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 September 10, 2018

 

General News

Gov. Wolf signs anti-blight bills into law
Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed four bills aimed at eradicating blight in communities throughout the commonwealth. House Bill 653 and Senate Bill 667 will help municipalities by providing new tolls to increase redevelopment opportunities statewide. Senate Bill 851 and House Bill 352 provide clarifications on current law for combating blight in neighborhoods. HB 653 allows for an accelerated foreclosure process for vacant and abandoned property, while maintaining protections from private property owners. Local officials have noted that many properties in foreclosure are abandoned, and these properties often become dangerous eyesores that reduce the property values for other taxpaying homeowners in the neighborhood. The foreclosure process in Pennsylvania is in the range of 300 to 540 days, and this bill is expected to reduce that time frame by 240 days. SB 667 will grant some redevelopment authorities the same powers currently allotted to land banks to increase opportunities to combat neighborhood blight. SB 851 seeks to clarify property maintenance responsibilities when a property is exposed at upset sale. Many properties have code violations pending against them. Municipalities attempt to go after the owner of record, but because of a 2002 Commonwealth Court decision, many of the cases are dismissed on a technicality. The new law clarifies that the ownership responsibilities for the delinquent property will remain with the owner of record until the property is sold and the deed is transferred to the new owner. It closes the legal loophole that more negligent property owners were using in court on a regular basis. HB 352 shortens the time frame for adverse possession in certain circumstances. Under Act 35, an individual could obtain a clear title to a property under adverse possession in 10 years. The property must be less than one-half acre in size and contain a single family home. The claimant must also meet all of requirements of adverse possession under the current law.
Source: Pennsylvania Borough News; September 2018 

Foreclosures up across country, Philadelphia sees increase
Foreclosure starts increased in 44 percent of metros in the U.S. in the past year. Ninety-six of the 219 metro areas analyzed by ATTOM Data Solutions saw their foreclosure starts go up year-to-year in July. This was the first year-to-year increase in 36 months. In Philadelphia, foreclosure starts increased 10 percent year-to-year, with one in every 851 homeowners filing for foreclosures. Across the country, the national average was one in every 2,086 homes for a foreclosure start in July. Philadelphia was fifth on the list of metros with the most foreclosures. Atlantic City was first, with one foreclosure for every 448 homes. In Philadelphia, some older homeowners are turning to reverse mortgages, which aren’t always the answer and can lead to foreclosure. Between 2010 and 2016, Philadelphia had close to 50 reverse mortgages per every 1,000 homeowners age 65 or older, which is the highest rate among the nation’s 100 largest counties. In July, more than 30,000 homeowners filed for foreclosure, up 1 percent from June, and up less than 1 percent from July 2017. Read more here.
Source: PARJustListed; 8/30/2018

Bucks County

Bensalem plans referendum on tax increase for fire companies
Bensalem Township Council voted unanimously to add a referendum to the November ballot. Township residents will vote on whether to raise property taxes by 1 mill to fund local volunteer fire companies’ operational and maintenance costs. If the referendum is approved, the owner of a property assessed at the township average of $23,600 would pay an additional $23.60 in property taxes, said Ron Harris, chief of the Nottingham Fire Department. Council approved the referendum, but it is unclear whether Bensalem was legally required to put the proposed tax hike to referendum instead of just a council vote. State code requires a second-class township looking to raise more than 3 mills “to make appropriations to fire companies located inside and outside the township” to do so via ballot referendum. According to Bensalem solicitor Joseph Pizzo, Bensalem last changed their fire millage in 2004, after voters approved an increase to 7 mills through a referendum. The following year, Bucks County began assessing properties for tax purposes at 100 percent of their fair market value, rather than 25 percent. Municipalities had to divide their previous millage figures by four in order to bring in the same amount of tax money. The change reduced Bensalem’s fire millage from 7 mills to 1.75 mills, potentially below the 3-mill threshold requiring referendums for future increases.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/4/2018 

New Hope eyes language correction for business privilege tax
A proposed ordinance recently discussed at a New Hope Borough Council workshop meeting would make some language changes to the borough’s business privilege tax. The ordinance would remove references to a license in the borough code. The borough has been collecting the $365 business privilege tax since 1976, but according to solicitor Thomas J. Walsh III, there is no record of any licenses issued, even though the current ordinance requires business owners to apply for the license and tax and that “each applicant shall receive a separate business privilege license” from the borough secretary. Walsh said other minor changes might be made to the draft of the proposed ordinance. Council President Alison Kingsley and other council members alluded to a possible enforcement issue, but it was not discussed in greater detail at the meeting. The proposed changes to the ordinance will still need to be publicly advertised, and a public hearing will need to be held before council can vote on any changes.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/5/2018 

