NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
NAR responds to administration proposal to reform Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

Bucks County
Bensalem approves 106 more townhouses at Waterside community 

Chester County
Embreeville Redevelopment zoning hearing postponed 

Delaware County
SEPTA upgrades Secane station

Montgomery County
New Hanover Town Center project raising concern 

Philadelphia County
Center City developers benefit the most from city’s tax abatement 

 

News Briefs Archive September 2, 2019

 

General News

Map: Where are Pennsylvania school property taxes highest?
Pennsylvania taxpayers and lawmakers are engaged in discussions over whether to overhaul the complicated taxing mechanisms that provide funds to the state’s 499 school districts. Approximately $16.6 billion was raised through local taxes in the 2017-2018 school year, the overwhelming majority of which were through property taxes. The Pennsylvania Department of Education calculates an equalized millage rate for each district by dividing the total revenue generated by the total market value of the taxed property. The result shows that some districts place vastly different burdens on their property owners than others. In the Suburban Realtors Alliance’s four-county area, the highest school tax rate belongs to William Penn School District, with an equalized rate of 34.9 mills, higher than 99.2% of other districts in the state. Marple Newtown School District has the lowest rate in the region at 12.8 mills, lower than all but 7.2% of districts statewide. Click here to view the map showing equalized millage rates for Pennsylvania school districts in 2017-2018.
Source: Morning Call; 8/22/2019

Bucks County

West Rockhill working on short-term rental ordinance
West Rockhill Township supervisors recently discussed a draft ordinance that will regulate short-term home rentals, such as Airbnb properties. The regulations have been proposed in response to ongoing complaints about a “party house.” Pennridge Regional Police Chief Rodney Blake reported there have been several complaints about a home that is rented out short-term to people who hold parties there. “We’ve cited several people for disorderly conduct,” Blake said. Township solicitor Mary Eberle said that, following recent short-term rental cases before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, she is comfortable preparing a proposed ordinance addressing the issue. Under the proposed ordinance, properties zoned for use as single-family dwellings must be occupied by a family or group of people living together, not have transient use. The proposed ordinance is for rental of the entire house, not homes being used principally as a family home in which a room is rented out, said Eberle. “It only affects people putting a full house on Airbnb on a temporary basis,” she continued. The next step is to have the county and township planning commissions review the proposed ordinance.
Source: Perkasie News Herald; 8/27/2019

Warminster water, sewer sale could avert bankruptcy
Warminster Township supervisors voted 3-0 to have PFM Financial Advisors LLC start negotiations to sell its utilities for nearly $90 million. North Wales Water Authority has made a $35.9 million preliminary offer for the township’s drinking water system, and Aqua America and the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authorities have each offered at least $50 million for the sewer system. Warminster could decide to sell one, both or neither of the systems, but the township will qualify for bankruptcy by the end of the year if officials don’t address ongoing financial problems. The township is projected to end 2020 with a nearly $3.8 million deficit. If that happens, the township would qualify for Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Financial Recovery Act (Act 47), which allows the Department of Community and Economic Development to “assist municipalities that are experiencing severe financial difficulties.” The township’s website lists two public information meetings scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 12, at 2 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. at the township office, 401 Gibson Ave.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/23/2019 & Bucks County Courier Times; 8/25/2019

Solebury residents turn out in opposition of Route 202 corridor draft concept plan
Solebury Township supervisors were faced with a standing-room-only crowd of over 200 people that gathered in opposition to a draft concept plan for the Route 202 corridor. Click here to hear an audio recording of the meeting. Supervisor Chair Mark Baum Baicker assured the residents that the draft concept plan discussed in June has no board support but that the board wants to “continue hearing all of the wishes and concerns of the community.” Baicker said an additional input session at a larger venue will likely be held in September. The supervisors stressed at an earlier meeting that their objective is to “get out in front” of pending development proposals in order to pro-actively manage what happens on Route 202. Visit www.soleburytwp.org for meeting information and news updates.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 8/22/2019

