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 17, 2018

 

General News

Who will pay the cost for privatization of public water systems in PA?
Pennsylvania Act 12 was enacted in 2016 to encourage the consolidation of smaller water and wastewater systems under private ownership. By removing a prior standard deduction of any grant money used to build, expand or improve the infrastructure from the assessed value, Act 12 allows municipal utilities to sell for higher prices. It has also provided a convenient way for municipalities to monetize an asset and get professional help repairing and maintaining old, distressed systems. When combined with a 2012 act that allows a utility to spread the acquisition costs to all its ratepayers across the state, there is an industry-friendly environment for private water utilities to expand their reach. However, some Act 12 privatizations have aroused opposition from The Office of Consumer Advocate, an arm of the state attorney general, as well as other anti-privatization advocacy groups that say the sales will only bring higher rates. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philly.com; 9/5/2018

Quinn pushes for clarification of property owners’ rights
State Rep. Chris Quinn (R-168), of Middletown, Delaware County, has introduced legislation to make eminent domain laws and procedures clearer for property owners in the wake of the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction. His Democratic opponent, Kristin Seale, said she also would work to curtail eminent domain privileges in similar situations. Recently, Quinn introduced House Bill 2609, which would require the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General to draft a Landowner Bill of Rights that would clearly outline the rights of property owners during land-acquisition negotiations where eminent domain is being used. Quinn introduced the measure after hearing from constituents that they felt were pressured to give up easements in the early stages of the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction. “Unfortunately,” Quinn said, “too many residents do not understand the laws and their rights in these situations. By having a resource available to residents that clearly outlines their rights, they will be more prepared and empowered to negotiate in their own best interest.”
Source: Daily Times; 9/9/2018

Bucks County

SEPTA cuts ribbon at Yardley Station
State, county and local officials joined with representatives from SEPTA in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Yardley train station on Reading Avenue. The station has undergone a multi-million-dollar upgrade made possible by federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants and Pennsylvania Act 89, which provided the resources needed for SEPTA to invest in major improvements along the West Trenton Rail Line. The Yardley Station was made fully accessible with the installation of a high-level boarding platform, the construction of ADA compliant ramps and stairs, installation of two new weather protected shelters, and overall signage, lighting and site accessory upgrades. Rob Loughery, chairman of the Bucks County Commissioners, said it’s a great time to be in Bucks County with so many “incredible projects” coming to fruition, including the new turnpike and Interstate 95 connection, the Scudder Falls Bridge Improvement Project, and the Levittown and Yardley train station improvement projects that are “critical to the quality of life that we enjoy here in Bucks County.”
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 9/7/2018

Lower Makefield to define bamboo rules
The Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing during its regular meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the township building, 1100 Edgewood Road, Yardley, to amend Chapter 84A, “Bamboo,” of the township code. The proposed ordinance will amend section 4, “Bamboo Owner Responsibilities,” to revise the definition of a “Bamboo Owner” and to provide that a “Bamboo Owner” acts in accordance with the recommendations of an independent qualified expert. The full text of the proposed ordinance may be examined at the township building during normal business hours.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/11/2018

Yardley to adopt 2015 International Property Maintenance Code
Yardley Borough Council will conduct a public hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at Yardley Borough Hall, 56 S. Main St., to consider a proposed ordinance to adopt the 2015 International Property Maintenance Code with amendments. The purpose of the ordinance is “to promote the general health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the borough by establishing minimum regulations governing the conditions and maintenance of all property, buildings and structures; by providing the standards for supplied utilities and facilities and other physical things and conditions essential to insure that structures are safe, sanitary and fit for occupation and use; and by providing for the condemnation of buildings and structures unfit for human occupancy and use and the demolition of such structures.” A copy of the proposed ordinance may be reviewed at Yardley Borough Hall during normal business hours. Visit the Yardley Borough website for more information.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/9/2018

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick plans water contamination task force
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8) met with residents of Upper Bucks County and reported that he is planning a congressional task force that would investigate drinking water contamination throughout Bucks County and parts of Montgomery County. The congressional task force would investigate where firefighting foams containing the unregulated chemicals PFOA and PFOS have been used in the past decades. Fitzpatrick said the task force would focus on short-term and long-term responses to water contamination, and would most likely involve an investigation into any other severe fires at which these foams might have been used. Fitzpatrick will also continue pressuring the federal government to adopt stricter acceptable limits of PFAS as recommended in a report from a sub-agency of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available on their websites as a public resource — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/5/2018