Bucks County joins Smart911
Bucks County has partnered with Smart911 to engage in a new program that will allow residents to activate a profile that will give dispatchers information they need to save time in an emergency. County residents can sign up with Smart911 and create an online profile with pertinent information. Users can include as much or as little information as they prefer and the information is only made available to 911 dispatchers and emergency personnel. Another benefit of the program is the ability to associate commonly visited locations with a cellphone number. County residents can sign up here.
Source: Levittownnow.com; 8/30/2018 

Doylestown residents angered by trash rate increase
Some Doylestown Township residents are fuming over an unexpected increase in their quarterly trash collection bills. Supervisor Vice Chairperson Richard Colello said his quarterly bill from hauler Republic Services rose from $82 to more than $230. Thinking the bill was a mistake, Colello called the company and was told those were the new prices due to an increase in international tariffs on recyclable materials to China. Reports on a local Facebook page show other Doylestown residents with similar complaints. Township Manager Stephanie Mason said the township does not contract with trash haulers on behalf of the residents and even then, the only action the township can take is to direct complaints to the Bucks County Department of Consumer Protection. According to Colello, the first step is to send an official written complaint to the company. A sample letter can be found on the county consumer protection website. In a statement, Republic services said the company is adjusting to “significant and unexpected cost increases” exporting materials to China and stated that the “frequency of service” in the township is greater than some other areas, contributing to the rate increases.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/4/2018

Chester County 

Massive sewer rate hike expected in West Goshen
West Goshen Township is considering a substantial jump in sewage rates. To pay for maintenance, necessary repairs and upgrades, the average customer may see their rates go from $65 a quarter to $97. No final vote has been taken on the matter. There was also discussion of raising the increase to $118 per quarter to establish a reserve fund. The township sewer authority estimates that it needs approximately $27 million over the next five years to maintain the system properly.
Source: Daily Local; 8/31/2018 

Meeting will examine funding of local infrastructure
Two area planners will lead a “citizen planners’ breakfast” to discuss funding essential infrastructure. The speakers are David C. Babbitt, president of David C. Babbitt & Associates, and Chris Williams, vice president and associate manager of the Mid-Atlantic region for McMahon Associates. The event takes place Wednesday, Oct. 3, from 7 to 8:45 a.m. at the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus Academic Building, 137 Modena Road, Coatesville. The cost to attend is $25 per person, and reservations are requested, as seating is limited. To register, go to www.cc2020.org. For more information, contact Chester County 2020 by calling 484-680-5570 or emailing info@cc2020.org. A buffet breakfast will be served.
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 9/5/2018 

West Chester University launches free shuttle service to town
West Chester University has launched a shuttle service with stops around the borough. The service, free to students and employees who show their Ram e-card, will connect the university's main campus to Chester County Hospital, major apartment complexes, the Bradford Plaza Shopping Center, and numerous other important destinations around the borough. The shuttle will run weekdays this fall, beginning Tuesday, Sept. 4, from 6:45 a.m. to 10:15 p.m., the university announced. For a detailed route and schedule, see the WCU Shuttle Bus website here.
Source: West Chester Patch; 8/31/2018 

Tredyffrin to amend solicitation ordinance
Tredyffrin Township will consider amending Chapter 143, “Peddling and Soliciting,” of its municipal code. Those wishing to peddle or solicit shall have to obtain a permit card and pay a fee to peddle, solicit or distribute merchandise, only from 9 a.m. to dusk, defined as 30 minutes after sunset, Monday through Saturday. Peddling and soliciting in the township is prohibited on Sundays. Those peddling and soliciting must adhere to “No Soliciting” notices posted on any property or business and comply with the standards relating to the “No Soliciting” registry. Any resident of Tredyffrin Township may register with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department by signing a registration application indicating that such owner or resident of such home does not wish to be solicited. Any attempt to solicit a home listed on the registry shall result in revocation of the solicitor’s license and identification card. The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing at the township building, 1100 DuPortail Road, Berwyn, on Monday, Sept. 17, as part of the agenda of the regularly scheduled meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., to consider and possibly enact this ordinance.
Source: Daily Local; 8/31/2018 

Birmingham Township to amend peddling and soliciting rules
The Board of Supervisors of Birmingham Township will conduct a public hearing to consider amendments to Chapter 82 of the township code, “Peddling and Soliciting.” The meeting will take place on Monday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m., in the Birmingham Township Municipal Building, 1040 W. Street Road, West Chester.
Source: Daily Local; 8/31/2018

