NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Some local governments adjusting to COVID again

Bucks County
BCWSA fined $450K for Clean Water Act violations

Chester County
East Goshen Township office operating at limited staffing capacity

Delaware County
Seven townships sue to stop Delco health department from taking over municipal inspections

Montgomery County
Conshohocken to consider amendments to animal control regulations

Philadelphia County
Philly’s rental assistance program is ending

 

News Briefs Archive May 31, 2021

 

General News

Loan preference shutting buyers out of hot housing market
Today’s ultra-competitive housing market is shutting some buyers out. The hot market has some buyers offering cash, paying above asking price and waiving contingencies. To help a buyer’s chances, some buyers’ agents are suggesting clients switch away from Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans to improve their odds with sellers. FHA mortgages are meant to make home ownership accessible to people that may face barriers to getting loans — including first-time home buyers, racial groups traditionally underserved in the conventional market, and those with low to moderate incomes. FHA loans allow lower credit scores than conventional loans, but also come with stricter appraisals and inspections that cannot be waived prior to a sale. If a sale with an FHA appraisal doesn’t go through, the appraisal still applies to future FHA buyers interested in the property for the next six months — possibly placing sellers at a disadvantage with a lower appraised value during a time of skyrocketing prices and bidding wars. Sellers can also ask the buyer to pay the difference between the appraised value and the sale price. FHA borrowers historically have less cash on hand and would be knocked out of the running in a price war. Realtors® are warned that a seller’s decision to go with one type of loan product over another may seem neutral, but it may be discriminatory if it disadvantages groups of people who are protected under the Fair Housing Act. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/24/2021

Court maintains CDC eviction moratorium pending appeal
Ongoing litigation regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC's) nationwide eviction moratorium has resulted in a recent stay issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which means the CDC order remains in place nationwide pending further appeals. The Alabama and Georgia Associations of Realtors, two housing providers and their property management companies filed the lawsuit in November 2020, challenging the CDC's authority to issue the eviction moratorium on a number of statutory and constitutional grounds, and in defense of the millions of mom-and-pop housing providers across the country whose financial futures have been threatened following months of lost income due to unpaid rent as a result of the moratorium. Housing providers rely on rental payments to pay the mortgages on the properties, taxes, and general upkeep to maintain the properties' safety and livability. A decision by the D.C. Circuit Court on vacating the stay is anticipated by the end of the month.
Source: Nar.Realtor; 5/25/2021

Bucks County

Work at Keystone Trade Center site in Falls to begin
NorthPoint Development will start pouring footing and foundations soon for a 1-million-square-foot warehouse at the former U.S. Steel property in Falls Township. The work is starting ahead of approval and required permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies. Falls Township approved an indemnity and hold harmless agreement that protects the township and ensures that the township is not held responsible for any pre-construction activities, responsibilities or costs borne by NorthPoint. Preliminary site work for this first phase of the project is expected to take three or four months to complete.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/20/2021

Housing authority opens wait list for Bristol townhouses
The Bucks County Housing Authority has reopened its waiting lists for two locations in Bristol Township —two- and three- bedroom townhouses in Venice Ashby Phase I, and one-, two- and three-bedroom townhouses in Venice Ashby Phase II. Applicants must be of lower income and meet occupancy standards for the appropriate bedroom size. For more information and to apply, visit the housing authority’s website.
Source: Intelligencer; 5/16/2021

Upper Makefield offers tree grants
Upper Makefield Township is offering grants to residents for planting trees native to Pennsylvania on their property. Reforestation helps to restore riparian buffer areas impacted by severe weather and flooding, promotes wildlife habitat, and offers thermal protection of homes. The UMTree Grant program allows property owners to apply for reimbursement of up to $50 per tree for the cost of the tree, $25 per tree for planting and $6 per tree for tree protection. The program is funded by developer fees paid to the township and not from taxpayer dollars.
Source: Upper Makefield Township; 5/2021

