Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs
Bucks sheriff sales go online
Chesco to offer webinar on Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program
Brandywine Battlefield property purchased
Lower Merion extends business privilege/mercantile tax deadline
Philadelphia rental and utility assistance program open for tenants and landlords
HUD files fair-housing complaint against Facebook
The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a formal complaint against Facebook earlier, alleging that the company violates the Fair Housing Act by allowing housing-related advertisers to select an audience based on interests related to things like disability, familial status, religion and ethnicity, among others. Facebook’s initial response had been that while these targeting options existed in the system, its advertising policies strictly prohibit using them in a discriminatory manner, and advertisers should be solely liable if they break those rules. They later announced a decision to remove more than 5,000 ad-targeting options to “help prevent misuse” by advertisers, though it was stated that the decision was unrelated to the HUD complaint. To be clear, this complaint is just the start of the HUD process. Facebook has not been found to have violated the law and the eventual outcome is far from clear. It’s also worth noting that use of these audience targeting tools may be perfectly legal in other contexts, but not in housing. Federal law prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (including pregnancy). There are additional protected classes under state laws, various municipal ordinances and the NAR Code of Ethics, including things like age, ancestry, gender identity, sexual orientation and source of income. Read more here.
Source: PAR JustListed; 8/29/2018
Small businesses, farmers urged to apply for grants
A total of $1 million in grant funding is available for farmers and small business owners who take on pollution-prevention, energy-efficiency and natural-resource-protection projects through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Small Business Advantage Grant Program. In addition, for the first time, farmers and ranchers will be able to take advantage of these grants to reduce pollution on working lands. Eligible projects are those that adopt or acquire equipment or processes that reduce energy use or pollution. Examples of eligible projects are HVAC and boiler upgrades, high-efficiency lighting, solvent-recovery and waste-recycling systems, and auxiliary power units deployed as anti-idling technology for trucks. Natural resource protection projects include the opportunity to plant riparian buffers, install stream bank fencing to keep livestock out of streams, and agricultural stormwater-management projects, with the goal of reducing sediment and nutrient loads in our waterways. Businesses can apply for 50 percent matching grants of up to $9,500 to adopt or acquire energy-efficient or pollution-prevention equipment or processes. Applicants must be a for-profit corporation, LLC, partnership, sole proprietorship or other legal entity with 100 or fewer full-time employees based in Pennsylvania, and the grant-supported project must be located in Pennsylvania. Only costs incurred between July 20, 2018, and June 30, 2019, are eligible. Applications will be accepted until funds are exhausted or on April 19, 2019, whichever comes first. The complete grant application package, which includes step-by-step instructions for completing the online application as well as all related forms, is available on the DEP Small Business Ombudsman’s Office website.
Source: Daily Local; 8/27/2018
Melsky tract hearings remanded back to Upper Makefield
Upper Makefield Township supervisors are once again holding hearings on a proposed development plan from Toll Brothers for 45 single-family homes on 66 acres on Stoopville Road known as the Melsky tract. Bucks County Court remanded the proposal back to Upper Makefield to consider, the latest news in a nearly decade-long saga over the proposed development of the land. Supervisors first heard and approved an earlier plan from Toll in 2007, but neighbors opposed to the plan appealed the decision to Bucks County Court. The case was remanded back to Upper Makefield, and supervisors reconsidered and then rejected amended versions of the development plan in 2015. The problem, according to the supervisors, was that Toll’s plan for stormwater management was insufficient. Additional court battles ensued, and now the proposal has again been sent back to Upper Makefield supervisors, where Toll is attempting to get the township to reverse its denial. Testimony at a recent hearing started with a soil scientist representing Toll. Cross examination is expected to continue at the Thursday, Sept. 20, meeting of the board of supervisors at the municipal building, 1076 Eagle Road, Newtown. Click here for the most up-to-date meeting information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 8/27/2018
Newtown Borough passes medical marijuana ordinance
Prompted by the passage of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law in 2016, which allows state-permitted dispensaries and growing operations to be established, Newtown Borough Council passed a medical marijuana ordinance. The amendment to the zoning ordinance will permit medical marijuana dispensaries and growers in the borough but will limit them to the town’s B1 (Business Gateway) zoning district by special exception. The B1 district runs along South State Street between Sterling and Lincoln streets. The amendment also restricts the facilities from operating within 1,000 feet of a school or a day care center, and would require them to submit a waste disposal plan and a security plan for approval. The new ordinance will not apply to a pending application for a use permit for a dispensary in the middle of the downtown State Street business district, because the permit was submitted prior to the enactment of the ordinance. Borough solicitor Tom Panzer said the request would be treated as a retail pharmacy use, which is a permitted use in the downtown district, and the zoning officer will assess the application.