Chester County 

Kennett Township officials keep eye toward walkability
Kennett Township just took a small step toward making walkable mixed-use developments within its borders a reality. The township has, in its business park zoning regulations, included an option for a “traditional neighborhood development” (TND) that mixes residential, shopping, workplaces and recreational areas in a way that promotes walking among all of them. The idea is seen as a return to traditional patterns of living, before driving everywhere became the norm. In order to be ready to review any TND-style developments, the township supervisors voted to establish an architectural review committee that would evaluate such applications before they go on to the planning commission. The township appointed the committee, which is required by the zoning ordinance, because Mike Pia is proposing a mixed-use development called Parkside on Walnut Road that would be an example of the TND use. Township Manager Lisa Moore said the development would include about 100 housing units.
Source: Daily Local; 9/8/2018

Osborne Hill Farm gets protected status
Natural Lands, the regional land preservation organization, said that it had been able to secure a conservation easement that would prevent the development of the 88-acre Osborne Hill Farm, a property that straddles Birmingham and Westtown townships and the site from which British Gen. William Howe watched his troops fight American Revolutionary forces on Sept. 11, 1777. “Natural Lands is thrilled and honored to have helped ensure this historic property will have a future free of development,” Natural Lands President Molly Morrison said in a press release. The easement was purchased with local, state and federal funds, according to the release. Protecting the farm, with its quintessential Chester County countryside of rolling fields, pastures and early 19th-century buildings, comes at a time when other parcels in the battlefield area are under threat of development. Later this month, Toll Brothers, the Horsham-based housing developer, is scheduled to argue its case against a decision by the Westtown Board of Supervisors blocking its attempt to build a large-scale subdivision on the historic Crebilly Farm along Route 926. Osborne Hill Farm is among nearly 500 battlefield acres that have been protected within Chester County alone. The full battlefield, however, measures 35,000 acres. In a 2007 report to Congress on the status of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields, the National Park Service identified the Brandywine Battlefield area as a national priority for preservation because of its historic significance and opportunities to preserve intact battlefield landscapes.
Source: Daily Local; 9/8/2018

Hotel taxes generating millions
Over the past 19 years, the Hotel Room Rental Excise tax adopted by the Chester County Commissioners has generated just under $37 million in revenue, which benefits the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau to promote tourism. In the past eight years alone, the hotel tax generated $22 million, according to county records. The tax is mandatory, but the county does not send bills to hotels. Treasurer Patricia Maisano announced recently that hotels would soon be audited to ensure the county gets paid. “Hotels are required to disclose ownership of their business and register with the county,” said County Commissioner Michelle Kichline. “As with state sales tax, the hotels are required to collect the hotel tax and then remit it to the county.” The Treasurer’s Office boasts 11 full-time employees and one part-time employee. Maisano requested and was granted permission to add a new employee skilled in analyzing hotel taxes. The tax rate for hotel room occupancy was 2 percent in 1999, and was raised to 3 percent in 2013, and finally to 5 percent last year. An Airbnb property qualifies as a business that is required to collect and remit the hotel room tax, as it is a building in which the public obtains sleeping quarters, according to Susan Hamley, executive director or the Conference and Visitors Bureau.
Source: Daily Local; 9/6/2018

Aging water lines to be replaced in Coatesville
Pennsylvania American Water will begin construction next week to replace an aging water main in the City of Coatesville. The project, with a cost of approximately $610,000, will replace the pipe that dates back to the 1940s, improving service reliability and preventing water outages. There will be many traffic restrictions during the construction process. The company expects to complete the new main installation, testing, disinfection, and connection to customers’ service lines by the end of October, weather permitting. Final paving restoration is scheduled to be completed by this fall. During construction, customers might experience temporary water service interruptions, discolored water and/or lower than normal water pressure. For more information, contact Pennsylvania American Water’s customer service center at 1-800-565-7292.
Source: Daily Local; 9/7/2018

Delaware County

Upland cracking down on code violations
Upland Borough Council has given property owners notice that stricter enforcement of property maintenance laws will take place in the borough. The council recently discussed an increase in the number of properties where tall grass and/or trash and debris can be plainly seen from the street. To address the problem, the code enforcement officer will issue more citations and fewer warnings, with unpaid citations leading to the filing of municipal liens against noncompliant property owners.
Source: Upland Borough; September 2018