Officials break ground on Upper Bucks Rail Trail
State, county and local officials gathered near the Richland Township Fire & Rescue property on Shelly Road for a groundbreaking ceremony of the Upper Bucks Rail Trail. The three-mile pathway along SEPTA’s old Bethlehem Branch railroad tracks is estimated to cost $1.8 million and will be funded through PennDOT’s Act 13 Marcellus Legacy Fund. The new trail will begin in Veterans Memorial Park in Richland and continue to Lehigh County, where it will connect with the Saucon Valley Rail Trail. The Upper Bucks trail is expected to open next summer.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/23/2019

Gov. Wolf allocates $3.8 million to towns for PFAS treatment
Gov. Tom Wolf and local members of the PA House of Representatives announced $3.8 million in funding for water treatment in Horsham, Warminster, Warrington, and Warwick townships to eliminate a surcharge that residents have been paying on their water bills for PFAS treatment. All four towns have been tasked with cleaning up drinking water contaminated with PFAS, toxic chemicals once used in firefighting foam at nearby military air bases. Horsham will receive $1.2 million and Warminster about $2.1 million to eliminate the surcharge. The remaining funds will be divided between Warrington and Warwick for infrastructure projects. Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-144th), who helped broker the funding and represents many residents impacted by the contamination, said “there is no way you should carry the cost of removing the federal government's PFAS contamination from our drinking water. I want to thank Gov. Wolf for his good faith in negotiating this deal.”
Source: WHYY.org; 8/26/2019

Chester County 

Caln planners exclude commercial uses in recommendation to township board
Caln Township Planning Commission members received an update from Regal Builders on the company’s proposed housing and commercial development plans, and its rationale behind requested zoning amendments. After listening to the presentation, as well as concerns and questions from the public, and without further discussion, the planning commission members made a motion to recommend that the township board of commissioners approve the zoning ordinance, excluding the text about commercial uses. Regal Builders, operating as Wild Meadows LLC, purchased the former Lloyd Farm property located behind St. Joe’s Parish from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in April for more than $4 million, with plans to construct residences and commercial buildings along Route 322 (Manor Avenue). Regal Builders president Harry Miller III revised his original development proposal after residents in Caln and Downingtown expressed concerns about traffic, flooding and other issues. The developer is now proposing to build 104 single-family detached homes and 92 townhomes with commercial usage on the roughly 60-acre property. The age-restricted housing would be available to people age 55 and older.
Source: Daily Local; 8/22/2019

Rep. Shusterman holding open house events in Paoli
State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157) is inviting her constituents to open-house events on Tuesday, Sept. 10, and Friday, Sept. 13. Both events will be held at 8 a.m. at her office, 42 E. Lancaster Ave. in Paoli. Light refreshments will be served at both events. Attendees can RSVP to her chief of staff, Tyler Sciaudone, at tsciaudone@pahouse.net or call Shusterman's office at (484) 200-8260.
Source: Patch; 8/22/2019

Chester County getting $90K for battlefield preservation
The National Park Service announced $1.17 million in Battlefield Preservation Planning Grants for 16 battlefields across 10 states. Historians and preservationists will use these funds to assist in research, documentation and interpretive planning. Chester County will receive $90,000 for preservation efforts. Read more here.
Source: Patch; 8/20/2019

Sappey to hold policy hearing on stormwater management
State Rep. Christina Sappey (D-158) will host a House Policy Committee public hearing in October to examine the numerous negative impacts to state and local infrastructure brought about by increasingly severe weather. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 15, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the East Bradford Township Building, 666 Copeland School Road in West Chester. Sappey will be joined by fellow House members, including Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla (D-96). “It’s no secret that our roads and bridges are failing, and the increase in severe storms we are experiencing is exacerbating the problem,” Sappey said. “We have all witnessed the aftermath and dealt with the consequences of flooding, erosion and washed-out roadways.” The severity and number of storms have been increasing across the commonwealth. According to the National Weather Service, Chester County received more than 22 inches above normal rainfall in 2018.
Source: Daily Local; 8/27/2019

West Chester Council enacts tree ordinance
After more than 16 years of discussion, West Chester Borough Council voted unanimously to enact a tree ordinance. If a street tree or tree in the right of way is condemned, the homeowner will pay half of the cost for removal. Previously the resident was responsible for the whole cost. Heritage tree owners can request a rebate on their stormwater protection fee, on a sliding scale up to a $250 annual refund per property owner. A heritage tree must have a minimum diameter of 24 inches at four-and-a-half feet above the ground and not be on the list of excluded trees. The borough’s arborist will need to okay pesticides used within the tree protection zone, an area where construction activities are restricted to prevent injury to preserved trees. The borough hopes to add 1,000 trees to the canopy.
Source: Daily Local; 8/27/2019

