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
SRA: As local governments close, what happens to property sales?
Many municipal government offices have shut down or drastically reduced their operations during the public coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak. Where does that leave Realtors® and their clients? Because municipalities have different regulations and are reacting to the public health emergency in different ways, each case is unique. For Realtors® involved in transactions being held up by municipal closures, the best sources for guidance right now are their company’s brokers and counsel, as well as suggesting that sellers and buyers consult with their personal attorneys. Read more about how the municipal closures in the Philadelphia suburbs are affecting home inspections, and possible paths forward, on the SRA blog. Realtors are encouraged to contact the Alliance to relay their own experiences dealing with local government issues during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Foreclosures, evictions postponed statewide through April 3
On March 19, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that residents cannot be evicted from their homes or businesses through at least April 3. "The Court is aware that the economic consequences of the covid-19 pandemic may cause individuals to suffer a loss of income, which in turn may delay rent payments, mortgage loan payments or the like," states the court order. The order also stated that all courts are closed to the public and all jury trials are suspended. State Sen. Katie Muth said in a social media post that legislators may ask for the timeline to be extended, depending on the circumstances.
Source: PGH City Paper; 3/19/2020
Gov. Wolf orders all businesses that aren’t ‘life-sustaining’ to close
Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday announced that he is extending his shutdown order to apply to all but “life-sustaining” businesses as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. The governor had previously urged nonessential businesses to close. Life-sustaining businesses that may continue physical operations include gas stations, farms, health care facilities and transit systems, according to the Wolf administration. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors issued a statement on Facebook saying, “We are aware of the recent declaration by Gov. Tom Wolf closing ‘non-life sustaining business’ by 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 19. We have reached out to the administration for clarification and will share updates with Pennsylvania Realtors® as they are available.” PAR is posting updates at its coronavirus information page.
Source: Inquirer; 3/19/2020
NAR provides updates on federal coronavirus relief legislation
In its first of several COVID-19 related relief bills, the U.S. Congress appropriated an additional $20 million for Small Business Admininstration (SBA) disaster loans, and clarified that the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as such a disaster. The National Association of Realtors advocacy team urged Congressional leaders to include support for self-employed professionals and other small business owners. NAR is happy to report that robust measures targeting these groups were included, and the legislation has been signed by the president. Learn more about the bill, Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), on the NAR website. NAR’s federal advocacy team is also considering additional measures to help the real estate industry, such as mortgage payment deferments, moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, and electronic notarizations in all states. While much of the legislation being considered thus far has been fairly specific, NAR expects legislation affecting the broader economy to be considered in the coming days and weeks. Click here to visit NAR’s new, regularly updated coronavirus resources page.
Source: National Association of Realtors; 3/19/2020
How to get a mail-in ballot
Act 77 of 2019 made significant changes to Pennsylvania elections. The law allows for more convenient and secure voting, including mail-in ballots. Voters can apply for a mail-in ballot in one of three ways:
The application must be received by the county elections office by Tuesday, April 21, at 5 p.m. to be in time for the primary election on Tuesday, April 28. Absentee ballots are still available to voters, but they require a specific excuse, such as illness, disability or being out-of-town on election day. No excuse is needed for a mail-in ballot. Click here for more information.
Source: York Daily Record; 3/10/2020
Bucks County government information
Public access to Bucks County facilities is by appointment only as of March 18. All employees and visitors are asked to maintain a six-foot distance. The county will operate with a significantly reduced level of personal interaction; it also will strive to maintain its basic functions while increasing its public health services. The Bucks County Recorder of Deeds has released an update (PDF) encouraging people to use the electronic recording (e-recording) service for land record or Powers of Attorney documents, and noting that the per-minute fee for online searching has been waived for two weeks. The Department Contact Directory includes phone numbers and descriptions of each department within the county to make calling for an appointment easy. Click here for a detailed county facilities and department update. The county has also created a website dedicated to COVID-19 – visit that site here.
Tomlinson prevails in District 18 special election
Voters in the Pennsylvania’s 18th House district turned out for a special election to choose their new state representative, and unofficial results from the Bucks County Board of Elections had Kathleen “KC” Tomlinson leading Democrat Harold Hayes by nearly 900 votes. On the eve of the election, Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey G. Trauger had denied an emergency petition filed by the Board of Elections for an injunction to postpone voting amid the coronavirus outbreak. The special election was to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, who is now a county commissioner. The district comprises 27 voting districts in Bensalem and close to 40,000 registered voters. Trauger ruled that he could find no legal authority empowering him to postpone a legislative election. Tomlinson is the 31-year-old daughter of state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-6), who has held office since 1995. Her victory means the township will be represented by a Tomlinson in both the state House and Senate.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/18/2020 & BucksCounty.org; 3/17/2020
Telford council hears voting machine updates
At the March 2 Telford Borough Council meeting, Bucks County Commissioner Robert Harvie addressed council members about changes in store for voters on the Bucks County portion of Telford. Harvie described the county’s new voting machines and said there is a video on the county website that shows voters how to use the new system. “It’s a 15-second video, because it’s that simple,” he said. Harvie also said magnifying glasses will be available, as well as an ADA-compliant machine that will allow voters with vision difficulties to use keypads.