'Sober living' facility to stay open as owners, Nether Providence reach accord
Nether Providence Township and the owners of a “sober living” facility cited for violating zoning requirements have reached a settlement agreement that will allow the site’s continued operation, but with a list of requirements in place. Under the deal, Providence Recovery House, in the 200 block of North Providence Road, will not be able to have more than 10 clients in residence at any one time and their stay there must last for at least 90 days. Also, clients must be tested for drugs and alcohol upon arrival, with their belongings checked at the same time, and further testing must be performed at least once every 30 days. Other requirements include an annual inspection of the facility by the township consistent with its rental property ordinance; the garage may not be used for housing; and information on the exact number and bedroom assignments of clients must be provided on an ongoing basis to the municipality in order to assist first-responders who might need to deal with an emergency at the property. Should the facility change hands, the new owner or operator of a sober living operation there must notify the township of such a change and abide by all of the pre-existing terms and conditions. For its part, Nether Providence has agreed to pay Providence Recovery House LLC $45,000. Township Manager Gary Cummings noted that the amount compensates the owners for business lost during the time the property was the subject of enforcement action and litigation.
Source: Delaware County News Network; 9/11/2018

Media’s iconic Raven Motel may become new development
The Raven Motel on the eastern edge of Media could be transformed into a new development. “We have an opportunity to redevelop the property at 427 E. State St. by tearing down the Raven Motel,” said Upper Providence-based architect Bob Linn. Linn appeared before the borough planning commission the first week in September, then two days later at the council’s workshop. He outlined speculative plans, but explained to both boards his immediate mission was in reference to a single variance needed for the project to go forward. The prospective buyer, Marty Rudman, a seasoned developer in the region, is hoping to build an apartment building with approximately 21 units on three floors. However, the zoning district requires the ground floor to be retail or office. Linn explained while he can comply with a maximum height of 40 feet, he needs four stories, where three are the maximum allowed. Linn further explained that three floors at 40 feet are reasonable for a totally commercial building, due to construction requirements, but having three floors of residential and one of commercial is also possible as different dimensions are needed. He made clear that without this combination, which needs relief for four stories, the project is not economically feasible for his client who “can get out of the deal,” making way for another buyer who has a different use in mind. With several other projects in the works, the immediate neighborhood continues to undergo changes. Council has the option of opposing a zoning application, sending the solicitor to represent the borough’s interest, or allowing the hearing to proceed without intervention or comment. The matter will be on the Thursday, Sept. 20, agenda for such action. The zoning matter is expected to be heard by the Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday, Sept. 27. All meetings are open to the public for attendance and comment.
Source: Daily Times; 9/10/2018

Upland Historical Commission dissolved
The Upland Historical Commission (UHC) has been officially dissolved by Upland Borough Council. The now defunct advisory board was established in July 2014 to assess the impact of tearing down potentially historic buildings on the Crozer Hospital campus. After reviewing the one case, the UHC has since been dormant. Council President Christine Peterson noted that the Delaware County Heritage Commission would be able to provide Upland Borough with the same kind of guidance and advice, should the issue of historic demolition arise again.
Source: Upland Borough Newsletter; September 2018

Montgomery County

Pottstown eyes new weapon against blight
In recent years, Pottstown Borough has made strides in addressing blight in the community. The borough has addressed run-down and abandoned buildings with a blighted property review committee and, more recently, the creation of a Pottstown Land Bank that has the power to take ownership of derelict and blighted properties in the borough and hand them over to developers willing to renovate them. The land bank’s primary goal is to create more owner-occupied market-rate housing, eliminate blight, stabilize neighborhoods, facilitate private investment and assemble large parcels for redevelopment. To aid in that goal, Pottstown Mayor Stephanie Henrick invited Greg Trainor, executive director of Philadelphia Community Corps, to speak before borough council with a new idea to consider. The Philadelphia Community Corp is a nonprofit organization with several missions, including battling blight, offering job training in the construction industry, and recycling and re-using building materials. Trainor explained that his organization will “de-construct” buildings instead of tearing them down. “Everything in a de-constructed house becomes tax deductible, because our organization is a 501(c)3 and is providing job training,” Trainor said. Materials from the de-constructed homes are recycled at the Philly Reclaim Materials Reuse Center. Borough Council President Dan Weand suggested to Trainor that Pottstown has plenty of prime locations for a warehouse and would even welcome a reuse operation of its own. For more on the Philadelphia Community Corps, click here.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 9/11/2018

