As Lafayette College buys land, residents wonder how much of College Hill it wants to own

In the early 1960s, Annabelle Richards and her husband, Arnold, built a brick home with three bedrooms and a bay window on Easton’s College Hill.Richards loved her neighborhood. It was filled with families and children. She didn’t need a car but could walk to the grocery store, pharmacy and bank on nearby Cattell Street.But over time, her neighborhood changed. Lafayette College began buying houses and renting them to new faculty until they found permanent housing.Today, Richards, 90, is one of two “hold outs” on her street who haven’t sold their homes to Lafayette College, records show.“The neighborhood was wonderful when I moved here. From my house to the campus, there were 63 homes, all families,” Richards said. “Lafayette bought every property in those three blocks.”Richards’ block isn’t the only place on College Hill where Lafayette bought up properties.Over the years, Lafayette purchased 173 properties on College Hill, not including on-campus buildings, parking lots or nearly 30 other properties it owns in other parts of Easton, according to an analysis by The Morning Call using records obtained from the college and Northampton County.In all, the college owns 20 percent of the 924 properties on College Hill, records show.Most of the properties were purchased more than 30 years ago, but the college continues to acquire land. It bought 16 properties on College Hill in 2016 and 2017, according to records.Now, the private school has embarked on a plan to tear down more than a dozen homes it owns just off campus at McCartney and High streets and Cattell and High streets.School officials want to replace them with two off-campus buildings that would have student housing on the top and commercial space on the bottom.It’s all part of a plan to grow Lafayette’s enrollment by 400 students to nearly 3,000 so it can bring in more money to fund financial aid.But Lafayette’s plan has ignited a Continue Reading

Despite talk, there’s no sign of metro Phoenix housing bubble

The dreaded term "housing bubble" has crept back into conversations about real-estate markets with big increases in home values, including metro Phoenix.The phrase, used to describe the housing boom and bust of 2005-11, conveys a looming sense of doom, particularly among those who owned a house when the bubble burst the last time.Like most Valley homeowners, I saw my home’s value jump more than 50 percent in two years and then fall twice as much during the subsequent five-year crash.But when I hear the housing bubble tag attached to the Phoenix-area housing market now, I feel more skepticism than dread.So do the experts I asked this week about the potential for another Phoenix-area housing bubble.A recent report talking about a potential housing bubble found home prices in 31 of the U.S.'s 50 biggest housing markets have recovered to boom levels or even higher.Metro Phoenix’s market isn’t one of them.“The Valley’s median home price is hovering around $245,000, and that’s still 93 percent of peak prices during the boom,” said Tina Tamboer, senior housing analyst with the Cromford Report.Compared with 2004-06, when Phoenix-area home prices shot up more than 50 percent, the climb back has been much slower.“It’s taken us six years to get where we are with prices now, and we still aren’t fully recovered,” she said.Tom Ruff, housing analyst for the Information Market, which is owned by the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, said the Valley’s housing market isn’t being driven by speculators and bad loans as it was during the boom.In some of metro Phoenix’s most popular neighborhoods and more affordable areas, demand is ahead of supply, so prices are climbing faster, he said.That is leading some to be concerned about "micro bubbles" in those Valley hot spots across central Phoenix, south Scottsdale and downtown Tempe, Ruff said.But he isn't seeing it. Continue Reading

