NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Bill proposes state park entrance fees

Bucks County
Horsham water customers to receive PFAS reimbursement

Chester County
West Chester proposal would increase taxes by 32%

Delaware County
Nick’s House perseveres in long court battle

Montgomery County
Deed scam targets Montgomery County homeowners

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program now matching up to $1,500

 

News Briefs Archive September 7, 2020

 

General News

NAR urges Congressional action on rental assistance, as CDC unveils eviction moratorium
The Trump administration announced that it will ban evictions of tenants who are unable to pay rent because of the coronavirus crisis through the end of the year with a broad new order under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health powers. National Association of Realtors® (NAR) president Vince Malta, along with CCIM and the Institute of Real Estate Management, released a statement in response: “While NAR appreciates and is supportive of administration efforts to ensure struggling Americans can remain in their homes, this order as-written will bring chaos to our nation’s critical rental housing sector and put countless property owners out of business. Any eviction moratorium must also come with rental assistance for property owners, the vast majority of which are mom-and-pop investors and are still required to meet their financial obligations even as they cease to receive income on their properties.” Read the full text on the NAR website.
Source: Nar.realtor; 9/1/2020

PECO announces new financial assistance plan
PECO has developed bill relief options to assist customers facing financial hardship due to the pandemic. The programs are designed to help customers get back on track with paying their bills and avoid building large balances that may result in an additional financial burden in the future. Many customers who were not eligible for financial assistance before can now participate in new or expanded programs. For example, income-qualified customers who have never before enrolled in the customer assistance program are now eligible to have their total outstanding balance forgiven. Residential customers can enroll in a payment plan and learn about all available financial assistance options at the PECO website.
Source: Daily Local; 8/23/2020

Realtor.com adds flood risk ratings
On Aug. 26, realtor.com rolled out a new property listing feature called Flood Factor, an online flood risk visualization tool developed by the First Street Foundation. Realtor.com is the first to integrate a feature enabling consumers to access comprehensive flood risk information specific to each individual property, including the FEMA flood zone and a risk score between 1 (minimal risk) and 10 (extreme risk). Users can now access the flood data along with other filters, such as schools, noise and crime. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) was involved in the process to add the flood risk tool and has developed a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sheet to help members field questions from customers about Flood Factor data. Read more on the NAR website.
Source: National Association of Realtors®; 8/26/2020

Coronavirus Best Practice: Provide a wastebasket
Whether you provide PPE like booties, gloves and sanitizer at your listing or the visitors bring their own, it's helpful to have a waste receptacle so used items are not left by the door or carried to another location. Visit the Suburban Realtors® Alliance coronavirus page for more best practices.

Bucks County

Middletown to consider human relations ordinance, property maintenance code update
Middletown Township supervisors will consider for adoption a pair of ordinances on Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. through an online meeting. The first proposed ordinance would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and access to education, establish a local human relations commission, and revise the membership and authority of the Middletown Township disabled persons advisory board. The second draft ordinance would adopt the 2015 edition of the International Property Maintenance Code, in place of the previously adopted 2003 edition. It would establish enforcement procedures, penalties and regulations for things like exterior property areas, swimming pools, spas and hot tubs, exterior structures, interior structures, component serviceability, hand rails and guardrails, pest elimination, light, ventilation and occupancy limitations, plumbing facilities and fixture requirements, mechanical and electrical requirements, heating and duct systems, storm drainage, and fire safety requirements. Visit the township website or call 215-750-3800 for instructions on how to participate in the public hearing or submit public comments.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/1/2020

Newtown Township denies 45-home development
Newtown Township supervisors have denied conditional use approval for a development of single-family homes near the intersection of Route 413 and Twining Bridge Road. Developer Toll Brothers has an agreement to purchase 158 unused acres of the 328-acre All Saints Cemetery from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The developer was seeking conditional use approval for a proposal that would cluster 45 homes on 36 acres and leave the remainder as open space. Toll Brothers has 30 days to appeal the decision to Bucks County Court — an appeal that will likely fail, according to township solicitor David Sander. Toll Brothers can also pursue an alternate “by right” plan for 61 houses — one home per three-acre site — on the property that would not require conditional use approval or any other zoning modifications. Sander previously advised board members that they would essentially have no choice but to approve that proposal. Residents opposed to the 45-home plan voiced concerns about traffic, water drainage and other issues.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/1/2020