Source: The Advance; 8/19/2018
Durham seeking state aid for flood damages
Torrential rainfall in mid-August was strong enough to wash away a 50-yard stretch of Dogwood Lane near the intersection of Funks Mill Road in Durham Township. According to Township Manager Dani McClanahan, replacement of the roadway is estimated to cost $500,000 — a price the township cannot afford. McClanahan said the township has reached out to state Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), of Lansdale, and state Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-143), of Doylestown Township, requesting their assistance. A state of emergency declaration from Gov. Tom Wolf is an early step allowing municipalities and counties to seek state-administered relief funds. According to Mensch, the Bucks County Emergency Management Agency already performed a preliminary inspection of the area, which is the most important immediate step to complete.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 8/20/2018
State investigating Lower Southampton building records
A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry recently confirmed its Bureau of Occupational and Industrial Safety has opened an investigation into the Lower Southampton Zoning and Building Department. The agency has requested to review documents for more than two dozen projects that were the subject of a recent report by Keystone Municipal Services, commissioned by the township, which found “irregularities.” The report was ordered to examine the township’s zoning department’s processes and procedures, verify compliance with state codes, and identify where improvements were needed. According to Township Manager John McMenamin, the state will focus its investigation on zoning permit records looking at conformity with the Uniform Construction Code. The state has declined to provide additional information or comment on the investigation.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 8/27/2018
County going after hotels, Airbnbs, for taxes
For the past eight years, hotels in Chester County have had it good. Few paid taxes to the county’s Office of Treasury, and those that did, did so voluntarily. “We’re starting to audit hotels,” said Patricia Maisano, recently elected Chester County treasurer. “We are letting hotels know we are here and we expect tax money to come to us.” The county treasurer serves as the local authority, which represents Pennsylvania, in the sale of various state-controlled licenses. Chester County, for its services, receives a small percentage of the revenue. It’s all due to the return to a full staffing complement at the Office of the Treasury, which can now focus on ensuring that revenues due the county are received and processed appropriately. Before Maisano was elected, there were only three people on the staff, some of whom were temporary workers. She said there are now 10 staff members in the office, all of whom are qualified. “The hotel tax has not been collected for eight years,” Maisano said. “I have renewed the hotel tax and also the Airbnb tax.” Airbnb is a lodging reservation website that lets property owners list their spare room, apartment or home in thousands of cities worldwide.
Source: Daily Local; 8/24/2018
Construction of 598 homes starts in West Goshen
Development has started on a project to construct 598 homes at the 433-acre Jerrehian property at the Sharpless Estate, off of Greenhill Road in West Goshen. The property stretches from Phoenixville Pike on the southeast, the Route 322 Bypass to the south, near Pottstown Pike on the northwest and Greenhill Road to the north. The Jerrehian family has been working with the township to develop the property for more than a decade. In December of 2016, plans for the development, called Woodlands at Greystone, were approved by the township, and supervisors recently agreed to establish a Neighborhood Improvement District. Within the district, only future homeowners would foot the bill, for 30 years, to pay for a bond issue financing $21 million of infrastructure improvements. The total acreage of the township’s public parkland would more than double. One hundred eighty-four acres of open space would be created, with 163 acres dedicated to the township. All of the open space would be preserved for passive recreation. A connector road is planned to cross the property and link Pottstown Pike to Phoenixville Pike. Four hundred forty single-family detached homes, 110 single-family semi-detached townhouses and 48 single-family attached townhomes are planned for the property.
Source: Daily Local; 8/29/2018
Community economic development workshop coming to Kennett Square
The Borough of Kennett Square and Kennett Township, in partnership with Historic Kennett Square and the Chester County Planning Commission, invite the public to a Community Workshop and Open House on Thursday, Sept. 13, at The American Legion Hall, 208 E. State St., Kennett Square. The purpose of the event is to provide community feedback for staff and consultants to inform amendments to municipal ordinances related to economic development. This is part of the ongoing joint economic development effort initiated by the 2016 Kennett-Area Economic Development Study. During the Community Workshop and Open House there will be two facilitated public participation sessions: a daytime event from 1 to 3 p.m. and an evening event from 6 to 8 p.m. Both sessions will be identical in format. The consultant and municipal staff will also be available throughout the day (from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.) in an open-house style to solicit public feedback and encourage one-on-one/small group discussion. All are invited to one or both of the facilitated sessions, as well as the Open House portion of the day. To RSVP or if you have any questions, ideas or comments, contact Nate Echeverria, Kennett Area Economic Development Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-444-8188.
