NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Call for Action: Support the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account legislation

Bucks County
Bucks County wins $1.7 million workforce development grant

Chester County
County planners recommend adoption of Landscapes3

Delaware County
Delco to put health study, with possibility of county health department, out to bid

Montgomery County
Lower Merion to release complete draft of zoning code

Philadelphia County
Philly land prices plummet, as weakening housing market tightens purse strings
 

 



 

News Briefs

 

General News

Urgent Call for Action: Support the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account legislation
With only a handful of days left before the state legislature adjourns, many Pennsylvania Realtors® still need to tell legislators to move the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account legislation. If it fails to move this session, the legislation will have to be re-introduced next year. The legislative process will then have to start all over.  The program would allow Pennsylvanians to save money toward the purchase of a home, and the money saved would qualify as a tax deduction on their state income tax. Parents and grandparents would be eligible to save for children and grandchildren, as well. Many first-time homebuyers need help overcoming some of the obstacles to homeownership. Low wages and college debt make it difficult for young people to save money to purchase their first home. Research conducted for PAR showed that 56% of Pennsylvanians identified college student loans as an obstacle to homeownership. Contact your legislators today with just a few clicks. For more information on the program, visit FirstHomePA.com. Response rates for the Alliance’s three Shareholder Associations are currently: 8.4% for BCAR, 4.8% for MCAR, and 4.9% for SWRA.
Source: PARJustlisted; 9/25/2018 

Affordable housing bill advances in Harrisburg
Senate Bill 1185, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Killion (R-9), cleared the Pennsylvania Senate’s Urban Affairs and Housing Committee with a bipartisan unanimous vote. The legislation would increase private investment in affordable housing by creating a state housing tax credit. The new tax credit, modeled after the highly successful federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), will incentivize private investment in new and existing affordable housing. The goal of the legislation is to increase affordable housing options for struggling families.
Source: Daily Times; 10/2/2018

Why do some towns choose ‘home rule?’
Municipalities have the right under Pennsylvania's Constitution to choose home rule, which grants certain limited powers. Towns choose home rule for two main reasons, said Jim Nowalk, president of the Pennsylvania State Mayors' Association and mayor of Allegheny County's Whitehall Borough: money, and at least a sense of control. Of Pennsylvania's 2,560 municipalities, only 96 have chosen home rule, including 24 in the five-county Philadelphia region, according to the state's Department of Community and Economic Development. Philadelphia was the first to vote to accept a home-rule charter in 1951. Municipalities "don't like the limits that are in state law," said Joseph McLaughlin, director of the Temple University Institute for Public Affairs, but "most municipalities have considered [home rule] not to be worth the effort." A home-rule charter is a local constitution that sets out the powers and structure of government. Home rule municipalities have some autonomy but must abide by the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions and other state laws. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development calls home rule "limited independence." A municipality or county can ask voters in a ballot question whether they want to form a commission that studies whether and how to create a home-rule charter. The home-rule process, which includes public hearings and expert testimony, can take 18 months or more. If the commission recommends switching to home rule, residents then vote to adopt or reject the new charter. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/8/2018

Bucks County

Bucks County wins $1.7M workforce development grant
The Bucks County Workforce Development Board was recently awarded a $1.7 million federal grant — one of only two counties in Pennsylvania to receive the grant this year. The Trade and Economic Transition Dislocated Worker grant is aimed at aiding those laid off or otherwise unemployed by no fault of their own. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8), who presented the award, said the difference in the skills workers possess versus the skills they need is one of the primary barriers to employment, and getting people back to work has a snowball effect on improving lives. John Flanagan, executive director of the county workforce board, said the money will be used to train workers in skills like advanced manufacturing, information technology and metalworking. Bucks County Community College will take the lead in administering the training. College President Stephanie Shanblatt said the college sees itself as a “full partner” in the county’s economic development.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/3/2018

Quakertown schools predict enrollment drop
According to projections, far fewer students will attend Quakertown Community School District in five years. There are currently 5,209 K-12 students in the district, and that number is projected to drop to 4,862 for the 2023-2024 school year. Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards told school board members at the Sept. 27 meeting that the impact of housing developments on the district was not as significant as commonly thought and calculated that a 100-home development would only yield about 30 students across all grades. Superintendent Bill Harner stressed the projected 347-student decline would not lead to staff layoffs, rather, “We will be reapplying funds from retirements and resignations into reducing class size in the primary grades, then incrementally through the upper grades.”
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/4/2018