Lower Makefield OKs zoning for Wegmans plan
Lower Makefied Township supervisors voted 4-1 to approve a mixed-use overlay district that could pave the way for a Wegmans grocery store, 55,000 square feet of retail space and 200 apartments across from Shady Brook Farm on Stony Hill Road. Called Pickett Preserve at Edgewood, the overlay met with opposition from residents when it was brought before the planning commission in July 2019. Lower Makefield planners, supported by the county planning commission, gave approval for the overlay last September, saying it was consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan. Residents opposed to the overlay cited traffic issues, overdevelopment and other concerns. Others who spoke in favor of the overlay said it would provide a living space for millennials seeking to move into the township while attracting the popular grocery chain. Resident and Realtor® Joan Kamens said the project is necessary since the township is in need of rental properties. At the urging of Wegmans, the proposal will likely include $6.5 million worth of on- and off-site traffic improvements to roadways surrounding the area.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/1/2020

Bensalem to use eminent domain to acquire parkland
Bensalem Township Council voted unanimously to begin proceedings to acquire the former United German-Hungarian Club site on Bristol Road by eminent domain for park use. The property, also known as Trifecta Sporting Club, is under agreement of sale to a developer. The township is using its power of eminent domain "specifically for the purpose of preserving parkland for recreation and open space," Council President Edward Kisselback said. Council members were concerned about the extra traffic the development would bring and also the shortage of parkland in Trevose.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 8/26/2020

Chester County 

County planners release housing report
Chester County Planning Commission has published its annual report of data on housing prices, housing affordability and new units constructed across the county, as part of the ongoing implementation of the Landscapes3 comprehensive plan. The 2019 residential housing data, which were presented at the commission’s meeting on Aug. 11, were largely consistent with the data from 2018. There were a few notable differences, including a 4.4% increase in the median home sale price ($355,000), a decrease in housing affordability and home sales, and a shift in construction from multifamily units to single-family attached homes. Additionally, there were a total of 1,409 new units built in Chester County in 2019. Read the full report here.
Source: Chester County Planning Commission; 8/27/2020

Affordable housing initiative in Chester County gets $1M boost
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency awarded $1 million in grant funding to HDC MidAtlantic in support of the Chester County Preservation Initiative (CCPI) for an $18.6 million effort to preserve 97 affordable homes in the county. CCPI homes are split between three locations: Ash Park Terrace, a 56-unit apartment community serving seniors and individuals with disabilities; Washington House Apartments, a 10-unit apartment community in Coatesville serving seniors, with preference given to those with disabilities; and Hannum Gardens, a 31-unit apartment community in West Chester serving families. The grant funding comes through the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement program.
Source: Daily Local; 9/1/2020

Kennett Heritage Center will soon have a new home
Kennett Heritage Center, which was incorporated as a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization in January, celebrates and documents the borough’s 300-year history. Its founder, Lynn Sinclair, is planning to move the center into a physical space at 120 N. Union St. The site will include static and interactive displays of the history of the Kennett area from the time of the Lenape Indians until after World War I, including an underground railroad research section. Organizers are planning an event to commemorate Kennett Occupation Day — the day before the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 when British and Hessian armies occupied Kennett homes and taverns to prepare for the battle — on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 4 p.m. in the 100 block of E. State St.  For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page.
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 8/26/2020

Delaware County

SRA to Upper Darby: Your U&O process is broken. We can help fix it.
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance (SRA) has contacted Upper Darby Township officials expressing frustration at the pervasive and serious problems plaguing the township's use and occupancy process. The correspondence, sent by SRA president/CEO Jamie Ridge on Aug. 25, cited common problems identified in an SRA survey of Realtors’ experiences working in the township. “The most common complaint is that there is no confirmation from code staff that a use and occupancy application has been received, followed by multiple failed attempts by our members to reach a staff member regarding the status of the application,” Ridge wrote. “The lack of communication from the township is causing considerable stress on both sellers and buyers, and in many instances it has meant that settlement dates have had to be moved due to the lack of a use and occupancy permit from the township. In the worst case, moving a settlement date can result in a lost interest rate lock or the loss of a sale altogether.” Ridge invited Upper Darby officials to meet to discuss the problems and how to resolve them in a cooperative manner, so that further escalation of the issue is not necessary.

