Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Some local governments adjusting to COVID again
BCWSA fined $450K for Clean Water Act violations
East Goshen Township office operating at limited staffing capacity
Seven townships sue to stop Delco health department from taking over municipal inspections
Conshohocken to consider amendments to animal control regulations
Philly’s rental assistance program is ending
Big win for Realtors®: IRS’s guidance on pass-through income
The IRS released proposed regulations on the new 20 percent business income deduction for pass-through businesses. The deduction was part of the big tax law Congress passed at the end of last year, and it was a huge win for Realtors®. But it was unclear who would be eligible for the deduction. Now that proposed regulations are out, it’s clear the new deduction will be available to a wide range of real estate professionals. Under the new law, individual owners of sole proprietorships, including independent contractors, and owners of S corporations, LLCs or partnerships can take the 20 percent deduction on their net qualified (that is, ordinary, non-investment) business income. The calculation will depend on income thresholds, what type of business you own, and how you meet certain wage and qualified property tests. But the basic structure is very favorable to you as a small business or independent contractor. Realtors® were integral to the favorable interpretation in the proposed rules. The national association made a forceful case—both in a detailed letter it sent in June and in a face-to-face meeting with IRS officials in early August—that certain limitations on specified service businesses were not intended by Congress to apply to real estate professionals. And that’s the interpretation the IRS has ended up taking. The new deduction is available for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017. You’ll be able to claim it for the first time on the 2018 federal income tax return you file next year. Look for detailed NAR guidance by mid-September. It’s a complicated provision and how it works for you will depend on many factors unique to your business structure and your income. As always, consult with your accountant or tax attorney on how this deduction should be applied in your situation. Read the IRS summary with link to FAQ here.
Source: Nar.realtor; 8/9/2018
As land prices climb, small farmers look to lease
Many small farmers in places like Chester County cannot afford to pay $1 million or more for just 20-some acres of land. Brandywine Conservancy, one of the most prominent local land trust organizations, owns and leases 365 acres of preserved land and, in cases of conservation easement, ensures that more than 20,000 acres are forever used only as farmland. “While the farmers are farming, they are also doing right by the land and waters,” said Ellen Ferretti, director of the Brandywine Conservancy. “You will hear words like ‘love of the land.’ You will hear words like ‘beauty,’ protecting beauty. But there is an innate respect and, literally, a love for this place and the agricultural heritage of this place.” Instead of buying farmland, leasing is a viable option for newer or younger farmers, who generally have fewer resources than more established farmers but still face a competitive and expensive real estate market for farmland, said Wendy Jackson, executive vice president of the Land Trust Alliance. Ownership of about 91.5 million acres is expected to change in the next five years nationwide, according to the Department of Agriculture, of which landlords are predicted to place around 48 percent into trusts. Also, 26 percent is estimated to be sold to a relative or given away as a gift, according to the agency’s statistics, and 21 percent sold to nonrelatives. That would leave around 5 percent — or about 4.5 million acres — as farmland up for grabs by anyone.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/10/2018
55+ community, assisted living facility proposed in Warminster
Warminster Township supervisors recently reviewed a sketch plan for an 11-acre lot located at 911 York Road. Developer County Builders is planning to partner with CADDIS, a Texas-based health care real-estate company, to develop the lot into an assisted living facility and a 28-townhome housing community for people age 55 and older. The 156-bed assisted living facility would be built by CADDIS and would be broken up into 73 independent living, 59 assisted living and 24 memory care beds. “This is a revenue-positive project with no increasing demand on the school district,” said the representative from County Builders, adding the average age of the assisted living facility resident is 85, and the 55-plus rental community would not allow anyone under the age of 18 to live in the household. Supervisors also gave a thumbs up to a plan to split the 11-acre parcel in two. Each developer would then build their own project but share easements for the driveways, sidewalk and stormwater basins. Kevin Reilly, vice president of County Builders, said the land development applications, zoning review and studies are being readied, and he hopes to break ground by spring 2019. Warminster supervisors expressed their support for the projects and directed township administrators to work with the developers.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/6/2018
Bristol Borough bans outdoor release of sky lanterns and mylar balloons