Durham adopts wait-and-see approach for Covid funding
Durham Township supervisors have agreed to a wait-and-see approach on a decision for how to spend about $112,000 of funds from the American Rescue Plan. Township solicitor Peter Nelson advised the supervisors to hold off on any spending decisions until federal guidelines describing appropriate uses for the relief funds are finalized. The aid amounts to about one-quarter of Durham’s annual budget of $432,000.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 5/20/2021

Chester County 

East Coventry to update sign ordinance
East Coventry Township supervisors will hold a public hearing to consider and possibly adopt an ordinance amending Chapter 27, Zoning, of the township code. The draft ordinance would affect definitions for many terms, including sign, banner, directional, real estate, residential and subject property. It would update Part 13, General and Supplemental Regulations and Design Standards, to contain the subsections on: purpose; general regulations; freestanding signs; prohibited signs; exempted signs; temporary signs; signs in residential districts; signs in commercial districts; and abandoned signs, among others. Copies of the proposed ordinance are available at the East Coventry Township Building, 855 Ellis Woods Road, Pottstown. The public hearing to consider the ordinance will be held on Monday, June 14, in the township building.
Source: Mercury; 5/25/2021

Chesco commissioners resume in-person meetings, push for virtual option to remain
On May 20, the Chester County Commissioners conducted their first in-person board meeting in more than a year. Under Act 15 of 2020, the commissioners had been able to conduct their business meetings virtually during the state’s emergency declaration. While the commissioners expressed gratitude to return to the courthouse for in-person meetings, they also sought to hold onto one benefit of the virtual meetings — a notable increase in public participation. The commissioners adopted Resolution 22-21, asking the state legislature to continue to allow virtual meeting platforms to take the place of in-person meetings by county governments. “We believe that maintaining the ability to utilize these platforms on a permanent basis and outside of a declared emergency would benefit the county and the community,” the resolution said.
Source: Daily Local; 5/21/2021

Tempers flare as rail service study funded in West Chester
West Chester Borough council voted to fund a new study on the impact of restoring rail service to the borough, but only by a slim majority and after 32 minutes of heated discussion. Finance Committee Chair Bernie Flynn started off the debate by saying that with borough parking revenues down more than 50%, the money needed is not in the budget. Parking is a major revenue source for the borough and has drastically decreased since the pandemic began. Mayor Jordan Norley argued that the study would determine the economic impact on lower socio-economic areas and whether those areas would benefit or not. In the end, the board voted 4-3 to spend the money on the study. The price tag for the project to connect West Chester with the Media-Elwyn Line and Philadelphia by rail, with an existing right of way, is about $300 million. Norley said he hopes to capture some of the $80 billion from President Joe Biden’s proposed rail service infrastructure program funding, which is part of a $2 trillion spending plan. Congress has not yet voted on the Biden plan.
Source: Daily Local; 5/22/2021

Interactive maps let property owners trace their land back to Battle of the Brandywine
A set of interactive property maps completed by Chester County archivists allow property owners in the southeast area of the county to delve into the history of their land, and see how it ties into one of the critical battles for American freedom. The 1777 Property Atlas Portal produced by the county’s Office of Archives and Records Services shows how individual properties were impacted by the Battle of the Brandywine, which took place on Sept. 11, 1777. It shows who owned properties in 1777 and if those owners or occupants reported any losses caused by British troops during the Philadelphia campaign of the Revolutionary War. The project has drawn high praise from the National Genealogical Society, which earlier this year presented the county archives with a national award. To view the 1777 property records, visit the county archives website and look for the 1777 atlas portal.
Source: Daily Local; 5/24/2021

Delaware County

Reminder: Don’t mix 2021 assessments with 2020-2021 school district tax rates
Delaware County properties have new assessments for 2021, but school district millage rates have not yet been updated to reflect the new numbers. Plugging the new assessment values into the current school year tax rates will not produce an accurate estimation of the taxes for a property. One important factor is that the new 2021 assessments reflect 100% of market value, whereas the 2020-2021 tax rates were based on assessments reflecting 50% of market value. Additionally, each property’s share of the district tax burden will be impacted by the new assessments of all other properties in the district. Delaware County school districts are currently finalizing their budgets for the 2021-2022 school year, so the new school millage rates should be firmed up by the end of June. As information becomes available from the districts, the Alliance will update the tax section of the municipal database. 

