NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
VA reconsiders limits on fees   

Bucks County
Sellersville focused on downtown revitalization  

Chester County
West Chester Borough Council taps Norley as new mayor  

Delaware County
Middletown picks new firm to study pipeline risks  

Montgomery County
Plymouth council tables LGBTQ protection ordinance 

Philadelphia County
City scrutinizes tax exemptions for nonprofits  

 



 

News Briefs

 

General News

VA Reconsiders Limits on Fees
On April 13, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking regarding revisions to allowable charges and fees associated with VA guaranteed home loans. In recent years, the VA has received complaints from veterans and other stakeholders, including REALTORS®, that restrictions on the charges and fees VA Loan borrowers can pay in a home-purchase transaction are hindering the ability of VA borrowers to compete with other buyers in today's housing market. The VA is considering ways to revise the list of acceptable charges and fees while still protecting the VA borrower, and is seeking public comment on how this should be done.
Source: Nar.realtor; 4/14/2017

Private flood insurance providers flow into Pennsylvania
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has redrawn flood maps across Pennsylvania that have placed many properties in flood zones that had not been there before. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has held almost all personal and commercial flood insurance policies in the U.S. since 1968. Private insurers were unable to offer premiums as low as the government, but that changed after hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy drove the program $24 billion in debt. The federal government was forced to increase premiums to match the risks and allowed private companies room to edge back into the flood insurance market. To help Pennsylvania homeowners get access to flood insurance premium information, Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller announced the creation of a website providing links to various private insurance providers in the state.  Homeowners can access the information at www.insurance.pa.gov by clicking “Coverage” and then “Flood” under the navigation bar at the top of the page. The page also has a link to the NFIP, which may remain the only option for high-risk properties.
Source: Central Penn Business Journal; 3/31/2017 & Pennsylvania Borough News; 4/2016

Bucks County

Sellersville focused on downtown revitalization
Sellersville Borough Council President Bob Rudick recently said that council, the borough planning commission and Sellersville’s all-volunteer revitalization committee are starting work on different facets of a revitalization initiative. After reviewing the results of a resident survey to guide revitalization efforts, borough officials and the revitalization committee thought that dividing up areas of focus for revitalization would maximize efficiency and effectiveness. Council will focus on local rules related to property maintenance to encourage more attractive, better-maintained properties. The planning commission will begin work on Sellersville’s comprehensive plan, and the revitalization committee will continue work on ways to attract more businesses to town, among other items. The survey results showed residents are concerned about downtown “blight” and identified private building maintenance, better sidewalks, and enhanced street maintenance as ways to improve the downtown. Visit www.sellersvilleboro.org for more information about revitalization, including a borough cleanup day and meeting schedules.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 4/13/2017 

Bristol Borough developer ordered to return deposits
Two people who placed deposits to buy townhouses in a Bristol Borough development have been awarded their money back by Bucks County Court arbitration panels. One unnamed client was awarded $30,990 for funds put down in October and November 2015 for a home in the Island View Crossing community. The home was supposed to be finished in a year, but the site is still an empty lot, said Don Marshall, attorney for the client. A second buyer was awarded $27,250 by a different arbitration panel for deposits and related costs. The developers of Island View Crossing are also involved in suits with their lender, Prudential Savings Bank of Philadelphia, that are being litigated in both Bucks and Philadelphia Courts of Common Pleas. The developers’ attorney in the bank case said in an email, “Island View has been working hard to find a new lender to get the project moving forward again. We believe that Island View is making significant progress in that regard and hope to have more to report on that very soon.” According to online record, other lawsuits involving Island View are making their way through the courts.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/17/2017

Perkasie approves plan for airport development
Perkasie Borough council gave preliminary approval to plans to develop a business park at the Pennridge Airport. Council unanimously approved Pennridge Development Enterprises Inc.’s plan, which includes two warehouses, a brewpub, a hotel and a medical office building. Although much of the airport is in East Rockhill, developer attorney Rob Gundlach said the business park’s development will start on the portion in Perkasie with at least one warehouse. East Rockhill Township Solicitor Patrick Armstrong attended the meeting and asked Perkasie Borough council to maintain a dialogue with the township supervisors as project moves forward. The development plans still have a long process ahead in the borough and the township, as well as approvals for variance permits from the state Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/18/2017