Bristol Borough recently passed an ordinance that bans planned or intentional releases of mylar balloons filled with helium or other gases, sky lanterns and other similar airborne luminary devices. The ordinance is designed “to prevent the devices from becoming dangerous pieces of litter, creating a serious fire and safety hazard, and potentially causing harm to animals.” There are three exceptions to the ordinance: a balloon released by a governmental agency or pursuant to a government contract for scientific or meteorological purposes; hot air balloons that are recovered after launching; and balloons released indoors. Violation of the new law can include a fine of up to $500 plus costs and in default of the payment a term of imprisonment not to exceed 90 days.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 7/13/2018
Zoning records woes continue in Lower Southampton
Lower Southampton supervisors agreed to begin a deeper inspection of the township’s zoning department operations after residents demanded the board take action. A recent report prepared by Keystone Municipal Services found an unusual number of “irregularities” in the township’s subdivision and land development records. The board voted 5-0 to authorize township staff to create bid specifications for an examination of more than seven years of zoning permit and subdivision and land development records, as well as the fees and escrows for projects with at least a $50,000 cost. The specifications will be reviewed by the board prior to being put out for potential bids. The Keystone Municipal Services report also found that the township’s in-house building inspector performed energy inspections without proper state certification. Energy inspections ensure the mechanical systems and equipment comply with approved project documents and state construction code. Those inspections are now considered invalid, according to state zoning and building code experts, but it is unclear what remedy is required or if township taxpayers will have to pay the cost to redo the inspections. An invalid inspection would technically invalidate a use and occupancy certificate associated with a structure. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry did not answer specific questions about whether the state can order reinspections, but agency spokeswoman Lindsay Bracale confirmed in an email that if an inspection is performed by a person who was not certified, “that portion would need to be re-inspected by an individual who has proper certification in that area.”
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/8/2018 and Bucks County Courier Times; 8/9/2018
Bucks County pursues lead hazard reduction grant
Bucks County’s Office of Community and Economic Development has applied for a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes to launch a countywide lead hazard reduction program. The county’s intention is to build capacity to address lead-based paint hazard control, reduce housing-related health hazards and ensure impacted families are connected to healthcare resources. There are more than 34,000 homes constructed before 1940 in Bucks County, and the aging housing stock adds to an increased risk for exposure to lead hazards for many families. The county’s Rental and Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation programs have helped with the renovation of low- to moderate-income housing units for more than 40 years, and the county hopes to continue with this funding for lead-hazard reduction. For additional information about this new initiative, contact Meghan Kincade, program director at the Bucks County Office of Community and Economic Development.
Source: Bucks County; 8/7/2018
Phoenixville mayor’s task force looks to return rail service
Five days after Chester County released a transportation study that cited the return of commuter rail service to Phoenixville as a “long-term goal,” a task force put together by Mayor Peter Urscheler heard from a consultant who said it can be accomplished in the short term. According to a July 26 presentation by railroad consultant Thomas E. Frawley, there are “no technological obstacles to a demonstration project or permanent [rail] service” returning to Phoenixville, Schuylkill Township and King of Prussia. Two major issues must be addressed for the return of rail, Frawley informed the task force — operational and infrastructure requirements of SEPTA and Norfolk-Southern, which now owns the rail system, must be met; and securing a funding source “will be critical to determining affordability.” Brian Styche, transportation services director for the Chester County Planning Commission, told Digital First Media affordability will be hard to come by. The last effort to bring rail to the region involved a project called the Schuylkill Valley Metro that would have connected Center City Philadelphia to Reading with stops all along the riverside tracks, but would have been funded in part by tolls on Route 422. The idea met with significant opposition from the public and officials in Harrisburg. Frawley’s initial investigation suggests the cost of bringing rail service to Phoenixville could be considerably less than a regional line. He estimated it would cost just under $15 million to extend SEPTA’s R-6 suburban rail line to Phoenixville and an annual $2.7 million for operations and maintenance. As for stations, Frawley’s report identifies three possible locations in Phoenixville: the industrial complex at 41 S. 2nd Ave., Holy Ghost Orthodox Catholic Church and the “railroad property at Bridge Street.” In Schuylkill Township, the identified potential rail stations are: the Valley Forge Sewer Authority or the “railroad property” south of Pawlings Road. The potential King of Prussia stations are identified in the study as: Port Kennedy, the bridge construction staging site (where the Route 422 bridge crosses the Schuylkill River), or the “Mancill Mill site” further downstream. The Task Force will ask borough council for permission to further investigate the potential project.