Federal court rules residents can sue for PFAS claims
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled that Bucks and Montgomery County residents can proceed with claims over water contamination near area military bases. The ruling reverses two years’ work of legal setbacks for residents against what had seemed to be a watertight immunity defense for the U.S. Navy. Two similar cases each requested the Navy provide medical monitoring for the plaintiffs, who had allegedly been exposed to toxic perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) in their drinking water. The second case also sought a large-scale healthy study that would assess whether the chemicals caused unusual amounts of illness in the affected communities. The justices hearing the recent appeal determined that residents can pursue funding for medical monitoring even though the Superfund law says the military has full control over the cleanup process and cannot be sued to change course. However, since the federal court has formal mechanisms in place to conduct a health study, residents cannot sue to force the government to take that action. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available on their websites as a public resource — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/2/2018

Bucks County Board of Elections relocates two polling places
The Bucks County Board of Elections has relocated two polling places ahead of the Tuesday, Nov. 6, General Election. The Milford Township Roseville district location has moved permanently from the Tohickon Valley Elementary School, which has closed, to East Swamp Church, Youth Center, 2405 E. Swamp Road, Quakertown. The Telford Borough polling place at Grundy Manor is permanently relocated to Telford Borough Community Room,125 S. Hamilton St., Telford. Voters in the two relocated districts will be notified by mail of the change. Detailed information about all of the county’s 304 voting districts is available on the Board of Elections pages on the county website.
Source: Bucks County; 9/26/2018

Chester County 

County planners recommend adoption of Landscapes3
Landscapes3, the plan for Chester County’s future, moved another step toward completion during a public meeting earlier this week. After listening to limited public comments about the plan, the Chester County Planning Commission board recommended that the county commissioners adopt Landscapes3. The commissioners’ public hearing to consider adoption will be Thursday, Nov. 29, 7 p.m. at Uptown Knauer Performing Arts Center, 226 N. High St., West Chester. Next week the Planning Commission will distribute the draft plan to the county’s 73 municipalities and other required entities for a 45-day review and comment period, as required under the state’s Municipalities Planning Code. Landscapes3 seeks to balance preservation with growth across the county’s landscapes through six goal areas: preserve, protect, appreciate, live, prosper and connect. To continue to balance growth and preservation, Landscapes3 recommits to core principles that will position the county and its municipalities for success, including resource preservation, revitalized urban and suburban centers, housing diversity, transportation choices, collaboration, and resiliency.
Source: Daily Local; 10/4/2018

North Coventry conducts comprehensive plan survey
North Coventry Township is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, which will guide important land use policies for the next 10 years. A task force comprised of residents has created a survey for community input as it seeks to formulate strategies for the plan. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and answers will be kept confidential. The results will be made public. In addition to the survey, there will be a public workshop on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Norco Fire Company, 144 W. Schuylkill Road, Pottstown. North Coventry residents can click here to take the survey.
Source: North Coventry; 10/5/2018

East Vincent to consider tax credits for fire volunteers
The East Vincent Board of Supervisors will consider adopting an ordinance titled “Tax Credits for Volunteer Fire Company Service Members,” which would amend Chapter 24 (Taxation; Special) of the township code to add a new Part 6, titled “Volunteer Fire Company Service Tax Credits.” The change would establish a volunteer fire company service credit program in accordance with Pennsylvania Act 172 of 2016, enacting real estate and earned income tax credits for volunteer members of the Ridge Fire Company, Liberty Steam Fire Company and Kimberton Fire Company, and establishing administrative procedures and appeals. The ordinance will be considered at a public meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in the township building, 262 Ridge Road, Spring City.
Source: The Mercury; 10/6/2018

Kennett Township land to be preserved with $1.3M gift
Township Manager Lisa Moore thanked the Mt. Cuba Center Board of Managers for having unanimously voted to award the township a grant of $1.3 million so it could acquire two parcels of open space. The township will provide more details about the properties, which total 123 acres, and its plans for them after the purchase is complete. The property is located on the southeast corner of the township near Delaware. Kennett Township will commit approximately $2.1 million to the property, Moore said. The land will be permanently preserved, but prior to preserving it, the owner may sell off 10 acres and the homes that currently exist on the property. Typically, the township does not identify exactly which parcel of land it wants to purchase until the deal is made, to avoid attracting other potential purchasers while negotiations are going on. Moore said the township’s grants ordinarily come from the state and county, and while both had been generous with such grants, they typically involved a 50 percent match from the township and imposed other requirements. But the grant from Mt. Cuba “amazingly” did not require any match at all, the statement said, and the Center awarded it just weeks after the township’s request. Chairman Scudder Stevens said in the statement that the grant was a major boost for the township’s ongoing effort to preserve at least 30 percent of its open space. He pointed out that many of the protected areas are held by conservation or homeowner organizations, but the ones funded by the grant would be managed solely by the township, giving it flexibility in options for recreational use and environmental protection.
Source: Daily Local; 10/8/2018