Neighbors oppose Toms River Islamic school plan

TOMS RIVER – Looking out at the more than five acres the Masjid Balil group owns on Route 9, Mohamed Nabeel Elmasry imagines a two-story building that will house a 17-classroom school and a new mosque."The need is there," Elmasry said of the demand for an Islamic school in the area. He said the only Islamic school nearby is in Camden County, about 50 miles away. "Parents want to send their children to an Islamic school. They are looking for it." CHABAD: TR Chabad suit headed for mediationFirst proposed more than a year ago, Masjid Balil's application to build a 51,040-square-foot mosque and school is back on the agenda for the Feb. 23 Board of Adjustment meeting. The zoning board is scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. at town hall, 33 Washington St.Masjid Balil, also known as the Muslim Society of the Jersey Shore, is seeking a use variance for the project.The variance is needed because in 2009, the township changed its zoning ordinances to require at least 10 acres of property for a church, mosque, synagogue or other house of worship. The society's property is about 5.5 acres."We got caught like innocent bystanders," Elmasry said of the zoning change. "If you change the rules to make it difficult to develop, that's unfair."The federal Department of Justice is currently investigating the township's zoning laws related to religious land uses, including the 2009 zoning change.The Justice Department investigation began in late April 2016, shortly after Rabbi Moshe Gourarie filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the township and the zoning board, charging that "anti-Semitic hostility" and local opposition to the township's ultra-Orthodox Jewish population are the reasons why the board required a variance for him to continue operating the Chabad Jewish Center from his Church Road home.The township and Gourarie are headed to mediation on the Chabad lawsuit. In the meantime, Masjid Bilal must abide by the Continue Reading

Investors line up to buy bargain homes at Phoenix HOA foreclosure auction

Every Thursday, investors crowd into a garage-size room on the second floor of the Maricopa County Courthouse in Phoenix looking for a deal.Among these veterans, bidding goes fast for bargain properties placed in foreclosure by homeowners associations, often for as little as $1,200 in unpaid monthly dues.  Last spring, bidding started at $50,000 for a condo in north Scottsdale, about $8,000 more than the owner owed his HOA. Five minutes and 40 bids later, a Phoenix investor scored the property for $153,000, about half the going price of neighboring condos.  After the auction, the Salida Del Sol Condominium Association and its law firm were paid. The previous owner had bought the home in 2006 for $270,000 in cash. More than $100,000 remained from the auction.     Attorneys, foreclosure experts and other parties interviewed for this story could not say what happens to any money that is left over, or whether anyone must notify the previous owner about the proceeds.  The former owner could not be reached for comment.     MORE:  HOAs foreclosing on a record number of homeowners for as little as $1,200 Maxwell & Morgan, the law firm handling the Salida HOA, referred questions to Carpenter Hazelwood attorney Joshua Bolen, who is on the board of the Arizona chapter of the Community Associations Institute.Bolen said he could comment generally about HOA foreclosures rather than about specific cases. He said homeowners have the right to claim the money left over after their liens are paid. (After a foreclosure auction) the investor pays the sheriff, the sheriff cuts a check to the association, and the association is completely out of it,” said Bolen. “That investor basically fills the shoes of the association.”The Sheriff's office says its not responsible for returning any extra proceeds from an auction to the homeowner."The homeowner Continue Reading

Millennials, Boomers, retirees, boomerang buyers all boosting metro Phoenix’s housing market again

Millennials Billy Day and Jessica Simms saw their rent jump in central Scottsdale last year. The couple decided to look for a home in the area near their favorite restaurants and places to hang out that they could afford to buy.David and Anne Bernath are moving to Dallas for her job with American Airlines and needed to sell their recently-renovated Uptown Phoenix home.Jason and Jessica Duncan lost a home to foreclosure during the crash. They wanted to buy a new one in Mesa’s Mulberry community so much they camped out to be near the front of the line.Mary and David Clift live in Southern California but have been searching for a house in Arizona to retire with enough space for them, their daughter and an elderly parent.Steve and Victoria Lindley's children will soon both be in college. The couple wanted to sell their large Scottsdale home and move to downtown Phoenix to be closer to work and the places they spend their free time. STREET SCOUT INTERACTIVE MAP:  See Valley home values, compare ZIP codesMetro Phoenix’s housing’s market is drawing many of the different types of buyers needed to propel it to a full recovery from the crash. More first-timers, buyers returning from foreclosure, new-home purchasers and Baby Boomers are in the market for Valley houses now than at any time since the crash.Homes priced right and in the areas and price ranges these buyers want are selling faster than they have in a decade.Phoenix-area home prices are still down about 10 percent from the peak of the housing boom in 2006. But home sales are up 11 percent during the first three months of this year compared with the same period a year ago, according to Street Scout Home Values, an annual analysis of metro Phoenix’s housing market done with The Information Market.And more people are definitely looking for homes now, according to JoAnn and Joseph Continue Reading

Why do our houses keep getting bigger?

