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 for July 30, 2018

 

General News

Why some municipalities have bizarre borders
Pennsylvania has 2,560 municipalities within its borders, the third-highest number in the country. William Penn had envisioned township boundaries in straight lines running at right angles to the Delaware River and the Schuylkill, according to Upper Darby’s historical association. Instead, Pennsylvania’s plentiful rivers, mountains, and valleys marked numerous municipal borders. Property lines, especially farms, are responsible for many of the strange boundaries that persist today. Communities developed different identities and different wants. Rural areas balked at paying for urban areas’ paved street improvements and lights. Urban populations bristled at paying for what farmers needed. A desire for local control meant residents didn’t want to travel miles to the government building and wanted their own emergency first-responders. Odd boundaries and fragmentation often require close cooperation among police officers and other local officials. Transplants and developers get confused about whom to call for services and permits. For various reasons, consolidation fever never has taken hold in Pennsylvania. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/21/2018

Bucks County

State grant will allow Neshaminy to increase pre-K enrollment
A $1 million state grant will allow the Neshaminy School District to more than double enrollment in its free pre-kindergarten program. Neshaminy will also add Joseph Ferderbar Elementary in Lower Southampton as a third site where the program is offered, in addition to the early childhood learning center in the former Lower Southampton Elementary School property and Albert Schweitzer Elementary School in Middletown. The grant will fully fund Neshaminy’s pre-K program at no cost to the district or to parents, said Schweitzer Principal Amy Orlando, who also oversees Neshaminy’s Pre-K Counts program. The program will be held at the three schools five days a week with parents responsible for transportation. Neshaminy School District residents will be given priority, and income guidelines will apply. Click here for the informational flyer.
Source: The Intelligencer; 7/20/2018 

Bedminster to regulate short-term rentals
Bedminster Township supervisors recently approved a resolution to advertise an ordinance that will amend the township zoning ordinance to add “provisions for the establishment of accessory short-term rental use” of properties. The amendment must still be reviewed by the township and county planning commissions, but the current draft is targeted at buildings that are the principal building on the property and are used by the owners as their primary residence. Officials hope it will be ready for advertising by September.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/17/2018 

County sells human resources building for $1.46 million
Bucks County Commissioners approved the sale of the county human resources headquarters at 50 N. Main St. in Doylestown Borough for $1.46 million. The property was purchased by Stephen Worth, owner of Pipersville manufacturing firm Worth and Company and it is not known what the new owner plans to do with the building, said Bucks County Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler. Hessenthaler also said the county will enter into a two-year lease for office space until they finish consolidating departments into the county’s administrative building at 55 E. Court St. in Doylestown. The administrative building is currently under renovation.
Source: The Intelligencer; 7/17/2018

Lower Makefield advances short-term rental ordinance
Lower Makefield supervisors will hold a public hearing to consider a set of regulations for short-term lodging facilities, which would affect homeowners who rent all or part of their lodgings through hospitality companies like Airbnb. The draft ordinance requires annual township licenses and inspections for rental owners, plus mandatory ledgers detailing who their guests are and how long they’re staying. It sets limits on the number of rooms and consecutive days a home can be rented, which vary based on whether the owner lives in the home, and stipulates that the rental shall not adversely affect the residential character of the neighborhood. The draft regulation follows a controversial zoning hearing board case involving an 11-bed home listed on Airbnb, in which the township sent the homeowner an order to cease and desist renting the home out because he hadn’t gotten official permission to operate a bed-and-breakfast. The Township Zoning Hearing Board, however, dismissed that order and said the owner wasn’t violating local code because he wasn’t serving his guests breakfast or living in the home. The public hearing to consider the draft ordinance will be held Wednesday, Aug. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the township building, 1100 Edgewood Road, Yardley.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/23/2018