Delaware County

Chadds Ford residents hear plan for trails, some oppose
Chadds Ford Township residents got a glimpse of a concept plan that could bring some passive recreation and a series of trails to the township. Sheila Fleming, of the Brandywine Conservancy, gave the Open Space Task Force presentation before the Aug. 29 township supervisors’ workshop. Comments and concerns from residents will be considered before the plan is finalized, Fleming said. Based on a public survey and interviews conducted earlier this year, the task force learned that residents’ priorities include open space and passive recreation, with a focus on walking and bike trails. Low-end priorities include athletic fields, horse trails and a dog park. According to Fleming, 90 percent of survey respondents said they leave the township for any recreational activities, including walking trails. Several trail types are under consideration. Among them are 10-foot wide multi-use trails that would bisect the township. However, those trails would use the old Octorara Railway line and would be constructed by Delaware County. Additionally, there could be a series of 7-, 5- and 6-foot-wide trails connecting various destination spots, including the village, Turner’s Mill and the Harvey Run Trail, Brandywine Battlefield Park, Painters Crossing, Route 202 across from the Wegmans development and to the Dilworthtown area as well as the First State National Historic Park. Supervisors’ Chairman Frank Murphy said there is no plan to take any property for the trails. He said the board’s acceptance of the plan would enable the township to further enforce the fee-in-lieu ordinance that allows some developers to pay the township a fee instead of providing open space when they develop properties. The current 50-page trails proposal is expected to be available on the township website in early September. There will be a public comment period through Sept. 21. Then a final draft plan would be finished by Nov. 7 with a possible adoption vote on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 8/28/2018 

A look inside revaluations in Delco
After 20 years, Delaware County’s property assessments are being brought into line. Each of the more than 200,000 properties in the county will be assigned new assessments. Assessments, which are the estimated property values that the counties, school districts and municipalities use to calculate tax bills, will be updated to capture current market value, or the amount for which someone could sell a property. The new appraisals likely will have a dramatic impact on many tax bills. The process is aimed at equalizing tax burdens, making residents’ bills fairer. Reassessments are politically unpopular, as they create winners and losers. Over time, assessments tend to become more inaccurate as measures of value. Assessments are fixed in time, but property values are not, and rates of appreciation vary radically from one community to another. Click here to see a color map of Delaware County municipalities that shows the percent of market value in homes that is actually taxed.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 9/4/2018 

Radnor Township manager holding community listening sessions
People who live or work in Radnor Township can bring their ideas, concern or questions to upcoming listening sessions with Township Manager Robert Zienkowski. The sessions will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 7:30 a.m., noon, and 7 p.m., and on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at noon and 7 p.m. All sessions will be held at the Radnor Township Municipal Building, 301 Iven Ave., Wayne. Zienkowski and members of the administration will use the open and public sessions as an opportunity to meet and hear from residents, businesses and the educational community. Comments and suggestions can also be sent via email to rzienkowski@radnor.org.
Source: Radnor Patch; 8/28/2018 

Springfield zoners OK changes for Coventry Woods development
The Springfield Township Zoning Hearing Board held a meeting to consider several requests for the Estates at Coventry Woods. Approval was given for relief in five specific areas, all of which apply to the first phase of development and not overall plans for future residential construction. National Realty Corporation (NRC) appeared before the planning commission with regard to a three-story medical office building of about 30,000 square feet that is part of the property with frontage at 351 N. State Road. The office building represents only 2.3 acres of the 48-acre overall parcel. The office building is expected to be the only non-residential structure on the site. The township has seen plans for what has been called an “Active Adult Village” of 10 four-house clusters on an adjacent parcel in a sketch phase. An even larger residential development on the parcel’s more easterly land has been seen on some concept images but is “to be discussed at some time in the future,” according to NRC. The public should be aware that each phase will be seen by various township departments and discussed in open meetings. 
Source: Daily Times; 9/4/2018

Delaware County offers flood damage assistance
Delaware County Emergency Management offered to assist residents impacted by recent flooding with financial compensation through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA). “The process goes that we have to identify and report to reach a threshold, and then we go back and confirm the losses,” said Delco Emergency Services Director Tim Boyce. “So it is a process just to go forward, but if you don’t let us know you have a problem and we do find relief for you, we’re not going to be able to come in later.” That threshold is $18 million in losses statewide and $2 million for Delaware County, Boyce said, though he indicated infrastructure damage in the county is likely already at that mark. Boyce said impacted municipalities have already done a lot of legwork in identifying those who suffered flood damage, but the county wants to make sure that every resident has an opportunity to put in a claim. Boyce thinks the real sleeper issue from the storms could be mold, which might not be readily apparent. He is urging institutions like schools that already had a mold assessment done over the summer to do another one just to be safe. Boyce said government assistance should be thought of as a last resort and that those with insurance should go through that channel first. But he said the process of filling out the paperwork with the county is never adversarial and staff at the centers will also try to connect residents with local faith-based or fraternal organizations that have already been pitching in with cleanup efforts and might be able to offer additional help to individuals. For more information on disaster assistance resources, visit the PEMA web page: https://www.pema.pa.gov/responseandrecovery/Disaster-Assistance/Pages/Reporting-your-damages.aspx.
Source: Daily Times; 9/1/2018