Delaware County

Delco to put health study, with possibility of county health department, out to bid
Delaware County Council approved moving forward with a health services study that would include the potential of a county-based health department. The last such analysis was completed a decade ago. “The final study will be used by the county to implement an effective structure for the delivery of public health services and policies,” Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone said. “The results of this study will include a thorough analysis with recommendations to enhance public health service quality and efficiency, including the advisability of establishing a county-based health department.” Some of the issues the study will evaluate are: health services for unserved and underserved populations as determined by infant mortality rates; childhood immunization coverage; rates of infectious disease; incidences and risk factors of chronic illness; and drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-related deaths, with a focus on opioids. The analysis also is expected to look at issues related to mental health, health insurance coverage and accessibility, environmental health risks, emergency response and preparedness, and social determinants of health, including violence and trauma. The study will account for differences in cultural, social and economic strata.
Source: Daily Times; 10/5/2018

New Springfield High School moves forward with contracts
Springfield School District continues to advance the $130 million high school master plan with a series of contracts. September’s agreements, totaling about $410,000, included four approvals and submission of necessary documents to the commonwealth, which will result in reimbursement. “The entire process follows careful and deliberate management of such an extensive project,” said Superintendent Tony Barber. The district will continue to keep the public apprised of activities, contracts and any necessary adjustments to high school operations. The district has a website devoted to the high school construction project.
Source: Daily Times; 10/7/2018

Upper Darby Township unveils budget with no tax hike
In presenting a 2019 budget, Upper Darby Mayor Thomas Micozzie said curtailed spending and innovative programs to increase revenue were behind the decision to not raise taxes in the $80.2 million budget. A homeowner with a $108,000 average assessment will pay $2,262 next year, the same amount as this year. “Given the significant cost drivers we face, this was not an easy task,” Micozzie said. “I worked closely with township administrators and department leadership to monitor township expenses and identify opportunities to tighten our belts so that we do not have to raise township property taxes.” The mayor proposed hiring a collection firm to improve the township’s accounts receivable for outstanding trash and sewer fees without any administrative costs. “While I am mayor, I am also a homeowner,” Micozzie said. “I too feel the pressure that real estate tax increases have had on residents, as well as home values.”
Source: Daily Times; 10/7/2018

Contract: U.D. schools, Clifton Heights agreed to public school use of land in 1992
The Upper Darby School District is considering building a school on the North Springfield Road field in Clifton Heights. The district leased the 13-acre piece of land to the borough in 1992 for community use. However, a clause was included in the lease stipulating the district’s right to end the agreement if the school board determines the land is necessary for public school use. “In such event, lessor shall give lessee written notice of its intentions at least ninety days prior to the commencement of construction by certified mail, return receipt requested, to lessee at the address listed above,” according to the contract. The lease further states that the agreement will automatically renew for additional three-year periods, “unless terminated by either lessor or lessee by 90 days prior written notice.” Despite the contractual right to terminate the agreement, Clifton Heights Mayor Joe Lombardo stated in a press release that the borough will do whatever is necessary “to stop any Upper Darby School Board plan to take away the Clifton athletic fields from Clifton Heights.” There are no plans in the works on the district’s behalf to cancel the lease agreement in order to build a school on the property. Currently, the school board and administrators have only initiated the bidding process for an architect to cost out where a new school should be built.
Source: Daily Times; 10/9/2018

Montgomery County

Lower Merion to release complete draft of zoning code
Lower Merion began the process of creating a new set of zoning codes almost two years ago, and on Wednesday, Oct. 24, the new draft code will be released in township libraries and on the township website. Chris Leswing, director of building and planning for Lower Merion, outlined the schedule of the release of the code, as well as the meetings involved over the next 10 months before the code is slated for adoption in July 2019. According to Leswing, the new draft code will be a completely new set of codes with a fresh format. The new code reflects the comprehensive plan and will include charts and drawings alongside the traditional text. The consultant hired to draft the codes, DPZ of Miami, Florida, will make a presentation at a building and planning committee meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7, and township staff will make a more detailed presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 27. Under state regulations, the township planning commission is also required to hold at least one public meeting on the new code to give its recommendations to the board of commissioners.
Source: Main Line Times; 10/9/2018