Chester County 

WCU: Close Church Street on campus
Next month a West Chester Borough Council committee will begin reviewing a request by West Chester University that the borough abandon three blocks of public streets that run through its campus in a bid to make the area safer for pedestrians and more sustainable. Representatives of the university presented a plan to the council asking that it vacate two blocks of South Church Street, from Sharpless Street to Rosedale Avenue, and the block of University Avenue between South High and South Church streets. The proposal, which would bring a payment of $400,000 to the borough from the university for reimbursement of lost parking revenue from the streets, was referred to the council’s Smart Growth Committee. If the council ultimately agrees to the plan, it would need to adopt an ordinance formally abandoning the streets, Borough Manager Michael Perrone said. There are a host of issues that would have to be addressed for the borough to go ahead with the plan to vacate the streets, including arrangements for emergency vehicle access to the campus, and rerouting of SEPTA and university buses that use South Church Street.
Source: Daily Local; 7/23/2018 

Kennett Township officials plan to downgrade soliciting ordinance
Kennett Township will have to weaken its soliciting ordinance in the face of an unwinnable legal challenge.  A business recently challenged the township’s restrictions on the hours solicitors can work. Township Solicitor David Sander said this is a problem for the township because case law supports the pest control company that has raised the challenge. A curfew that restricts soliciting before 9 p.m. can be seen as violating protected commercial speech, he said, according to legal precedents. “It behooves the board to amend the ordinance,” Sander said, because it would avoid paying legal fees and it could give them some control over the outcome. Sanders said he recommended that the board change the ordinance to restrict the hours of soliciting to 9 a.m. to a half-hour after sunset, Monday through Saturday. The ordinance could include a no-soliciting registry, and that list would be given to licensed solicitors. If they violated it, they could be fined and have the licenses revoked. License fees, currently $35, would be raised to $50. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Wednesday, Aug. 1, at 7 p.m. at the Kennett Township Building, 801 Burrows Run Road, Chadds Ford.
Source: Daily Local; 7/25/2018 

Atglen Borough to revise rental regulations
Atglen Borough will consider adopting a new ordinance regulating the inspection of units within the borough. A copy of the proposed ordinance may be found here. The council will consider the ordinance for adoption on Monday, Aug. 6, at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 120 Main St.
Source: Daily Local; 7/24/2018 

Phoenixville transit study released
The Chester County Planning Commission has announced the completion of the Phoenixville Region Multimodal Transportation Study, which will serve as a guiding document for multimodal transportation improvements. The region encompasses five municipalities in the northeastern part of the county — Charlestown, East Pikeland, Phoenixville, Schuylkill and West Vincent — as well as Upper Providence in neighboring Montgomery County. “Since nearly 84 percent of the residents in this area currently commute to work by driving alone, this plan looks at ways to diversify transportation modes in the Phoenixville region,” said Brian O’Leary, executive director of the planning commission. “Of the 26 projects associated with this plan, the study committee identified 13 priority projects, ranging from trails to intersection improvements.” This project addresses the limitations of the current conditions for walking, biking and transit use and focuses on ways to handle key challenges, including gaps in the network, lack of connections between urban and suburban centers, and lack of access to public transportation. The plan identifies potential capital improvements and programming initiatives to increase the safety and efficiency of the transportation network regardless of age, ability or mode of travel. The study provides short-, medium- and long-term multimodal solutions and serves as a starting point for the Phoenixville region’s municipalities to implement the recommendations. Find out more information about the plan here.
Source: Daily Local; 7/20/2018

Delaware County

Delaware County conducts housing survey
Delaware County is creating a housing plan to guide county policy for the next 20 years based on community input. It is looking for input from residents with ideas about what types of housing they’d like to see, and from anyone with partners or clients who are interested in the future of housing at all price levels. The survey can be completed at tiny.cc/DelCoHousingPlan. The county also encourages people to share the survey information with interested parties using sample Twitter and Facebook posts that can be found in its marketing kit.
Source: Delaware County Planning Department; 7/13/2018 