Montgomery County

375 age-restricted homes proposed in Hatfield
Hatfield Township officials took a first look at a proposed age-restricted development on a 96-acre parcel east of Forty Foot Road and north of Welsh Road. Representatives from developer Pulte Homes presented an early version of plans to build a complex of 375 total units — a mix of singles, twins and townhouses restricted to residents 55 and older. About 35 acres would be used as open space with “a series of trails that would traverse throughout the community” with other trails open to the public at large. One proposed trail connection would run to the Ralph’s Corner shopping center. The property is currently zoned as a roughly 50/50 split between residential and light industrial, so the applicant is asking the supervisors to consider a zoning change for the entire property to a residential multi-family elderly district, with a new category called “active adult community,” which would allow the complex. Board President Tom Zipfel said the Aug. 22 plan presentation was only the start of a lengthy process of requesting, gathering feedback, then ruling on the rezoning request, before any land development plans are discussed and finalized.
Source: The Reporter; 9/1/2018

Lower Salford reschedules rezoning meeting
The continuance of a rezoning request for two tracts of land owned by Nationwide Insurance, originally scheduled for Sept. 5, has been pushed back two months. Robert Gundlach, an attorney for the developer, requested the next meeting on the rezoning request be moved to the board’s meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7. The developer “intends to further review the pending applications and submit supplemental information and documentation to the township to address comments from the last hearing,” wrote Gundlach. Metropolitan Development Group presented plans in August for 87 townhouses at Oak Drive and Route 113, and 46 twin homes on the Maple Avenue tract, with 23 acres being donated to the township that would allow for an expansion of Alderfer Park. Those opposed to the plan are concerned that the new homes will cause an increase in traffic and the need for services. The developer presented alternative uses for the land allowed under the current zoning which would have a greater impact on the community than the proposed new homes.   
Source: The Reporter; 9/5/2018

New Limerick Township building is now open
Limerick Township has started to move into its new $10.5 million, 34,500-square-foot administration building. The building will provide the police department with about four times more space than it had in the old building. Township Manager Dan Kerr said that the expanding police staff was one of the driving forces behind the need for more space, and the need for more police was driven in part by the township’s growth. Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission population estimates show that Limerick has seen growth of between 5 percent and 10 percent from 2010 to 2016, with over 900 residents added in that period. The Montgomery County Planning Commission reported that Limerick added 411 housing units from 2010 to 2017, an increase of nearly 6 percent.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 8/29/2018 

Shade trees available for Jenkintown residents
Jenkintown Borough has a limited number of shade trees available at no cost to the property owner. A representative from the Shade Tree Commission must assess the lot based on criteria, such as overhead utilities, underground utilities and amount of space. All trees must be visible from the street, and there are three general categories of trees: small (under 30 feet tall), medium (30 to 50 feet tall) and large (over 50 feet tall). Click here for more information.
Source: Jenkintown Borough e-news; 8/29/2018

Philadelphia

27-story condo tower favored for 709 Chestnut Street
A 27-story, 278-unit condo tower slated to replace a 75-space surface parking lot at 709 Chestnut Street garnered praise from Philadelphia’s Civic Design Review Committee and city planning commission staff. A previous version of the plan was proposed in 2015 and called for rental units with a sheer building face. The new version uses different materials and balconies to break up the mass of the 317-foot-tall building. The committee and planners did have some concerns, however, including that the project is not seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and that the 125 parking spaces will rely on automated parking that will be visible from the street. Cars will be placed on lighted, automated pallets that can be summoned by their owners. The size of the site makes a traditional ramp-parking garage infeasible. 709 Chestnut is under development by Parkway Corp., which is seeking to turn its surface-parking assets in Center City into more complex projects. The project will need approvals from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to allow for above-ground accessory parking downtown, among other items.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 9/4/2018 

Citizen Planning Institute offers fall course
Citizens Planning Institute (CPI) is the education and outreach arm of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. CPI introduces community-minded Philadelphia residents to the activities of city planning, zoning and development so they can help shape and preserve their neighborhoods. CPI's main activity is a seven-week course, offered every spring and fall, to a new and diverse group of thirty residents who take the new skills and resources back to their neighborhood organizations. CPI is now accepting applications for its fall course offering. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, Sept. 11.
Source: Citizen Planning Institute; September 2018


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