Source: Kennett Paper; 8/28/2018
Landscapes3 nears completion
The Chester County Planning Commission is due to complete a full draft plan for Landscapes3, the next long-range plan for Chester County’s future. The draft will incorporate input from residents, municipal officials, and other stakeholders. County residents will have an opportunity to review the latest version of the plan and provide comment during a Landscapes3 public meeting Tuesday, Oct. 2, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the CCIU in Downingtown. This will be a joint public meeting conducted by the Landscapes3 Steering Committee and the Chester County Planning Commission board. Learn more about the latest with Landscapes3 here.
Source: Chester County Planning Department; 8/23/2018
More work needed on residential plan for Don Guanella site
No action was taken by the Marple Planning Commission on preliminary residential plans submitted by Sproul Road Developers LLC for the former Don Guanella Village along Reed Road and Sproul Road. Commissioners asked project developers, led by Carlino Commercial Development Principal Peter Miller, to redesign and submit plans that accommodate review letter comments provided by township engineer Joseph Mastronado and the Delaware County Planning Commission. Sproul Road Developers is planning 232 single and twin housing units on approximately 140 acres of residential-zoned portions of the land. “We would just look forward to receiving a plan that complies with the township ordinances and we’ll give it a full review and recommendations will be appropriate at that time,” said Commission Chairman Patrick Henigan. The residential plan, which would be called Residences of Marple Preserve if fully adopted, is an alternative to the 47-acre mixed-use proposal that is planned for the immediate footprint of the Don Guanella site in the institutional-zoned front portion of the property. Miller has maintained that that plan is his primary focus, as it would retain 166 acres of open space on that property. In presenting an overview of the mixed-use plan, planner Tim Cassidy said the open space in the residential plan could be subjected to use by those residents only — and not for public access, as it unofficially has been for some time. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia currently owns the land, making it private property, but people have been hiking on its trail for decades.
Source: Daily Times; 8/24/2018
County council moves to demolish Toal building
Delaware County Council approved the emergency demolition of the former jury parking garage and two nearby buildings, a few weeks after a wall in the garage collapsed. In a related motion, they also moved forward with finding working spaces for county employees whose departments are housed in those buildings. Those employees have been dispersed throughout the county since the end of July, and the demolition and construction of a new structure is expected to take years. On July 27, officers from the Delaware County Courthouse and Park Police Department discovered that a 6-foot tall, 25-foot long concrete slab at the top of one of the parking ramps in the Orange Street garage came separated from its welds. The same day, Media Borough sent out a notice closing Orange and Citron streets from Front to Third streets, and Amber and Second streets between Orange and Citron streets, because of areas of concern. A fence has since been erected around the area. Employees from the county Planning Department, Park Police and Community Services have already been moved out of the Toal building. According to county Executive Director Marianne Grace, members of the Planning Department work either at the Office of Housing and Community Development in Media or from their homes. Most of the Community Services staff have moved to the Delaware County Emergency Training facility in Folcroft. And while most of the Park Police staff are assigned to posts throughout the county, the administration has relocated to the courthouse. The county Public Defender's Office continues to operate from the Sweeney building, although that time is limited. Joseph DeVuono, director of County Facilities Management, said the project is anticipated to take 18 months to design and another 18 months to build, and that doesn't include the process to obtain the appropriate approvals, which could make the project take four to five years.
Source: Daily Times; 8/22/2018
Development underway at Ardrossan property
Vast amounts of open space will remain in the 350-acre tract of rolling countryside at the Androssan property, according to Edgar Scott III, the descendant of the Montgomery Scott Wheeler family who is handling the development of 15 homes on the property. Many of the new owners also have donated parcels to the North American Land Trust to remain as undeveloped land. Scott noted that Ardrossan Farms is not only the last large piece of open space to be developed in Radnor and the Main Line but within the western Philadelphia suburbs. The idea is to preserve the “viewshed” for homeowners, who will also garner a tax break in the process. There are guidelines for the designs of the houses to prevent “monsters and spaceships,” he said. A homeowners association for the residents is in place. Residents of Androssan Farms will have public sewer, water and gas lines. There are extensive underwater stormwater retention systems and no retention basins that can be seen in other developments.