Delaware County

DELCORA to host open house on Sept. 4
The Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) is hosting an open house for the public to learn more about Aqua Pennsylvania’s proposed acquisition of DELCORA. The format will offer one-on-one interactions at a series of information stations. The event will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 4, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Springfield Country Club, 400 W. Sproul Road. View the invitation here. DELCORA owns, operates and maintains collection systems serving approximately a half-million people in the Greater Philadelphia area, including 42 municipalities in Delaware and Chester counties.
Source: Delaware County; 8/2019

Ridley Park urges public to report clogged storm sewers
Ridley Park Council President Jim Glenn appealed to residents at the council’s August meeting to be on the lookout for clogged storm sewer inlets on their streets. “If storm drains are clogged on the streets, contact the borough office so they can be cleaned out before storms hit,” Glenn said. He warned that hurricane season is still in effect. Many of the hurricanes that have caused the most damage in recent years have occurred in early fall. “We’ve been lucky so far [with] no flooding,” Glenn said.
Source: Daily Times; 8/25/2019

Morton cracks down on dumpsters
New rules regulating the use of dumpsters and portable storage containers in Morton Borough are now in effect after action by borough council at its August meeting. "Whereas, dumpsters can attract vermin and insects, create an attractive nuisance for children, infringe on parking and vehicular movement and detract from the safety and aesthetic value of neighborhoods ...," is the opening paragraph of the eight-page ordinance, followed by a myriad of other reasons for the crackdown, as well as legitimate reasons to need the containers. Permits are required for the placement of the containers. No permit will be issued for placement of one or more dumpsters on public property if placement on private property is feasible. Permit fees for dumpsters placed on commercial property is $50 as well as for any extension requested. No permit fee will be required for placement on residential property for up to 90 days. After that, a $50 fee will apply. For placement on a public right-of-way to service a residential property, no permit is required for up to 30 days. After that, the fee is $50. The ordinance further regulates hours of transport, physical condition of containers and signage. The ordinance covers placement in residential districts, use restrictions, emergency removal and penalties.
Source: Springfield Press; 8/23/2019

Nether Providence looking for cheaper ‘Welcome’ signs
Nether Providence Township officials want to roll out the welcome mat for visitors. Board of Commissioners President Matthew Sullivan said the municipality is interested in erecting about 10 “Welcome to Nether Providence” signs. Officials were hoping the price for each sign would be less than $800. However, they were taken aback when the lowest bid they received was $2,500 per sign, with others ranging up to $5,000. Township staffers were asked to do some more research on prospective sign vendors.
Source: Media Town Talk; 8/27/2019

Montgomery County

Gov. Wolf allocates $3.8 million to towns for PFAS treatment
Gov. Tom Wolf and local members of the PA House of Representatives announced $3.8 million in funding for water treatment in Horsham, Warminster, Warrington, and Warwick townships to eliminate a surcharge that residents have been paying on their water bills for PFAS treatment. All four towns have been tasked with cleaning up drinking water contaminated with PFAS, toxic chemicals once used in firefighting foam at nearby military air bases. Horsham will receive $1.2 million and Warminster about $2.1 million to eliminate the surcharge. The remaining funds will be divided between Warrington and Warwick for infrastructure projects. Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-144th), who helped broker the funding and represents many residents impacted by the contamination, said “there is no way you should carry the cost of removing the federal government's PFAS contamination from our drinking water. I want to thank Gov. Wolf for his good faith in negotiating this deal.”
Source: WHYY.org; 8/26/2019

Lower Pottsgrove township building cost estimate at $8.2 million
The plans and cost estimate for a new township building in Lower Pottsgrove Township were unveiled at an Aug. 26 township meeting. Alloy 5, a Bethlehem-based architecture and engineering firm, presented plans for a proposed 16,000-square-foot building located at the southeast corner of East High Street and South Pleasantview Road. The building would feature two connected wings for administration and police. The current building is 7,500 square feet and houses the police department in the basement of the building. Lower Pottsgrove Commissioner Robert Mohollen said the township’s infrastructure tax was set up a few years ago to pay for projects like this, although some borrowing may be necessary. Borough solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. said there is no required time frame for the commissioners to move forward, but the next step would be to approve the schematic, then hire professionals to produce the architecture and engineering drawings. Then the project could be put out to bid, and commissioners could decide whether to accept bids.
Source: The Reporter; 8/28/2019