Rose Valley sewer system hooks up with DELCORA
The Rose Valley sewer system has successfully been connected to the main DELCORA (Delaware County Regional Water Quality Authority) system and decommissioned its treatment plant. The authority, which has been operating the treatment plant and sewer system for nearly a decade, completed the necessary pump station and force main to join the borough system to its main system. 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. The capital costs for the conversion project were close to $3 million. DELCORA representatives had reviewed the anticipated impact on users and had previously indicated that the annual fee for borough households tied to the system was expected to increase by approximately $300. The actual cost to consumers may be lower. DELCORA will begin billing customers next year after the authority completes its 2019 budget.
Source: Daily Times; 7/24/2018 

How Media became 'a cool place to go in the suburbs'
Media Borough, Delaware County’s seat, has built a brand around the passion of its 5,000 residents and the lively, ever-growing restaurant scene. In the downtown area, dozens of restaurants draw diners from across the region, and Media is only expanding, with luxury apartments and a state-of-the-art mixed-use development coming soon. Media boasts 50 restaurants, 30 shops and 45 other businesses in its three-quarters of a square mile. “I think what you’re really seeing is pride in the community,” said Brian Hall, borough council president. Michael Markman, a local developer and native of nearby Lower Merion, said “Initially, Media was an area driven by the courthouse, kind of a smaller suburban downtown,” but it has become “a cool place to go in the suburbs.” Markman, president of BET Investments, is working on two projects that are slated to open in Media in the coming months: the West End Flats, an upscale apartment complex, and the Promenade at Granite Run, a town-center-like mixed-use development with shops, restaurants, offices and luxury apartments. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/20/2018 

Chadds Ford business privilege tax collections
Chadds Ford’s Mercantile and Business Privilege Tax (BPT) was adopted by Ordinance #116 in 2006, and the Local Services Tax (LST) was adopted by Ordinance #119 in 2009. Municipal Resources Recovery Systems was contracted to collect LST and BPT taxes for the township as of October 2017. Delinquent notices were recently sent out. The procedure to dispute the penalties is to 1) pay the taxes you owe, and 2) dispute the penalties in writing. Without paying the taxes you owe, any written dispute of the penalties will not be considered. The written dispute needs to be sent to the attention of the Chadds Ford Township Board of Supervisors:
ATTN: Board of Supervisors, Chadds Ford Township
MRRS, LLC
17 Veterans Square, 2nd Floor
P.O. Box 1391
Media, PA  19063-3217
Source: Chadds Ford Township; 7/12/2018

Montgomery County

Abington approves settlement ending apartment dispute
Abington Township Commissioners recently approved by a 9-3 vote the signing of an agreement among the township, its former fire marshal and Old York LLC/Metropolitan Properties of America that will drop a series of state and federal lawsuits filed by the parties against each other. The agreement will end ongoing controversies over a 500-plus unit apartment building, formerly known as the Colonade, at Old York and Township Line roads. The settlement will also “toss out” accumulated code violations levied against the property owner but will not waive the township’s obligation to properly enforce its codes and laws, said township solicitor Michael Clarke. The settlement also includes a “mutual non-disparaging clause” that means those involved cannot talk about the issue once the settlement is signed. In 2012, the township cited the owner of the building for nearly 200 code violations. The conflict began when Old York objected to upgrading the building’s fire-safety system or installing more fire sprinklers during renovations that began in 2014 — something the township and fire marshal said was necessary. The building, built in 1955, has since undergone a $26 million renovation and a rebranding as 100 York.
Source: Philly.com; 7/18/2018 

Lansdale to consider proposed Code Adoption Ordinance
Lansdale Borough Council will consider and possibly adopt a proposed Code Adoption Ordinance on Sunday, Aug. 15, at 7 p.m. The proposed Code Adoption Ordinance and the code may be examined in the office of the Borough Secretary, 1 Vine St., during regular business hours. The proposed ordinance states that the provisions of the code are intended as the continuation of legislation in effect immediately prior to adoption of this ordinance. It lays out a responsibility to keep code books up to date, and provides penalties for tampering with the code. Read the public notice for the ordinance or visit the Lansdale Borough website for more information.
Source: The Reporter; 7/19/2018 