Tinicum Township to amend zoning ordinance
Tinicum Township, Bucks County, supervisors will hold a public hearing on May 2, beginning at 7:30 p.m., to consider an ordinance amending provisions of the township zoning ordinance. The meeting will take place at the Tinicum Township Building, 163 Municipal Road, Pipersville, PA. The amendments include a definition of the term “qualifying improvement,” a revision of the terms of the overlay districts, increased setbacks for accessory structures in excess of 800 square feet and 20 feet in height, establishing that nonconforming setbacks do not apply to new structures, adoption of the township watercourse map as the riparian buffer overlay map, and replacing all reference to the Environmental Advisory Committee with the Planning Commission. Click here for the township website and further links to the full text of the zoning amendment and riparian map.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/18/2017 

Chester County 

West Chester Borough Council taps Norley as new mayor
Jordan Norley will replace Carolyn Comitta as mayor of West Chester Borough. Comitta resigned as mayor with about eight months left in her term after she won election to the state assembly as a representative for the 156th District. Norley will serve as interim mayor through the end of the year. He said he will not run for election on the November ballot. Norley said he will focus on police work in the borough, advocating for implementation of the police department’s strategic plan, rolling out a police department app and dealing with promotions and new hires in the department. Norley also will help oversee renovations at borough hall and help make sure that temporary quarters are found for administration and police now using the building. Borough Council also appointed businessman Bernard Flynn to fill in through December for retired councilman Jim Jones in Ward 6.
Source: Daily Local; 4/14/2016

Pipeline talk continues in East Goshen
East Goshen supervisors discussed a township lawsuit with Sunoco Logistics and its Mariner East 2 pipeline at an April 12 meeting. The township filed a two-part lawsuit asking Sunoco to abide by what David Brooman, township special council, said were terms of a May 2015 settlement agreement. The suit alleged that Sunoco did not build an emergency safety valve, as was agreed to, and has moved the location of proposed above-ground infrastructure improvements, at Route 202 and Boot Road. The municipal authority serves West Whiteland, East Goshen, Thornbury and part of Westtown townships. The proposed pipeline would stretch from Ship Road to Wilson Drive in the township. Resident Tom Casey, a candidate for the Board of Supervisors, said he believes that pipeline companies are bidding out another 5 to 7 pipelines to cross through the state, which will eventually deliver Marcellus Shale products to the refinery in Marcus Hook. “We could be setting a very dangerous precedent with future pipelines,” Casey said. “The pipeline companies consider their existing rights-of-way, which often cross residential zones, as highways.”
Source: Daily Local; 4/14/2017 

Mixed reception for Oxford parking garage, office plan
Public reaction to a proposed multi-modal transportation center in Oxford Borough was mixed at a town hall meeting. Some said it would be a boon to growth and business, while others expressed fears that it would just turn into another tax burden. The meeting drew about 150 people who were able to view what the proposed garage would look like and how it would fit into the landscape. The presenters included Borough Council President Ron Hershey; state Sen. John Lawrence (R-13); economic developer Pauline Garcia-Allen; Borough Manager Brian Hoover and architect Steve Krug. National Penn Bank on South Third Street has sold its street-level parking lot to the borough for $1, which will be the location for the new four-story parking garage. The site will also hold a new borough office on the ground floor. Hoover explained the financial aspects of the garage and noted that 59 percent, or $3.8 million, has already been secured from granting sources. Another $1.2 million has been committed by businesses, leaving $1.5 million to be raised by the borough through a bond issue. He cited figures that showed that even with the most conservative estimates, fees for parking in the garage combined with a boost from street-side parking meters would pay for the upkeep and maintenance. During the hour-long public comment and question period there was still skepticism from borough residents, who had recently been traumatized with a 30 percent increase in sewer rates, widely said to be caused by poor planning and mismanagement. Borough council continues to seek input and will consider the statements made at the meeting.
Source: Avon Grove Sun; 4/14/2017