North Penn rebate program seeing success
North Penn School District implemented a property tax rebate program during the 2018-2019 school year. Kristin Johnson, the district’s assistant director of business administration, reported that a total of 450 applicants received a total of $35,570 in property tax rebates during the first year it was available, for an average of $82 per applicant. The North Penn School Board voted to widen the program to include property renters, not just owners, for the 2019-2020 school year, and the board had received 157 applicants as of Aug. 1. According to Johnson, the breakdown of applicants is 11 renters, 117 owners and 29 dual, for a total of $16,783 with an average rebate of $99 per applicant. Click here for more information about the program.
Source: The Reporter; 8/20/2019

Limerick subdivision heading for approval
North Gate, a project to build 48 homes off School Road in Limerick, is nearing final approval. The project was originally approved in 2005 for 51 homes, said Supervisors Chairman Ken Sperring Jr. A new developer reduced the number of homes to 48, and the plans call for the widening of School Road to 22 feet with a two-foot shoulder on each side. The vote for final plan approval will likely come at the Tuesday, Sept. 3, supervisors meeting.
Source: The Reporter; 8/26/2019

Philadelphia

Renters are being forced out of Old City apartments to make way for Philly visitors
Residents of the Lofts at 509 Vine apartments in Old City are to be replaced with business travelers and tourists, as the property becomes the latest in Philadelphia to fall under the control of a new breed of tech-enabled start-ups that are converting residential real estate into visitor accommodations. Renters at the 44-unit building have been told by the property’s management that their leases will not be renewed when they expire so their units can be booked by short-term visitors through hospitality brand Stay Alfred Inc. of Spokane Valley, Washington. “Unfortunately, I regret to inform you that the ownership has decided to change the use of the building to short-term rental units for travelers and corporate suites effective Sept. 1, 2019,” reads a letter sent to one resident by property manager Stonehenge Advisors Inc. A tally by the Philadelphia Inquirer in March found that more than 1,300 units in existing residential buildings and projects under construction had been designated for hotel-length stays. In many deals involving the hospitality start-ups, the companies agree to buy or lease entire buildings that are being newly built or renovated with short-term stays in mind. In other cases, the companies take over a block of units in a building that otherwise keeps its full-time renters.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/22/2019

Philly's sidewalks discriminate against people with disabilities, lawsuit claims
A class-action lawsuit filed against the city alleges Philadelphia “discriminates against residents and visitors with disabilities that affect their mobility by failing to make its sidewalks and pedestrian routes accessible to people who use wheelchairs or are blind.” The lawsuit was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A lack of curb ramps — or insufficient and unsafe ramps — mark another issue for disabled people, the suit claims. It also identifies several other safety issues: sloping and crumbling sidewalks and crosswalks, unsafe alternate routes during construction zones and snow piles that block sidewalk access. The lawsuit calls on the city to ensure that all individuals with mobility disabilities can travel safely throughout the city by making all sidewalks fully accessible. It also seeks an evaluation of the city's entire sidewalk system and a schedule for remediating any travel barriers.
Source: Philly Voice; 8/27/2019

City moves toward legalizing accessory dwellings in historic buildings
A bill allowing “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs), also known as “granny flats,” on historically designated properties won approval Tuesday from the Philadelphia Planning Commission. Granny flat, in-law suite, accessory dwelling — all these terms refer to a separate residential unit created to allow people to live on the same property, often in a backyard, attic or garage, without sacrificing privacy or autonomy. The nod advanced a policy change that backers hope could help ease the burden of preserving creaky old houses while addressing growing demand for both affordable housing and dwellings suitable for aging in place. If the legislation continues to move forward and the dwellings are legalized within historic properties, Philadelphia will join a growing number of U.S. cities that have welcomed them as a tool in the fight against displacement. Philadelphia’s zoning code does not currently permit these structures in any part of the city. Click here for more information.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 8/28/2019



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