Source: Daily Times; 8/27/2018
Municipalities attempt to skirt MCOCA
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance has had several reports of municipalities in Delaware County forcing the hands of buyers and sellers with respect to repairs at point of sale. The Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act clearly states that buyers and sellers have a minimum of 12 months to complete repairs. The timeline may not be reduced, but in some cases it may be extended at the discretion of the municipality. As such, a municipality should not require a buyer and seller to sign an agreement that repairs resulting from a point-of-sale use and occupancy inspection be completed within a 30-, 60- or 90-day window. The law is applicable to all municipalities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. If a person signs such an agreement, the protections provided by MCOCA are being forfeited. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance is here to help if you encounter such a situation. Contact us at 610-981-9000 or email@example.com if you need assistance or have questions about a use and occupancy issue.
Norristown considers selling sewer system
Norristown Council unanimously voted to authorize the solicitation of Requests for Qualifications from potential buyers for the Norristown Municipal Sewer System. The RFQ process will “really see who is interested in this transaction,” said Scott Shearer, managing director for PFM Financial Advisors, the firm hired by Norristown to perform a limited scope evaluation of the system. According to Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones, Norristown is exploring selling the sewer system to help with the council’s “aggressive vision for redevelopment.” Jones said council recognizes that the sewer system is aging and it made sense to evaluate whether it should be held onto or sold to an outside entity better equipped to handle repairs and maintenance. Once the RFQ is sent, responses are expected in about a month, and a Request for Proposals could be issued by January.
Source: Times Herald; 8/23/2018
North Wales public hearing to consider adoption of comprehensive plan
North Wales Borough will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Borough Hall meeting room to consider adoption of the North Wales Borough 2040 Comprehensive Plan Update. The draft update will be available to the public for review at Borough Hall weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on the borough website here.
Source: Reporter; 8/24/2018
Norristown opens waiting list for Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program applications
Norristown has opened the waiting list for the municipality’s Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program. The program helps low- to moderate-income homeowners correct housing problems, including defects in their homes’ heating systems, roofs and electrical systems, by providing interest-free deferred loans. To qualify, applicants must be a resident of Norristown and own and reside on the property. Interested homeowners must complete a pre-application in person at the planning office. Complete guidelines and eligibility information is also available at the Planning and Municipal Development Office, 2nd Floor, 235 E. Airy St.
Source: Times Herald; 8/25/2018
Rep. Steve McCarter to hold town hall meeting Sept. 6
State Rep. Steve McCarter (D-154) will hold a town hall meeting on Thursday, Sept. 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Jenkintown High School auditorium, 325 Highland Ave., Jenkintown. McCarter will answer questions and discuss the most important issues facing the state and how best to deal with them. Among the topics will be the state budget that passed in June and how it will impact public education, clean water and air in the commonwealth. Visit McCarter’s website to RSVP. McCarter represents the townships of Cheltenham and Springfield, and the borough of Jenkintown.
Source: Jenkintown Borough e-news; 8/20/2018
Study finds discrimination in affordable housing voucher program
A new national study released last week by the Urban Institute found that landlords are often rejecting housing voucher holders, even when the rents are within the range of what the voucher recipient can pay. The housing choice voucher program is offered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide rent subsidies to families with the goal of getting them into neighborhoods with more economic opportunity. Study researchers compiled data for five cities: Forth Worth; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Newark, N.J.; and Washington, D.C. Close to 67 percent of Philadelphia landlords surveyed said they did not accept housing vouchers. The study found that voucher holders were particularly rejected in wealthier neighborhoods, which advocates say makes it harder for people in the program to change their lives for the better. John Sims, a board member with the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia, suggested that the housing choice voucher program can be a headache due to the length of time and regulations required to rent a place. The report suggests that cities encourage more landlords in low-poverty neighborhoods to accept vouchers by using signing bonuses and other financial incentives like waiving fees. The Philadelphia Housing Authority launched a new program aimed at helping voucher-holders move into neighborhoods they previously couldn’t afford, with better schools and access to transportation. The new initiative gives the authority the flexibility to set the value of vouchers based on average market rents in specific ZIP codes, rather than across the region.
Source: NewsWorks; 8/22/2018 & Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/27/2018
Philadelphia has high rate of reverse mortgages
Among the nation’s largest counties, Philadelphia has the highest rate of reverse mortgages, and according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Fannie Mae, those reverse mortgages are predominantly concentrated in low-income, minority neighborhoods. Between 2010 and 2016, the national average of reverse mortgage originations for homeowners age 65 or older was 20 originations per 1,000 homeowners, but in Philadelphia it was nearly 50 originations per 1,000. The number of originations fell after 2017 — which coincides with federal efforts to protect people who get reverse mortgages. Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker praised city and judicial officials for looking out for reverse-mortgage victims, saying, “Evidence clearly shows that reverse mortgage lenders are targeting minority and low-income neighborhoods.” Other counties with high reverse mortgage rates include: Salt Lake, Utah, and San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange, California.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/26/2018