Source: Souderton Independent; 3/12/2020
Wrightstown preserves 67-acre property
Wrighstown Township supervisors recently approved a deal that will protect a 67-acre property from development. The township will spend $806,000 to purchase a conservation easement on the property at Worthington Mill and Mud roads. The full cost of the conservation easement could have been much more given the property’s worth and development potential, but the owners donated the remaining value, said Supervisor Jane Magne. A voluntary conservation easement in Pennsylvania is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation/natural values. The easements allow property owners to continue to own and use their land, as well as to sell it or pass it on to heirs. Officials say that Wrightstown has protected nearly 15 percent of available land in the township from development since first holding an open space referendum in 1995.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/12/2020
Chester County government information
Chester County has provided a guide to essential services during the COVID-19 outbreak. Due to the current public health mandates and guidelines recently enacted, the Chester County Recorder of Deeds office will remain operating on a limited basis with essential staff only. However, to help ensure the safety of staff and the public, Front Office Counter Service is closed to the public until further notice. Customers can access the services of the office by utilizing mail services to record their documents. The Recorder of Deeds accepts documents for recording through the US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx. Electronic recording is also available for subscribers to the Simplifile E-Recording system. Documents are recorded same day or next day through the electronic system. To search for or make copies of a document, utilize the Eagle Web Records Search system. Contact the recorder of deeds’ office at 610-344-6330 or email@example.com with questions or concerns.
Coatesville Opportunity Zone site draws businesses
H2O Connected, the first Qualified Opportunity Zone (QOZ) business to open its doors in Chester County, will be relocating in late 2020 into a Qualified Opportunity Zone real estate project at 190 W. Lincoln Highway in Coatesville. The former Lukens Steel advertising and marketing office building, built in 1902, is being repurposed by developer Proudfoot Capital into The nth Innovation Center, which will offer entrepreneurs an environment to grow their companies from concept to commercialization. Other companies slated to move into the space include: nth Solutions, a product development, business incubation and manufacturing company currently located in Exton; BioForce Analytics, a provider of sophisticated motion measurement devices for industry and education applications; and Priority Green, a leader in traffic signal preemption products for emergency vehicles. Coatesville comprises four census tracts in which 1.9 square miles have been designated as Qualified Opportunity Zones.
Source: Daily Local; 3/16/2020
Development proposal sparks outcry in East Vincent
A request to rezone an agricultural property on Stony Run Road and West Bridge Street to allow housing to be built there has sparked a public outcry about development, complete with a petition to restrict it. A large crowd attended the March 4 East Vincent Township supervisors’ meeting to voice concerns and get more information about the proposal. On the agenda was a request by developer Jon Benson to rezone a portion of the 66-acre Ruth farm at 446 Stony Run Road. The current low-density zoning would allow for about 40 homes. An adjacent 98-acre parcel, shown on a map as the “Keely Tract,” is zoned rural conservation and would allow for fewer than 20 homes. Benson is only asking for a re-zoning of the 66-acre parcel, where he wants to put age-restricted housing. Township Manager Mary Flagg said Benson has said he will provide the Keely tract to the township as open space. After hearing multiple concerns raised by the residents at the March 4 meeting, township supervisors voted to hold the official re-zoning hearing on Wednesday, April 1. A vote may or may not occur at that meeting. A special informational hearing has been scheduled for Monday, March 30, at the township building, 262 Ridge Road, at 7 p.m. Flagg said, “We’ll be trying to give some explanation about what the development process is, what the law says and what the township’s responsibilities are.”
Source: Daily Local; 3/15/2020
Delaware County government information
Delaware County’s Government Center offices will operate with a reduced and staggered staff to ensure the continuity of government during the coronavirus outbreak, but the offices will not be open to the public. The Delaware County Recorder of Deeds office is currently closed, but staff is taking calls at 610-891-4152. The office is accepting documents for recording through the US Postal Service. The Recorder’s online records search page can be found here.