Delaware County

Middletown picks new firm to study pipeline risks
After voting in February to select one company, Middletown Township Council has voted to award the contract to complete a quantitative risk assessment regarding the proposed Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 2 pipeline to a different firm. The study will be completed by the international firm DNV. The cost will be $43,000. Council Chairman Mark Kirchgasser noted that there was an interest in making sure the township-wide study is based in hard facts. The goal of the review will be to determine specific emergencies that could occur as a result of a leak, such as potential impact areas, and establish evacuation zones and event timing. The results will be used to develop a credible emergency plan to prepare first responders and the public for evacuation, and to fund the necessary infrastructure and equipment. The assessment and resulting emergency-response plans will be funded by $100,000 allocated from the $1.8 million the township received for the necessary easements and rights-of-way on municipal-owned property. The report is expected in eight weeks.
Source: Daily Times; 4/18/2017

No change yet in Chadds Ford sign law
The Chadds Ford Planning Commission has voted against recommending what commission Chairman Craig Huffman referred to as a "piecemeal change" in the temporary sign ordinance. Supervisors in 2009 enacted a provision that allowed retailers and restaurateurs to put small, portable signs outside of their businesses after paying a $150 permitting fee, and supervisors had to renew the resolution authorizing the signs annually. In January of 2016, Supervisors' Chairman Frank Murphy said he didn't want that coming up every year, and a move was made to amend the township code. Some of the specifics at issue are the size of signs and how the ordinance change distinguishes between retail and real estate signs. Commission members want the ordinance to be clearer in how it addresses smaller real estate direction signs for open houses versus larger signs advertising commercial property for lease. Additionally, Huffman said he thinks there should be consideration of putting a time limit on some real estate signs. He specifically referred to "For Sale" signs, saying that a home could be on the market for years and rhetorically asked how long the sign could be up before it should be considered a permanent sign rather than a temporary sign. He asked the same question regarding "Sold" signs on a house that was sold.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 4/13/2017

Blackburn appointed Aldan mayor
Joseph C. Blackburn Jr. was appointed mayor of Aldan Borough by council, completing the term of longtime Mayor James Hopely, who retired last month. Blackburn has been a resident of Aldan for 34 years. Blackburn is a graduate of Penn Wood High School and following graduation, he joined the Delaware County Domestic Relations Warrant Division, where he located and arrested individuals who were delinquent in paying child support. Blackburn joined the sheriff’s office and was promoted to sergeant, lieutenant, deputy chief and finally sheriff of Delaware County. After completing his term as sheriff, Blackburn accepted a position at PECO as a senior security specialist. He was also employed as a part-time Aldan police officer for 10 years. In a related motion, council appointed Joseph Connolly as a member of borough council. He fills the seat vacated by Peggy Brookes Rankin, who last month was appointed borough treasurer.
Source: Daily Times; 4/18/2017

Wawa considers new location despite relocation of nursery
Wawa has reportedly changed its plans and will be constructing a convenience store in Upper Darby rather than a previously proposed location in Clifton Heights. Baltimore Pike and Oak Avenue, Upper Darby, is the new site, instead of the Clifton location a couple of blocks away at Baltimore and Jackson avenues. The change comes as news to Clifton Heights Borough officials. Upper Darby Mayor Thomas Micozzie confirmed the relocation after receiving a letter from the developer. According to Micozzie, the Pizza Hut and Burlington Coat Factory buildings at Oak will be demolished to make way for the new Wawa. Caught in the dilemma is the Batchhelder family, the owner of the iconic Hillside Nursery, which had to relocate to make way for the Wawa in Clifton Heights. Hillside Nursery’s new location will require some modifications before it passes a zoning inspection, Clifton Heights officials say. In addition, the nursery will not be allowed to operate on the new parcel until a building permit has been procured and an interior engineer presents plans to the borough. 
Source: Daily Times; 4/17/2017

Montgomery County

Plymouth council tables LGBTQ protection ordinance
An ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was recently tabled at a Plymouth Township council meeting. The ordinance, proposed by Councilman Marty Higgins, would have prohibited such discrimination and would be supported by a human relations commission staffed by volunteers. However, council members Dean Eisenberger, Lenore Bruno and Ron Trask voted to amend the proposed ordinance by removing the human relations commission language, with the amendment passing 3-2. Higgins said, “Without the enforcement part of the issue, it is meaningless.” Higgins proposed the ordinance after being approached by township residents who were surprised that there is no protection for the LGBTQ community from discrimination in Pennsylvania, leaving it up to municipalities. According to Equality Pennsylvania, 41 municipalities in the state have adopted anti-discrimination ordinances, including the Montgomery County communities of Lower Merion, East Norriton, Upper Merion, Whitemarsh, Conshohocken, Ambler and Royersford.
Source: Times Herald; 4/13/2017 