Proposed gas facility in Marple brings community opposition
PECO Energy is requesting to build a gas reliability station at the site of an old gas station next to Sproul and Cedar Grove roads in Broomall, prompting opposition from residents. The facility would reduce the pressure of gas coming from the company’s West Conshohocken plant to a lower pressure and heat it at certain times of the year to allow its distribution through local mains. Members of the Marple Safety Coalition say the facility belongs in an industrial park or other remote facility, not in a neighborhood shopping center. That’s the message the group will deliver to the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) at hearings on the matter. “PECO has said a number of times this is the first such plant they are building of this type,” said Greg Fat, a coalition representative. “We’re really concerned about the safety of our neighborhood, having an industrial gas pipeline like this in the center of a residential area next to a restaurant and homes, is really concerning.” Residents also have concerns about the odors and noise from such a facility. Doug Oliver, PECO vice president of governmental and external affairs, said the company has 30 similar facilities like the proposed site in Marple, and safety is always their most important priority. The proposed station is one part of PECO’s larger Natural Gas Reliability Project in Delaware County, which has been installing 11 miles of new gas lines, including two miles in Marple. PECO officials have said they will need the facility within 10 years or there may be a restriction of capacity.
Source: Daily Times; 5/26/2021

Delco Sustainability Commission discusses Chester Pike
The Delaware County Sustainability Commission recently met to discuss a number of matters, including the future of Chester Pike (Route 13). The county’s planning department was recently awarded a $50,000 matching grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to fund a corridor study of the highway, which connects the boroughs of Sharon Hill, Glenolden, Norwood, Prospect Park and Ridley Park. The plan will identify enhancements needed along the road in terms of infrastructure and improvements for safety. The meeting covered other topics relating to open space, watershed and conservation districts. View the meeting here.
Source: Delaware County; 5/21/2021

254 acres of Delco’s ‘Wyeth country’ added to First State National Historical Park
The Conservation Fund announced that it has donated 254 acres of rolling hills, meadows, and wetlands to First State National Historical Park on the Delaware-Pennsylvania border. The picturesque land sitting near Brandywine Creek, known as Beaver Valley, was captured and made famous in paintings by Andrew Wyeth. “The addition of this land to the park’s Brandywine Valley Unit adds many new miles of trail and bucolic landscapes for park visitors to enjoy,” said Cinda Waldbuesser, superintendent of First State National Historical Park. Though it includes historical sites in Delaware, the heart of the park is a 1,100-acre tract known as the Woodlawn property used for hiking, cycling, running and boating. About 300 acres of that tract are in Pennsylvania.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/20/2021

Montgomery County

Upper Perkiomen school budget includes tax increase
The Upper Perkiomen School Board recently voted to approve a proposed final budget for the 2021-2022 school year that includes a 2% tax increase. A proposal to increase taxes by 5.67% was not endorsed by board president Melanie Cunningham. District business administrator Sandra Kassel warned the school board that a proposed transfer of $3.78 million to cover a budget shortfall would decimate the reserve fund balance, which could lead to higher loan costs for future capital projects. A 2% increase would generate an additional $700,000 in tax revenue for the school district. A median property owner in Montgomery County would pay an additional $81, while one in Berks County would pay an additional $31.  
Source: Town & Country; 5/18/2021

Trappe to adopt 2015 International Fire Code
Trappe Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 1, at 7 p.m. at Trappe Borough Hall, 525 W. Main St., to consider the enactment of an ordinance adopting the 2015 Edition of the International Fire Code. The code regulates and governs the safeguarding of life and property from fire and exposure arising from the storage, handling and use of hazardous substances, material and devices, and from conditions hazardous to life or property in the occupancy of buildings and premises in the borough.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 5/11/2021