School districts may sue Delco over residential reassessments
Three Delaware County school districts are considering suing the county for a perceived negative impact to homeowners stemming from the countywide reassessment. Marple Newtown, Radnor and Springfield school boards all took action to address what they see as an “unfair and inequitable shift” of the real estate tax bill to residents. Those actions included appealing “under-assessed” commercial properties and authorizing solicitors to pursue legal action. Delaware County has been undergoing a court-ordered countywide reassessment, and new values are set to take effect in the 2021 tax year. The Marple Newtown School Board said the district’s residential property owners currently pay 78.99% of the total real estate tax burden, but under the new assessment, they would be responsible for 80.91%, equaling a 2.43% increase in their tax burden and thus an automatic 2.43% tax increase. Delaware County Councilwoman Christine Reuther said, “We are sympathetic to the school districts’ concerns, but the county council cannot and will not put its finger on the scales to alter valuations.” Reuther said complaints about the new assessment values should be handled by Tyler Technologies, the firm the county hired to calculate new assessments, the county’s board of assessment appeals and the courts. If school districts elect to sue over the Tyler valuations, Tyler is contractually obligated to defend its valuations, Reuther said.
Source: Daily Times; 8/30/2020

Will drastic measures solve Chester’s financial woes?
A financial recovery plan filed by Chester Township’s state-appointed receiver, Michael T. Doweary, outlines several steps the cash-strapped city must take to rein in two fiscal crises impacting its “deep, intertwined and complicated” financial problems. The 84-page document filed Aug. 20 notes Chester has been subject to financial oversight from the state since 1995 under Act 47, also known as the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act. While other communities have been able to exit this oversight or made progress toward doing so, Doweary says Chester continues to struggle with multimillion-dollar deficits, past-due obligations to pension plans and only marginal investments in infrastructure. The two fiscal issues most strongly impacting the city’s ability to move forward are the general fund that supports day-to-day operations and a police pension fund that is “dangerously close to insolvency,” according to the report. The city faces a $3.7 million deficit in 2021 budget projections and similar shortfalls for several years thereafter. Gov. Tom Wolf declared a “fiscal emergency” for Chester on April 13, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. The full extent of how coronavirus and its accompanying shutdowns — including that of Harrah’s Casino — will impact finances is still unknown. Chester furloughed about 31% of its workforce in April and put certain expenditure controls in place that should allow the city to end the year in the black, barely. The report indicates the financial controls should continue as they are frequently monitored by the receiver and his team.
Source: Daily Times; 8/31/2020

PUC denies Delaware County petition, finds ‘factual dispute’ on DELCORA rate plan
The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has denied a petition from Delaware County to rescind a conditional acceptance of Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Inc.’s petition to acquire the assets of the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA). The PUC found that a factual question exists as to whether a “rate stabilization plan” exists as part of the transaction and that it would be premature — and possibly violative of due process — to rule on that issue without a full evidentiary record. The authority’s executive director, Robert J. Willert, praised the ruling in a statement. “The DELCORA plan allows for the mandated capital and maintenance improvements while keeping rates at a manageable 3% annual increase, rather than the projected 10% annual increases if nothing is done,” Willert said. Delaware County solicitor Bill Martin said the PUC recognized the county’s observation that Aqua has not provided sufficient documentation of the rate stabilization plan and determined the issue should be addressed by the administrative law judge assigned to the case. “The commission additionally clarified that a separate request by the county — to postpone further PUC review until resolution of related issues pending at the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas — remains under consideration,” Martin said. Aqua filed its application in March requesting the issuance of an order and certificates of public convenience approving a proposed $276.5 million merger with DELCORA that would be used to pay off outstanding debt and fund a trust to be used as a “rate stabilization plan.” According to Aqua, the stabilization plan would keep annual increases pegged at 3% annually until the fund is exhausted.
Source: Daily Times; 9/1/2020

Montgomery County

LERTA tax break approved for Luxor by Lansdale and North Penn
A 200-unit apartment plan proposed to replace a vacant warehouse on Broad Street in Lansdale has gotten the tax discount it needs to proceed. Lansdale Borough Council and the North Penn School Board voted on back-to-back nights to approve the Lansdale Luxor project for a LERTA — a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act incentive — that will gradually phase in property taxes on the improvements over five years. The property in its current state generates about $4,500 in tax revenue to the borough. Under the LERTA, once the building is done and the property is formally revalued, the taxes to the borough would increase in the first year to $19,400, then to $39,800 in year two, to $58,200 in year three, to $77,500 in year four, and to $97,000 in year five and thereafter. The developer estimates that the school district will see $2.5 million in new revenue over the next 10 years.
Source: The Reporter; 9/2/2020

