the borough’s Community Development Committee to discuss parking strategies for employees, jurors and the general public with business at the courthouse/ government center. “Since the problem at the end of July, we have contracted with a company to design demolition. It will be taken down piece by piece,” McBlain said, noting there will be no “wrecking ball.” The current plan will start with dismantling the garage, then the Toal portion and Sweeney building. Meetings have been held for neighbors, but attendance thus far has been light. They are particularly concerned with parking in the relatively narrow streets on the west side of the building. Citron, Amber, Front and Third streets have already been affected by closures for safety. Any reduction in parking will have an impact, they have told the borough and county. The county is still exploring options for alleviating these issues by providing shuttles to offsite parking and possibly renting out parking spaces in existing lots in the borough. 
Source: Daily Times; 10/2/2018

Montgomery County

Hatfield road realignment, other county projects receive funding
Governor Tom Wolf’s office announced on Oct. 2 a list of grant awards from the state Multimodal Transportation Fund totaling $49 million. Four Montgomery County projects received funding from the program, among them: realignment of the intersection of Cowpath and Orvilla roads in Hatfield Township; widening Horsham Road and Limekiln Pike in Horsham; installation of new traffic signals, five-foot sidewalks, ADA ramps and a new signalized pedestrian crossing in the same area in Horsham; and widening and improvement of Bethlehem Pike, Norristown Road and Sumneytown Pike in Lower Gwynedd. PennDOT Sec. Leslie Richards said, “We simply must help our local partners address these critical links to ensure they remain open and in good repair.” Richards also announced that the next round of Multimodal Transportation Fund grants will be accepted starting Friday, Oct. 5. For more information about the program, visit www.penndot.gov and select Multimodal Transportation under the “Projects and Programs” heading.
Source: The Reporter; 10/3/2018 

Bridgeport Council passes anti-discrimination resolution
Bridgeport Borough Council passed an anti-discrimination resolution denouncing hate speech in the borough. Council member Kyle Shenk reached out to Borough Solicitor Salvatore Bello to draft the resolution after an article published in PhillyVoice, “highlighted some pretty hateful speech and some pretty rotten language that was directed at our mayor and directed at other folks in our community,” according to Shenk. The resolution declares it the public policy of the borough “to condemn hate crime and any other form of racism; religious or ethnic bias; discrimination, including but not limited to discrimination based on sex or sexual preference; incitement to violence or animus targeting a minority in the borough.” The resolution also calls for local law enforcement to investigate or assist with investigations of all credible reports of hate crimes and threats against minorities as set forth in federal and state law, as well as Bridgeport’s own anti-discrimination ordinance, which passed earlier this year.
Source: Times Herald; 9/27/2018 

Lower Salford debuts new website
The Lower Salford Township website has been upgraded. The website before the update was “ancient” in technological terms, said Holly Hosterman, assistant to the township manager. The new site is adaptive to different devices and has an improved search function. Visit www.lowersalfordtownship.org to view the updated site.
Source: The Reporter; 9/26/2018 

Pottstown School Board posts vacancy
The Board of School Directors of the Pottstown School District is planning to conduct public interviews of qualified candidates who wish to be considered for appointment to the board in order to fill a vacancy created by a recent resignation. The school board will convene a special meeting on Thursday, Oct. 25, beginning at 7 p.m. in the large conference room at the District Administration Building, 230 Beech Street, Pottstown. Click here for eligibility requirements and application guidelines.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 10/1/2018

Philadelphia

Changes to plumbing code expected to lower construction costs
After months of negotiation between the key interest groups — residential builders and the plumbers union — there’s been a breakthrough for Mayor Jim Kenney’s attempt to update the city’s plumbing code to allow for more extensive use of plastic pipes. “If I had to ballpark it, I’d say the overall cost reductions [for applicable projects] would be 20 percent,” said Jim Maransky, president of the Building Industry Association, during a speech at the group’s annual conference. Under Philadelphia’s current plumbing code, plastic piping can only be used in residential buildings of three stories or less (or in buildings with four or fewer dwelling units). A memorandum of understanding (MOU) drafted this summer would change that to allow the cheaper plastic pipes in residential buildings of up to 75 feet in height, meaning five to six stories. If a building includes a commercial use, like first-floor retail, it would still require metal pipes in that area, but not the residential parts of the building. The MOU would also allow some plastic piping in high-rise residential buildings up to 150 feet. In these cases, metal pipes would still be required outside individual housing units, but plastic piping would be allowed within those apartments or condos. Of the 50 largest cities in America, only Philadelphia and six other union-friendly urban centers still require the use of expensive, heavy metal pipes in high-rise residential construction. Cheaper and more environmentally friendly plastic infrastructure is now the norm for builders installing pipes for waste disposal, fresh water and stormwater drainage in most places.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 9/28/2018 

Pew finds most poor Philly renters receive no public assistance
A study from Pew Charitable Trusts shows that the vast majority of low-income Philadelphians receive no assistance with their housing costs. As a result, many have to rely on unconventional and sometimes illegal arrangements to secure shelter. “The key housing takeaway is that four out of five low-income households in the city live in private market housing with no rent subsidies,” said Octavia Howell, researcher for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia research initiative and author of the report. “Eighty percent of people living in that private housing are devoting at least half their income to housing costs." Pew’s report, “Philadelphia’s Poor: Experiences From Below the Poverty Line,” collects data from polls and the trust’s own analysis to provide insight into workforce participation, neighborhood violence and insecure housing. The research highlights the grim reality that government assistance for low-income housing does not reach the vast majority of those in need. Programs like the Housing Choice Voucher Program, colloquially known as Section 8, have never enjoyed the flexibility of, for example, food subsidy programs. There are 42,900 families currently on the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s waiting list. Pew’s report details the alternative arrangements that low-income people have to turn to for shelter. Many Philadelphians “double up,” where multiple families squeeze into the same house. They also turn to landlords who operate in the vast shadow economy of unregulated housing units in Philadelphia’s low-income neighborhoods. Pew found that around 28 percent of rental units in low-income neighborhoods did not have a rental license.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 9/26/2018

City council amends new inclusionary zoning bill
Philadelphia City Council has amended the terms of a density bonus intended to raise funds for affordable housing. The amendments came after a negative response from developers. The amendments would give developers additional height, density and floor area in exchange for payments to the Housing Trust Fund, a kind of municipal bank for affordable projects. Developers could also access the bonuses in exchange for the construction of new income-restricted homes. The most significant change to the bill is in its fee structure — the latest version ties the fee to only the additional housing units or square footage granted by the zoning bonus. The tweak is designed to make the bonus cheaper for developers to use and thus more popular. Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez led the charge on the voluntary inclusionary housing bill. Of the amendments, she said: “Legislation should be a living document. Passing a tool that wouldn’t be utilized wasn’t the goal. So we considered developer feedback in the new amendments.” Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration estimates that the density bonus could bring in as much as $18 million to the Housing Trust Fund over the next five years. Click here for more information.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 9/28/2018


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