Delaware County strikes deal for services provided by Chester County Health Department
Gov. Tom Wolf has approved a request from Chester County’s health department to temporarily provide service to Delaware County. With about 565,000 residents, Delaware County is the most populous county in the state without its own health department. The agreement will allow Chester County to provide faster notice and distribution of information about individual cases in Delaware County, as well as increasing the availability of Coronavirus testing, designating quarantine areas, and researching positive cases. Under the agreement, Chester County will receive reimbursement from Delaware County for services that are not covered by the Commonwealth or federal government. Delaware County officials say the agreement will greatly improve their efforts to keep residents of the county safe.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/19/2020
Marple Newtown mulls new school at Don Guanella site
Realizing the need to expand the building and the limitations of its current footprint, the Marple Newtown School Board is considering a new location for Paxon Hollow Middle School. The directors have authorized Bonnett Associates, the architectural firm involved in districtwide renovations, to compose preliminary sketches for a new school on the former Don Guanella Village property on Sproul Road. “If the archdiocese property were to become a viable option, it would provide sufficient space to address prospective enrollment challenges, now and in the next several decades,” said school board Vice President Matt Bilker. “We want to ensure we have done our due diligence and have asked our architect to be exhaustive in proposing various options.” Bonnett completed a study in 2018 to evaluate, assess and identify concepts for potential renovation and expansion of the middle school and four elementary schools. The work was in conjunction with the demographic study commissioned by the district to predict future increases in enrollment due to anticipated development. Based on the findings of the report, renovations are underway at Culbertson and Loomis elementary schools and discussion has begun about improvements to Russell and Worrall elementary schools. Several are showing upticks in enrollment, which will affect the middle school in the next three to four years. Paxon Hollow’s current population is 810 students. Refurbishing the middle school would be challenging, said architect Pete Medica. The 140,000-square-foot building is on a 37-acre parcel containing a number of steep slopes, and the additions constructed in 2000 were curved to prevent intruding into the hilly areas. Paxon’s HVAC, plumbing and roofing must also be replaced.
Source: Daily Times; 3/16/2020
Lead poisoning ‘hotspot’ gets $1 mil grant
Delaware County has received $2 million in grant funds for lead poisoning prevention, including a recent $1 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The grant will serve approximately 60 homes in efforts to help Delaware County children and families be protected from lead poisoning found in homes and housing units. The grant money will be spent removing paint from lead-positive homes and apartments and providing temporary relocation for affected families. Remediation services are only applicable to low-income families with children under six years old, pregnant low-income mothers living in an older home or housing unit, and to landlords who only service low-income families. Also, a fee will be assessed to homeowners and tenants if the results are negative after the test is complete. https://www.delcopa.gov/ich/resources/leadremediation.html
Source: The Spirit; 3/4-10/2020
Montgomery County government information
Montgomery County government began limited operations as of March 18 to limit the risk of disease and transmission during the coronavirus outbreak. Check the individual webpage for each department for more information. Click here for general information. The Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds office has been closed to the public. Copies of documents can be obtained through the Public Access System, and the office accepts recording through the US Postal Service and through its four eRecording partners.
Former Audubon Elementary site prepped as possible testing site
A bright yellow tent has been erected at the long vacant Audubon Elementary School on Egypt Road in Lower Providence Township. The tent will serve as a medical testing site for the coronavirus (COVID-19) if needed, according to Todd Stieritz, public affairs coordinator for the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety. Stieritz stressed that this is “part of the contingency plan that’s not operational at this time.” As of now, anyone experiencing symptoms and possibly exposed to COVID-19 is advised to call their doctor. If the former elementary school becomes activated as a testing site, the department will give the public ample notice, said Stieritz.
Source: MontgomeryNews.com; 3/13/2020
Plymouth Township adopts International Fire Code
Plymouth Township enacted an ordinance adopting the International Fire Code in its entirety and made it part of the fire prevention code of the township. If there is any conflict with the International Fire Code and the Uniform Construction Code, the Uniform Construction Code prevails. Prior to the issuance of an operational permit, pursuant to Section 105.6 of the International Fire Code, each business shall pay a fee, as specified in the township fee schedule, and Plymouth Township shall inspect each business. A complete copy of the text of the ordinance may be examined without charge at the Plymouth Township Municipal Building, 700 Belvoir Road.
Source: Times Herald; 3/13/2020
Philadelphia Land Bank pauses plan to redevelop Kensington gardens into housing
The Philadelphia Land Bank, a quasi-governmental entity, is proposing to lease 59 vacant lots in about four city blocks to Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM) for five years. But after hearing public comments at a meeting, the land bank board unanimously decided to postpone any decision on taking the city land until a community meeting took place. Under the proposal, the nonprofit agency would lease the land — situated between West Norris, Berks, 3rd and 4th streets — for $59 a year while it worked to develop a plan for new housing designed to meet a growing need for both affordable and market-rate housing in the fast-gentrifying area. Neighbors say the project would displace them and cost the neighborhood needed community space. The mixed-income housing development — financed with a mix of private equity, public subsidy and other sources — would be built in partnership with Scannapieco Development Corporation, the company behind some of the highest-end condo buildings in the city. The APM-Scannapieco joint venture is still in its early phases with many details still not finalized. According to the proposal presented to the Philadelphia Land Bank, 51% of the homes will be sold to persons earning between 61% to 120% of area median income, which was $72,100 for a household of four in 2019. The remaining 49% would be sold at market-rate prices, according to the proposal. Neighbors who have been using some of the vacant lots for gardens and yards for decades found out about the project last week when signs posted by land bank popped up in each of the 59 parcels. At least 10 of the 59 lots are currently in use by residents of the neighborhood, a working-class Puerto Rican and African-American enclave. The signs said residents could give comments to the board but didn’t include a time or location of the meeting.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/10/2020