Joe D'Arpa's new home will house him and only him, but its size makes that difficult to believe. Where does your money go? You may be surprisedThe 43-year-old spent roughly $570,000 on a 2,400-square-foot custom home that overlooks a lagoon in the Silverton section of Toms River.Besides a nice view, D'Arpa's three-story house will include three full bathrooms and four bedrooms, as well as a patio, a roof deck, two back decks and a single-car garage and storage space similar to a basement in an elevated flood zone. But while his house may feature a unique design, it also represents a common trend in the real estate market, as today's homes grow fancier, larger and pricier as buyers hunt for more living space."It was kind of like a life goal," said D'Arpa, the owner of four Nutrishop stores in Monmouth and Ocean counties, who will move into his home later this month almost one year after construction began. "The space is not necessarily needed, but just something I wanted to do. That way if I do have a child or two, the house is already built to match. And I like to entertain. I have a big family. I like to have my family over for Christmas and holidays, so I definitely need a big place to have as many people in my family." See it: $3.175 million buys Rumson palaceMany of today's buyers seem to want their houses to include all the bells and whistles, both inside and outside, from bathrooms and bedrooms to decks and porches. At the same time, however, homeownership rates remain mostly stagnant, income growth lags behind the rising price of homes, and the size of families and households continues to dwindle even as houses get bigger."The home (is) still somewhat of a statement and status about yourself," said Peter Reinhart, director of the Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. Rising square footageThe average square footage of newly built single-family homes in the U.S. ballooned by nearly 57 percent to 2,598 square feet in 2013, Continue Reading

The House health care battle: What’s at stake?

WASHINGTON — The House battle on overhauling health care represents the first major legislative test since Americans put Republicans in charge of Washington last November.President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have all thrown their weight behind the American Health Care Act.The bill, as it stands, would replace swaths of the Affordable Care Act, a signature legacy achievement of President Barack Obama. It would eliminate requirements that individuals maintain health insurance at all times and that larger companies provide it to employees, while keeping provisions allowing children to stay on their parents' plans until age 26 and prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.But it would also reduce tax credits for individuals buying private insurance, as well as the amount of money provided to states for Medicaid. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted last week that it would also increase the number of uninsured Americans by as many as 24 million over the next 10 years.Republicans have been divided, with conservatives saying they want full Obamacare repeal and many moderates saying this is the best they’re going to get. Democrats are expected to unanimously oppose it. The House vote on the bill, which still would need to pass the Senate, could presage how future legislative battles will play out and has ramifications far beyond health care. Here’s what’s at stake:For Trump, now 61 days into his first 100 as president, the health care vote represents a key early test of his ability to convert his electoral victory into legislation. After all, Republicans have controlled Congress for more than two years. The only missing ingredient was a Republican president’s signing pen.The 10 bills Trump has signed so far have been either non-controversial measures or up-or-down resolutions to overturn Continue Reading

Trump to House Republicans: Time to put up or shut up on Obamacare repeal

WASHINGTON — President Trump headed to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to make a personal pitch to Republicans on the bill to repeal Obamacare, making clear to them how important it is they stay united to pass the legislation and keep a key campaign promise of his and also of theirs."The president of the United States came to us and said, 'We made a promise to the American people and we need to keep our promises,' " said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "The president was very clear and he laid it on the line for us."Ryan said Trump did "what he does best — and that is to close the deal.""The president just came here and knocked the ball out of the park," he said.The personal entreaties from the president come as Republicans on Monday night released a modified version of the legislation seeking to win over more conservative votes. Under those changes, states could require able-bodied Medicaid recipients without dependents to work beginning in October. States also could receive Medicaid funding as a lump sum instead of a per capita allotment. The revised bill also would repeal taxes on the wealthy, the insurance industry and others in 2017 instead of 2018.House leaders are planning to bring the measure up for a vote on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.As he headed inside the Capitol, Trump gave a thumbs-up, and when asked whether he thought he would have enough votes to pass the bill, he said, "I think so." He emerged with the same optimistic tone, telling reporters, "I think we're going to get a winner vote.""We're going to have a real winner. It was a great meeting. They're terrific people," Trump said. "They want a tremendous health care plan, which we have. There are going to be adjustments made. I think we'll see the votes on Thursday."Not everyone was convinced, however. Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he still won't support the bill.“We’ve got to get Continue Reading