Pottstown’s Beech Street Factory apartments almost ready for big reveal
The $13 million conversion of the former Fecera’s Furniture warehouse into 43 apartments is nearly complete. According to Genesis Housing Executive Director Judy Memberg, the 28 apartments in the four-story portion of the building will be available to rent starting in May. The Beech Street Factory apartment project was a joint venture between nonprofit Genesis Housing and Syracuse, NY-based Housing Visions, who together helped secure $1.2 million in tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. The majority of the apartments are one-bedroom and five of those are handicapped accessible. In addition to apartments, a community art center will soon open on the first floor of the two-story portion of the property. Visit Genesis Housing or Housing Visions for more information.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 4/17/2017 

Big plans for 11-acre waterfront parcel in Bala Cynwyd
Penn Real Estate Group’s Sean McCloskey has spent 17 years plotting a $50 million mixed-use development on an 11-acre parcel along the banks of the Schuylkill River, the site of Pencoyd Iron Works since 1852. Last month, Pencoyd Iron Works ceased operations at the site, allowing Penn Real Estate to move forward with its plans to break ground on the first phase of Pencoyd Landing. The initial phase will include a public square, two hotels, a restaurant and the offices of Penn Real Estate Group. McCloskey said, “We are re-imagining and repurposing this part of the waterfront for the first time since 1852.” McCloskey also commented on $500 million in new projects in various stages within a mile radius of the proposed Pencoyd Landing, and underscored the bet other developers are making on both the Manayunk and Bala Cynwyd sides of the Schuylkill River. Other nearby development includes O’Neill Properties Royal Athena, a 275-unit apartment complex with 600 units possible at buildout; Post Brothers’ Presidential City redevelopment; Realen Properties 156-unit Isle and the Wilde Yarns Factory loft apartments; and the $46 million Venice Island Performing Arts Center. The recently opened Pencoyd Bridge is just steps away from McCloskey’s project and will allow visitors to use the nearby Cynwyd Heritage Trail to cross the river into Manayunk.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 4/14/2017 

Lower Merion officials discuss Cynwyd trail expansion
Lower Merion commissioners recently approved a motion to receive a new report on the proposed expansion of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail from the Cynwyd Train Station to City Avenue. The proposed trail would run along the tracks from the Cynwyd station for about one-half mile, continue under the Union Avenue Bridge and then join with Philadelphia midway under the City Avenue bridge between Conshohocken State Road and Bala Avenue. There has been no final decision or approval on the construction of the trail extension, expected to cost about $560,000. Discussion then moved to the larger goal of connecting the Cynwyd Trail to a regional trail system, linking trails to the Bala Cynwyd office region and improving lighting on portions of the trail, including the Manayunk Bridge.
Source: Main Line Times; 4/16/2017

Philadelphia

City scrutinizes tax exemptions for nonprofits
Philadelphia’s Office of Property Assessment (OPA) is taking a harder look at real-estate tax exemptions for nonprofits and religious groups. Michael Piper, who heads the OPA, said the city is making “decisions based on a robust interpretation of the law” and that it makes no sense “to address what happened that was incorrect in the past by perpetuating incorrect policy.” Qualifying as a charity under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code is not enough to receive a local property-tax exemption. A group must also pass a five-prong test established by a 1985 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision. It is not enough for a charity to own a property – it must also use the property for its charitable purpose. Nonprofits say a strict application of the five-part test could have a deleterious effect on the city’s nonprofit sector. Nonprofits own about $14.16 billion of the city’s $137.4 billion real estate market value. About $500 million of the nonprofit total is considered taxed property.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/19/2017 

DiCicco named head of Philly zoning board
Former councilman Frank DiCicco has been appointed chairman of the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustments. DiCicco, a lobbyist, was a city councilman for 16 years and created the city’s 10-year tax abatement program, and led the creation of the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Renewal Program and the Market Street East Master Plan. He replaces James Moylan, who was forced to resign as chairman of the zoning board last September after his home and office were raided as part of an FBI investigation.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/17/2017


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