Source: Daily Local; 8/14/2018
Oxford to hold meeting on transportation center
Oxford Borough Council will hold a meeting to provide the public with the most up-to-date facts and financial information about the proposed multimodal transportation center, garage and borough hall. The meeting will take place on Monday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m. at the Oxford Senior Center, 12 E. Locust St. The regular council meeting will follow at 7 p.m., at which time the council will consider and may enact an ordinance authorizing the acquisition of certain property interests for the construction of the multimodal transportation center.
Source: Daily Local; 8/11/2018
Anti-poverty crusaders fight to cut taxes for mobile-home owners
Even in Chester County, the wealthiest county in the commonwealth, many people go hungry in little-seen pockets of rural poverty and rely on nonprofits like the Honey Brook Food Pantry. A volunteer at the pantry noticed that many of the low-income customers who live in mobile homes have been overpaying property taxes, and the organization is now working to help them. “Mobile homes’ assessments are grossly overestimated,” said Ken Ross, founder of the pantry. Chester County documents often have valuations of mobile home properties that are out of step with the actual value. Unlike brick-and-mortar houses, mobile homes depreciate like cars. The last time Chester County reassessed home values was in 1998, county records show. So the assessment of such properties still reflects values from a few decades ago. Jonathan Schuck, director of the county’s assessment office, said that as unwieldy a process as it is, an appeal is a mobile-home owner’s best chance to lower an assessment. “This is one of those areas that mystify a lot of people,” he acknowledged, adding that the state legislature has proposed bills to aid mobile home owners, although nothing has become law. Often, low-income people don’t have the knowledge or wherewithal to fight for themselves in the face of too-high assessments, said Kevin Putt, a director of the pantry, who is also vice president of R-V Industries, an industrial equipment manufacturer in Honey Brook. Many don’t have the computers and printers, let alone money for filing fees, that one needs to mount an assessment appeal, he said.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/11/2018
West Goshen to hold sewer meeting
The West Goshen Township Board of Supervisors and the West Goshen Sewer Authority Board will hold a special joint meeting to present and discuss proposed West Goshen Township sewer system user rates and any other matters that may arise. The meeting will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 6 p.m. at the West Goshen Township Administration Building, 1025 Paoli Pike, West Chester.
Source: Daily Local; 8/15/2018
Developers present plans for Don Guanella tract
After months of speculation and meetings, the public and township commissioners got their first official look at plans for the site of the former Don Guanella Village, and what was presented by the developers wasn’t much different than what has already been circulating. Sproul Road Developers showed off the mixed use plans for their proposed Town Center at Marple Preserve, 47 acres area of commercial and recreational use on the 213-acre plot of land off Route 320 at the former longtime home of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Don Guanella School. There also was a hint at an alternative development plan that would add 232 housing units in the residential portions of the land, the so-called “by-right” plan that would not require a zoning change. Developers’ favored plan, the one they presented Monday night, as submitted to the township for review, would build on 38 acres for commercial space, roughly the imprint of the old Don Guanella School, and nine of the 175 acres of open space would be used to create soccer fields and other active recreation. If Sproul Road Developers gets the variance changes they need for their proposed town center, there will be more than 300,000 square feet of retail space as part of the development, including a Wegmans supermarket. A senior living center and a self-storage facility would also be on the property, which are said to be low-impact uses.