Norristown looks to clean up public spaces
Norristown Municipal Council kicked off its efforts to beautify the municipality in Poley Park at Marshall and Markley streets. Council plans to tackle issues in public areas, including illegal dumping, squatting and other problems that affect public spaces. Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones said that in addition to cleaning up the sites, council will be working to make sure that the areas remain clean by using an increased police presence and additional signage. Work is also planned for underneath the Danehower/Markley Street Bridge on East Washington Street and underneath the Arch Street Bridge, as well as several other sites. Norristown recently became the first local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful in Montgomery County. The Keep Norristown Beautiful mission is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the beauty of Norristown and promoting a cleaner and more sustainable community through conservation initiatives, education programs, beautification projects and volunteer action.
Source: Times Herald; 7/20/2018 

County construction studies show hot housing and commercial markets
The number of housing units built and nonresidential square footage completed in Montgomery County in 2017 show a hot suburban real estate market, according to two new reports issued by the Montgomery County Planning Commission. According to the 2017 Housing Units Built report, the 1,964 housing units constructed in 2017 have an estimated taxable property value of approximately $318 million. More than 40 percent of the new housing units (858 units) are apartments. In recent years, multifamily has been the fastest-growing housing type within the county. According to the 2017 Nonresidential Construction report, the more than 1.6 million square feet of nonresidential construction completed last year was the second highest amount within the past five years. “These reports indicate that Montgomery County’s housing market is strong, businesses are investing in our county, and our economy is growing,” said Dr. Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. The publications are available under “Reports” on the county website.
Source: Montgomery County Planning Commission; 7/24/2018

Philadelphia

Soda tax upheld by state Supreme Court
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that Philadelphia’s 1.5-cent per ounce tax on soda and other sweetened drinks does not illegally duplicate another existing tax. The challenge to the soda tax was brought by merchants and the beverage industry, who said the tax duplicates taxes already in place on retail sales of soda in the city, violating the Sterling Act. The four-justice majority said the state taxes sales at the retail level, a cost that falls directly on consumers, but the city’s beverage tax applies to distributor and dealer-level transactions. If fully passed on to consumers, Philadelphia’s soda tax adds $1.44 on a six-pack of 16-ounce bottles. Mayor Jim Kenney said the ruling “offers renewed hope for tens of thousands of Philadelphia children and families for better lives in the face of rampant poverty.” The soda tax raised nearly $79 million in 2017 and benefits schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries.
Source: York Dispatch; 7/19/2018 

More city money for anti-eviction efforts brings expanded access to legal services for tenants
During city budget negotiations in the spring, it looked as if a line item to help tenants facing eviction might be in peril. But in the final deal, funding for landlord-tenant court reforms actually was boosted to $850,000, from $500,000. “We wanted to see the work expand, and this will allow us to build out what we had started earlier this year,” said City Councilwoman Helen Gym, one of the leading voices for eviction court reform in Philadelphia politics. It was Gym who secured the original $500,000 for anti-eviction funding in the 2017-2018 budget. Her effort, and the Eviction Task Force set up by the city soon after, was seen as a part of a larger national effort to address inequities in rent-related legal issues. In eviction cases, research has found, the vast majority of tenants do not have access to lawyers, while the vast majority of landlords do. The original $500,000 infusion Gym secured was spent to hire another lawyer at Community Legal Services, as well as additional staffing at other legal-aid services. Phillips estimated that there are now the equivalent of eight full-time lawyers working on the tenant side in rent court cases. Before the infusion of municipal dollars, there were five. Money from the city also bolstered the operations of the Landlord-Tenant Help Center, extending its service from part-time to full-time. Previously open 10 hours a week, the center now operates 36 to 40 hours a week. The tenant legal-aid hotline (267-443-2500), which previously had been automated, is now staffed by the Tenant Union Representative Network between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Other initiatives include the creation of a free tenant-resource guidebook and advance outreach to those who are facing eviction court dates, in an attempt to increase the number of tenants who actually attend their hearings.
Source: PlanPhilly; 7/24/2018


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