Highs and lows of Limerick Township sewer system sale
Limerick Township recently sold its sewer system to Aqua PA for $75.1 million, which will allow the township to pay off existing debt, including the $5.2 million the township borrowed to complete the $10.5 million township building. Once all debts are paid, the township will have $55 million on hand, which it intends to invest with hopes of using the investment proceeds to pay for capital projects and other future costs. Township Supervisor Ken Sperring even remarked that he could see no reason for another township tax hike for 30 years. On the other side of the coin, however, is that the deal to sell the sewer system includes a rate freeze for the next three years. After the three-year rate freeze expires, public records indicate a rate increase of as much as 84 percent in the base rate of Limerick sewer bills is possible. The “base rate” is the amount charged to customers no matter how much water they use. The current base rate of $38 could jump to $70 and would push the annual base rate for sewer service from $456 per year to $840, according to figures contained in the public documents related to the sale examined by Digital First Media. Township Supervisor Dan Kerr said the township was going to have to raise sewer rates in the future to pay for an estimated $20 million in upgrades and repairs to the sewer system, no matter who owns it. However, the base rate hike increase that was considered by the township was closer to $50 to $55 per month, less than the possible Aqua increase.
Source: Times Herald; 9/9/2018

Hatfield Borough to consider bee regulations
Hatfield Borough Council will hold a hearing and consider for adoption an ordinance amending the Hatfield Code of Ordinances to add beekeeping regulations. The hearing will be held Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Hatfield Volunteer Fire Company, 75 N. Market St. The proposed ordinance will add regulations for the keeping and regulating of bees in the borough, provide for a permit process that complies with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s beekeeping regulations and other state law, regulate the number of hives per property, regulate the location, orientation, water supply and maintenance of bee hives that are consistent with best management practices from the state Department of Agriculture, and regulate inspection of hives and the sale of honey.
Source: The Reporter; 9/10/2018

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick plans water contamination task force
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8) met with residents of Upper Bucks County and reported that he is planning a congressional task force that would investigate drinking water contamination throughout Bucks County and parts of Montgomery County. The congressional task force would investigate where firefighting foams containing the unregulated chemicals PFOA and PFOS have been used in the past decades. Fitzpatrick said the task force would focus on short-term and long-term responses to water contamination, and would most likely involve an investigation into any other severe fires at which these foams might have been used. Fitzpatrick will also continue pressuring the federal government to adopt stricter acceptable limits of PFAS as recommended in a report from a sub-agency of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available on their websites as a public resource — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/5/2018

Philadelphia

City officials: Philly to add 100,000 homes by 2028
A housing plan introduced by Philadelphia planning czar Anne Fadullon calls for producing and preserving a combined 100,000 housing units over the next 10 years. Billed as the first comprehensive, citywide housing strategy, the Philadelphia Housing Action Plan would create or save 60 percent more housing units than the 63,000 produced or preserved over the past decade, according to Vincent Reina, an urban-planning professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is helping draft the plan as part of a city-led task force. The report comes in the midst of a long-burning debate over Philadelphia’s housing policy, or lack thereof. In recent years, city council members have introduced a host of legislative efforts to address various housing woes, leading developers and other interest groups to complain that there isn’t a coordinated citywide strategy. The targets in the policy brief include both rental and ownership units, and range from market-rate homes to housing for those transitioning from living on the street. The great majority of the 100,000 units would be obtained by preserving existing housing stock through repair and rehabilitation. Most of the units called for in the action plan would be aimed at those earning less than 80 percent of the area median income, but it isn’t meant to be solely an affordable-housing plan. When the final report is released in October, a narrower list of recommendations will be included.
Source: Plan Philly; 9/5/2018

Kenney proposes alternative to construction tax for affordable housing
Poised to veto a controversial new tax intended to pay for affordable housing, Mayor Jim Kenney is trying to reach a compromise with Philadelphia City Council. Kenney is proposing to redirect real-estate tax proceeds from properties that have recently received the city’s 10-year tax abatement, instead of imposing a 1 percent tax on new construction. Kenney’s plan would send the money from properties in the first year they come onto the tax rolls to the Housing Trust Fund — a move that would raise between $52 million and $56 million for affordable housing over the next five years, says an administration official. Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, a cosponsor of the construction tax legislation, said it would be “irresponsible” to spend anything less than $125 million over five years on affordable housing. The construction tax was narrowly passed with a 9-8 vote at the last voting session in June before the summer break.
Source: Philly.com; 9/12/2018

Final public meeting scheduled for Housing Preservation Task Force
The Philadelphia Housing Preservation Task Force was created in May 2017 by Mayor Jim Kenney to provide a survey of historic resources, identify incentives for preservation, consider regulations for preservation, and provide public outreach and education. In its final months (August-December 2018) the Task Force will identify how the city can best survey its historic assets, regulate those assets, incentivize preservation, and educate and engage residents and property owners around the importance of preservation. The task force will hold a final public meeting on Thursday, Sept. 20, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St. To learn more, visit www.phlpreservation.org.
Source: City of Philadelphia; 9/13/2018



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