Source: Daily Times; 8/14/2018
Radnor Board passes stormwater management resolutions
After years of promises, proposals, enactment of a stormwater fee and periodic flooding, the Radnor Board of Commissioners approved four measures to help the North Wayne area with its stormwater issues at a recent meeting. These measures include: accepting bids to clean and repair the North Wayne Field basin; studying projects upstream of North Wayne Field; awarding a bid to Meliora Design to find flood-reduction options using the South Wayne Municipal Parking Lot for stormwater storage; and authorizing Meliora to study flood reduction for North Wayne and the Poplar bypass for about $137,000. These projects will be funded through the stormwater fund. “We’re all aware of the flooding that occurs in what we call the North Wayne area from Eagle to Willow and points in between,” said township engineer Steve Norcini. The projects will use information from previous “high level” work done by consultant CH2M and turn it into information that can be used for plans, he said. Meliora will look at the stormwater bypass pipe on Poplar Avenue and whether Cowan Park could be used for an underground stormwater management system. Meliora Design will also study ways to reduce flooding on Midland Avenue using the underground system at Radnor Middle School. The township’s finance director, William White, said the stormwater fund now has $4.6 million in cash on hand. However, officials expect to spend that down to $2.8 million based on what’s budgeted.
Source: Daily Times; 8/11/2018
Clifton Heights to update rental regulations
The Borough of Clifton Heights will consider the passage of Ordinance 862, which impacts regulations for rental properties. The ordinance’s purpose is summarized as, “to protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare of its citizens, to establish rights and obligations of owners and occupants relating to residential and commercial rental units in the borough, to encourage owners and occupants to maintain and improve the quality of rental units within the community, and as a means to these ends, this ordinance provides for a regular inspection program and scope, registration and licensing of residential and commercial rental units and penalties for noncompliance; and other remedies and the effective date.” The hearing will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at Clifton Heights Borough Hall, 30 S. Springfield Road. Clifton Heights currently has a rental inspection program in place. A copy of the proposed ordinance was requested from the borough.
Source: Daily Times; 8/10/2018
Towns struggle with sudden spike in recycling costs; some mull tax hikes
A huge spike in the cost of recycling is putting a strain on many Delaware County municipal budgets. Towns across the county are trying to figure out how to deal with the reversal of fortune — a program that used to provide revenue is now costs towns big bucks. “We are in a pickle,” said Parkside Council President Shirley Purcival. “It’s not that we want to stop recycling. We’re looking at what can we do for our residents.” There’s been a huge increase — from $1.17 per ton to $65 — in the cost to dispose of recyclables, and that cost is only expected to rise. Larger municipalities like Upper Darby are required by state law to collect recycling from every residential property. “We don’t have an option — we can’t not pick up recycling,” Judge said. “[It’s] another unfunded mandate, and it’s one we have to pay particular attention to going into the budget portion of our year, to focus on what we’re going to charge in 2019.”
Source: Daily Times; 8/13/2018
Delaware County evaluating extent of storm damage
Flash flooding and dramatic water rescues occurred throughout Delaware County as a result of a major storm in early August. County emergency workers spent about three hours conducting initial damages assessments, information that will be forwarded to Harrisburg. No properties were found to have been destroyed, Emergency Services Director Tim Boyce said. Authorities said Tuesday that 11 individuals from four families were ultimately taken to the Red Cross House in Philadelphia, and one animal was being cared for by Red Paws.