Bids come in high for new $8.6M Lower Pottsgrove Township building
Lower Pottsgrove Township Manager Ed Wagner reported that bids for a new township building were nearly $200,000 higher than projected. The township anticipated the building project to cost about $8.6 million. Wagner said the primary reason for the overage were the electrical bids — with the electrical budget being a little over $600,000 and the low bid at just under $1.2 million. The township commissioners may wait until July to decide on whether to accept bids.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 5/17/2021

Owen J. Roberts and Cheltenham prepare to finalize 2021-2022 budgets
As state-imposed budget deadlines draw nearer, school districts are preparing to finalize their revenue and spending plans for the 2021-2022 school year.

  • The Owen J. Roberts School District budget for the 2021-2022 school year is available for public inspection at the administration building, 901 Ridge Road, Pottstown, and will be presented for adoption as a final budget at a school board meeting on Monday, June 21, at 7 p.m. Meeting information will be published on the district website.
  • Cheltenham School District’s proposed final budget is available for public inspection at the school district offices, 2000 Ashbourne Road, Elkins Park, and will be presented for adoption as a final budget at a school board meeting on Tuesday, June 15, at 7 p.m. Visit the Cheltenham School District website for up-to-date meeting information.

Philadelphia

City council considers bill to change a developer-friendly housing incentive
In the latest push to force developers to prioritize affordable housing, City Councilmembers Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Jamie Gauthier are pushing for more stringent requirements for developers if they want to take advantage of the city’s mixed-income bonus. In the current voluntary program that went into law in September of 2018, developers are allowed to build taller, denser buildings in exchange for including affordable units or paying into the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The idea was to incentivize developers to make additional units, but last year only three developers built a total of 17 affordable units. Another 30 developers opted to make payments totaling $3.6 million to the city fund. That isn’t the result Quiñones-Sánchez had in mind and she’s on a mission to update it with her new bill. Quinones-Sanchez said the mixed-income bonus, in both iterations, aims to create more housing. The bill introduced Thursday limits in-lieu payments to the Housing Trust Fund to get density and height bonuses. It also triples the payment fees to the fund if a developer wants to get the bonus. Developments with fewer than 10 units would not be eligible for any mixed-income bonuses unless they build affordable units on site. Developments that seek variances for the elimination of required nonresidential space would also not be eligible for mixed-income bonuses. Developments where the majority is affordable units would be newly eligible for the mixed-income housing bonus. The bill affects development in the following zoning categories: CMX-1, CMX-2, RM-1, CMX 2.5.
Source: Plan Philly; 5/20/2021

Philly to launch loan fund for Black and brown affordable housing developers
Philadelphia is preparing to launch a city-backed loan fund designed to increase access to capital for Black and brown developers building affordable housing. Seeded with roughly $11 million in city funds, the Philadelphia Accelerator Fund is a public-private partnership designed to provide flexible funds to Black and brown developers facing systemic barriers to traditional bank financing. “What we heard over and over again was that developers who are trying to build affordable housing and invest in neighborhoods were having a hard time getting capital from banks and traditional sources,” said Greg Heller, vice president of community investments at Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation and the director of the fund. Heller and his colleagues are working to raise another $30 million dollars by the fall. Once they hit that goal, the fund can begin offering loans and investment opportunities. In five years, the fund organizers hope to raise more than $100 million, produce 6,000 affordable housing units, and leverage more than $1 billion in total developmental costs. City officials are agnostic about the kind of housing the fund will support — as long as some project units target below-market-rate customers and those who need nontraditional financing. Developers planning for-sale homes, multifamily rentals and subsidized housing are all welcome to apply. Eligible projects can serve people who earn up to 120% of area median income, which is around $73,000 for an individual.
Source: Plan Philly; 5/19/2021


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