New fire safety inspections in Lansdale
Lansdale’s code department is getting ready to implement a new series of fire safety inspections for commercial properties due to an upcoming change in state law. Manager of Code Enforcement and Community Development Chris Kunkel and Borough Manager John Ernst announced that a change in state law means that Pennsylvania will adopt the International Code Council’s 2015 Fire Code, and the borough will be required to follow suit and make it the official law in Lansdale. According to Kunkel, the code change requires local towns to ensure fire safety features like sprinklers are installed in local businesses through a new program of commercial fire inspections. Township staff have identified roughly 800 commercial properties that would fall within the parameters of the code, a number lower than the roughly 3,400 apartments that are currently inspected biannually. The commercial fire inspections are not yet included in the draft 2019 budget for Lansdale. Staff will continue to review commercial fire inspection codes from other municipalities and a draft could be ready for discussion as soon as next month, said Kunkel.
Source: The Reporter; 10/9/2018

Lower Merion seeks residents to serve on advisory boards
Lower Merion Township is seeking qualified township residents to serve on the following advisory boards: shade tree commission; zoning hearing board (alternate); environmental advisory council; cable television advisory committee; and uniform construction code appeals board. Click here for more information about each vacancy. Qualified individuals should complete the application form found on www.lowermerion.org under the “I Want To…Apply For…Boards & Commissions” drop-down menus. The completed application and a current resume should be submitted to Jody L. Kelley, Township Secretary, 75 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, PA, 19003, by Friday, Oct. 19.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 10/3/2018

Learn about Bike Montco at upcoming workshops
Join the Montgomery County Planning Commission (MCPC) at one of three free public events to learn about Bike Montco: The Bicycle Plan for Montgomery County (PDF). Bike Montco envisions the creation of a future on-road bicycle transportation network throughout Montgomery County and is a major goal of the county’s comprehensive plan. Workshops will be held at 7 p.m. on three dates: Thursday, Oct. 18, in the Lower Gwynedd Township building; Tuesday, Oct. 23, in the Lower Merion Township Building; and Monday, Nov. 5, in the Abington Township Building. Click here for more information.
Source: Montgomery County Planning Commission; 10/4/2018

Federal court rules residents can sue for PFAS claims
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled that Bucks and Montgomery County residents can proceed with claims over water contamination near area military bases. The ruling reverses two years’ work of legal setbacks for residents against what had seemed to be a watertight immunity defense for the U.S. Navy. Two similar cases each requested the Navy provide medical monitoring for the plaintiffs, who had allegedly been exposed to toxic perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) in their drinking water. The second case also sought a large-scale healthy study that would assess whether the chemicals caused unusual amounts of illness in the affected communities. The justices hearing the recent appeal determined that residents can pursue funding for medical monitoring even though the Superfund law says the military has full control over the cleanup process and cannot be sued to change course. However, since the federal court has formal mechanisms in place to conduct a health study, residents cannot sue to force the government to take that action. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available on their websites as a public resource — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/2/2018

Philadelphia

Philly land prices plummet, as weakening housing market tightens purse strings
Prices paid for vacant land in Philadelphia have plummeted to their lowest levels in three years after peaking in 2017, an indication that the city's development boom led by townhouse, condo and apartment projects is losing steam. Buyers of bare development sites paid an average of $31.72 per square foot during the first six months of 2018, down more than 46 percent from last year's average of $59.23, according to public data compiled by Kevin Gillen, senior research fellow at Drexel University's Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation. The January-to-June prices were the lowest since 2015, when land averaged $26.94 per square foot for the year. The decline comes as apartment landlords face a surge in supply that's already starting to tamp down rents, while homebuyers tighten their purse strings in the face of increasing interest rates and other headwinds, according to Gillen. "We've seen a significant run-up in land prices during the recent development boom, and many parcels have priced themselves beyond what could feasibly be developed on them," he said. "We're seeing a correction." Last year's average vacant land price, calculated from Philadelphia Recorder of Deeds and Office of Property Assessment records, was the city's highest since at least 2000, the year of Gillen's earliest tally.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/9/2018

South Philly group asks chocolate factory developer for community benefits
South Philadelphia residents want to negotiate a community benefits agreement in exchange for support for developer Ori Feibush’s redevelopment of the 150-year-old Frankford Chocolate Factory on Washington Avenue into a dense village of townhomes, shops and apartments. A community benefits agreement, or C.B.A., is a community-brokered contract that requires developers to provide specific public amenities like affordable housing or a local jobs guarantee to residents affected by a large-scale development. The South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA) wants to negotiate a C.B.A. in exchange for its support as a registered community organization when the project goes before the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment. Some of the benefits SOSNA is asking for include a promise to hire minority contractors and include affordable housing, underground parking for neighborhood residents, and open space in the project.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 10/8/2018


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