Upper Pottsgrove zoners deny expansion of senior housing project
The Upper Pottsgrove Zoning Hearing Board has denied an attempt by the developer of an age-restricted housing project to expand the size of the project. Artisan Development Group appealed a determination by the township zoning officer that a parcel known as the Lord tract does not meet the qualifications for the township’s age-restricted zoning. The developer wanted to expand the project to include a third phase. The original two-stage project would build a total of 279 age-restricted homes along Kummerer Road, Pine Ford Road and Farmington Avenue. Discussion of the matter is tentatively scheduled for the Monday, Sept. 21, meeting of the Upper Pottsgrove commissioners. Should any changes need to be made to allow the expansion, reviews of the project would be undertaken by the township commissioners, not a planning commission. Last year, the commissioners dissolved the township’s planning commission in the midst of a long-running political dispute with its chairman, former commissioner Elwood Taylor.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 9/1/2020

Lansdale fills council vacancy
Lansdale Borough Council voted unanimously to appoint resident Andrew Carroll to fill a long-vacant Ward 2 seat. The vacancy was created in late February when Tom Work announced his resignation due to a move out of town. The vote for a replacement was postponed for several months due to the pandemic. Four candidates applied for the vacancy. Carroll, a resident for five years, has worked in the community since 2004. "As Lansdale has grown and matured since the turn of the millennium, it has been a pleasure to be a part of the resurgence, as a resident, a father and a businessperson," he said.
Source: The Reporter; 8/27/2020

County Commissioner Joe Gale settles lawsuit over social media censorship
A federal judge has ordered that Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale and his campaign “shall immediately cease blocking any social media users from following or having access to” Gale’s social media accounts and that Gale “shall not delete or edit comments posted” to those accounts. The order comes as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought against Gale in June by eight constituents. Seven alleged they were blocked by Gale after posting critical comments of him on his official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and an eighth constituent wished to view the full range of dialogue on Gale’s social media pages but was prevented from doing so by Gale’s selective deletion of unfavorable comments, the complaint alleged. The lawsuit maintained that a June 1 press release published by Gale that called the Black Lives Matter group a “hate group” had the appearance of an official proclamation because it was published on county letterhead and posted to social media during the workday. According to the suit, critics who condemned the press release on social media later found their comments had been deleted and Gale had blocked them. As part of the settlement, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Savage said Gale must personally reimburse the plaintiffs for the legal fees totaling $594. Gale said he was the “victim of a bad ruling.” Adam Zucker, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said, “This is not only a victory for the First Amendment, it’s a victory for the citizens of Montgomery County, because now they get to voice their positions on any matter to all of our elected officials.”
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 9/1/2020 & 8/19/2020

Philadelphia

City Planning Commission rejects plans for affordable housing on ‘very small lots’
An attempt to build 40 two-family rowhouses on vacant South Kensington lots and redevelop a former scrap yard into a luxury condo building has suffered a new setback. The proposal for the North American Street corridor is part of a set of two rezoning bills introduced by Councilmember María Quiñones-Sánchez in June. The city planning commission gave its support for a bill that would allow multi-family residential units on the industrial corridor, but unanimously rejected the measure to use vacant lots currently in the hands of the Land Bank to create mixed-income housing and a condo in the former scrap yard. Quiñones-Sánchez said the legislative package would require developers have at least 20% affordable units. Yet some working-class residents have opposed the bills, arguing they won’t be able to afford the housing promised by the projects and that they will lose job opportunities and open space in the area. Community gardens that have been tended by neighbors for years occupy some of the vacant lots earmarked for rowhouses. “People in our community, they can’t pay like $1,000 and something for an apartment,” resident Valerie Banks told the Philadelphia Planning Commission at a hearing held Tuesday. “That’s not low-income for us.” The development project voted down by the planning commission calls for a public-private partnership with Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha and Scannapieco Development Corporation. City planners have challenged its affordable housing specifications and open space plans. The planning commission plays an advisory role in city government, providing recommendations that legislators are free to act on— or ignore, as they often do.
Source: Plan Philadelphia; 8/20/2020

City accepts $10M grant for election plan
Philadelphia‘s election board voted to accept a $10 million grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to help advance an ambitious plan for safe voting in the November presidential election. Half the money will go to equipment to help speed up the counting of mail-in ballots. The grant will also be used to open 15 satellite election offices, where people can register to vote, apply for a mail-in ballot or drop off their completed ballot. Each satellite location will have a ballot drop-box with 24-hour surveillance. The city is aiming to open more than 800 fully-staffed polling places, including hazard pay for poll workers, after it consolidated down to 190 polling locations in the primary election.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/27/2020

 
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