Source: Daily Times; 8/15/2018
Lower Salford residents oppose high-density development
Hundreds of Lower Salford residents came out to oppose zoning amendments that would permit high-density home development on about 60 acres of land near Oak Drive and state Route 113 (Harleysville Pike). The parcels are currently owned by the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., but the zoning changes would allow Metropolitan Development Group, of Wyomissing, to purchase the land and build two single-family-home communities. If approved, the 43.25-acre Marple Avenue parcel would change from medium-residential to high-residential and the other 12.34-acre parcel at Oak Drive would allow high-density residential in an area currently zoned for “Office Limited Commercial Development.” As part of the development plan, Lower Salford Township would receive 23 acres of the Maple Avenue property. The supervisors continued the hearings to Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 7:30 p.m., due to overcrowding. The township has not announced any plans to change the venue of the meeting from 379 Main St. Click here for the most up-to-date information.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/13/2018
Governor’s ‘Cabinet in your Community’ town hall on Aug. 22
Join the members of Governor Wolf’s cabinet for a “Cabinet in your Community” town hall meeting to discuss issues important to the region. The town hall will be held Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 1 p.m. at Montgomery County Community College, College Hall, Room 144/148, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell. Special guest panelists include: Dennis M. Davin, Secretary of Community and Economic Development; Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health; Teresa Osborne, Secretary of Aging; Leslie S. Richards, Secretary of Transportation; and Pedro Rivera, Secretary of Education. Register by emailing NRalston@pa.gov or calling 215-560-2640. Panelists are subject to change without notice.
Source: Montgomery County Commissioners email; 8/14/2018
Jenkintown announces website improvements
Jenkintown Borough recently made several changes and added features to the borough website. A “Photo of the Month” feature, with photos taken by Jon Adams, will provide residents and visitors the opportunity to see all that makes Jenkintown Borough a special place to live and visit. Also added is a Zoning and Land Development page that includes all current applications, plans and next opportunity for public comment. A Financial Dashboard powered by ClearGov provides financial information. Jenkintown Borough was the first Pennsylvania municipality to make this program available to the public. The borough is also pleased to livestream Borough Council meetings and maintain videos for future viewing on the website.
Source: Jenkintown Borough; 8/13/2018
Montco commissioners approve plans to boost bike infrastructure
Montgomery County Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to create 800 miles of “bike infrastructure” in the county. The Montgomery County Planning Commission unveiled its Bike Montco plan in late June. The plan, which will enhance the county’s efforts to advance bicycle and pedestrian mobility, was developed using a Transportation and Community Development Initiative (TCDI) grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). The plan, which includes design improvements and key policies for bicycle safety, fully addresses the current bicycle needs of the county by examining existing conditions and focusing on bicycling destinations and preferred routes and the countywide bicycle network utilizing state, county and local roads, and trails. Members of the interagency committee that developed the plan, along with representatives from the county, SEPTA and PennDOT, will sit down with regional planning commissions and municipal groups to gather further feedback on the plan, said Matthew Edmond, transportation section chief of the planning commission.
Source: Philly.com; 8/10/2018
Renters keep coming to Philly
A recent study by Zillow of the share of renters in the 50 largest U.S. cities said the number of renters in Philadelphia increased by 6.1 percentage points between 2006 and 2016. Philadelphia’s renter base grew faster over the past 10 years than most other big cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston, bringing the city closer to an even split between homeowners (52 percent) and renters (48 percent). Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/8/2018
Mount Airy workshop to focus on homeownership
A Wealth Building Community Day will be held at New Covenant Church, 7500 Germantown Ave. in Mount Airy on Wednesday, Sept. 22. The daylong session will feature a variety of financial workshops to help local residents move closer to their dreams of homeownership. Arlene Wayns-Thomas, Region 3 vice president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, is co-hosting the event. Wayns-Thomas said: “This is about education to elevate those in the community about financial literacy. We want more to embrace the concept of homeownership rather than renting.” The National Association of Real Estate Brokers is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that is the nation’s oldest African-American trade organization.
Source: Germantown Courier; 8/14/2018