VINTAGE SEAVER. Tom’s vineyard is simply terrific

Calistoga, Calif. - Dawn is breaking on what is expected to be another sunny, 100-degree day in the Napa Valley, as 61-year-old Tom Seaver, clad in blue denim, long-sleeved work clothes, a pair of clippers attached to his belt, strolls purposefully through rows of grape vines that extend some 500 feet up a gradual slope facing due south. It is, says Seaver, about the most perfect piece of landscape a person could find on which to plant a vineyard. "For me," Seaver says, "this is the best time of the day. I come out here every morning and get all my work done, all my cuttings, before it gets too hot. It's therapeutic. It's rewarding. Hell, it's exciting! You have no idea of the feeling from creating something like this. " To see the "little boy" joy in Seaver's face as he takes his visitors on a tour of the vineyard he personally carved out of 115 acres of dense brush, redwoods and Douglas firs, on a mountaintop that overlooks the entire Napa Valley, is to understand why he has all but divorced himself from baseball, his life's work for nearly 40 years as a 311-win pitcher who still has the highest plurality for election to the Hall of Fame, and then as a broadcaster for the Yankees and Mets. Growing grapes and making wine on Diamond Mountain is a whole new passion that certainly comes close to equaling anything he accomplished in baseball. "When I was 28 years old and coming into the prime of my baseball career, my brother-in-law said to me one day, 'What are you gonna do when you're done? ' I said to him without hardly any thought, 'I'm going to go back to California and raise grapes. ' I never forgot that. " And then, eight years ago, Seaver and his wife, Nancy, enlisted the services of a real-estate agent in Napa with one simple instruction: find a piece of property where Seaver could plant a vineyard. They toured all over the area until they came across the heavily wooded Diamond Mountain property, which offered a magnificent view of the valley Continue Reading

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had better get Tom Brady ban right

Roger Goodell makes $40 million a year, which more than compensates him for the most difficult and sensitive decision in his nine years as commissioner: How hard to come down on Tom Brady, the best quarterback in NFL history, who Goodell told me last year is a “great ambassador for the game.” Goodell must get this Brady case right. There is a lot at stake. I’ve been told over the last few days there is no doubt Brady will be suspended and the punishment will be handed down this week. The issue is just how long he will be forced to sit out for his role in the deflated football fiasco. MYERS: GOODELL WILL SUSPEND BRADY, ANNOUNCEMENT EXPECTED NEXT WEEK The NFL was not happy the Wells Report painted Brady as a cheater. It’s a horrible look for the league. Brady has won four Super Bowls and been to six. He’s won three Super Bowl MVPs. He’s deeply involved in charity work. He’s never had a problem away from the field. He and his supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen are among the most recognizable couples in the world. But now Goodell is going to send him a letter this week because Wells produced enough circumstantial evidence based on the Abbott and Costello routine of a couple of low-level locker room employees to convince the NFL that Brady committed a serious violation. The league also believes he did not cooperate with Wells if only because he didn’t turn over his personal cell phone and that subjects him to discipline even though he sat for more than a day of interviews with four investigators. There is no precedent for Goodell to rely on regarding a locker room attendant allegedly deflating footballs after allegedly locking himself in a bathroom for one minute and 40 seconds and allegedly sticking a needle in 12 footballs and allegedly letting enough air out of them so that 11 of them tested at halftime came in underinflated although nowhere in the 243-page report is it Continue Reading