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All common sense went out the window with crematory zoning ruling

Solomon has left the building! In a triumph of marketing over common sense, clear rules, and sworn testimony, the residents of Spring, Union, Pine, Spruce and Emaus streets do not get the protection they deserve and have a right to expect.

I do sympathize with the Fager-Finkenbinder Group and their possible silent investors, but think they made a faulty business decision based on wishful thinking and unsound advice relating to the Middletown zoning ordinance. In sworn testimony, they made clear their utter disregard for that ordinance. I only wish the zoning hearing board would see fit to enforce it.

On May 26, Travis Finkenbinder appeared to testify that he does not know what specifically will be in the emissions of the planned crematory, but believes they will not harm the neighbors.

 The application to install a crematory, which Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in October 2015, indicated that tons of dangerous fine particulates  would be discharged into the air each year. 

The proposed crematory is unconscionably close to neighboring residences, with multiple close neighbors in multistory houses containing infants and young children, and we are not to worry? This is a triumph of marketing over facts. Travis Finkenbinder and his Middletown partner Mel Fager doubtless take great pride in their no-holds-barred entrepreneurial initiatives.

In my view, this “in your door and window” proposal violates the Middletown zoning ordinance prohibition on incinerators and does not even meet Pennsylvania setback requirements for outdoor furnaces and similar uses. 

While it is true that the emissions from the crematory will be similar to gas furnaces in some respects, with added dioxins and mercury, the volume will be equivalent to a couple hundred gas furnaces operating in a single location.

We believe the proposed crematory egregiously violates the Middletown zoning ordinance in regard to the types, scope and scale of accessory uses, as well as the legal and administrative processes required for changing non-conforming accessory uses. On July 26, zoning hearing board member Donald Graham asserted that the appeals of the appellants had been “untimely,” but did not bother to explain why he rejected their sworn testimony that they were unaware of the proposed crematory prior to mid-January 2016.

Borough Council members Dawn Knull and Diana McGlone at the April 27 zoning hearing board session both stated under oath that they did not become aware of the proposed Fager-Finkenbinder crematory until the second half of January 2016 — the same time period in which the appellants claimed to have learned about the planned crematory.

During the three zoning hearing board sessions on April 27, May 10 and May 26, Travis Finkenbinder, his attorneys and a salesperson from Pittsburgh crematory manufacturer Matthews Inc. said very, very little about the Middletown zoning ordinance, but instead regaled ZHB members and attendees with Fager-Finkenbinder marketing spiels about what great folks they are.

Mr. Finkenbinder and his legal team had a compelling motive to avoid detailed discussion of the zoning ordinance — it contains multiple clear, logical, and cogent reasons why a crematory in the garage behind the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home at 208 N. Union St. is not permissible.

My late father, James Henry Booser, was a founding partner of the law firm of McNees Wallace Nurick, and after retiring he served Middletown as the unpaid borough solicitor for more than a decade. He and my mom Edith Booser cared deeply about Middletown and faithfully served their community in a variety of ways.

They were thoughtful and considerate neighbors, and made generous concessions to Coble Funeral Home for a non-conforming garage, which Travis Finkenbinder and his attorneys abruptly and without explanation rebaptized as “the smaller funeral home” during the third of three ZHB sessions on May 26.

During the past several years, the uses of this garage (or if you prefer — “smaller funeral home”) have not conformed to the Middletown zoning ordinance, and have disregarded restrictions on accessory buildings in terms of both size and uses, but enforcement has never occurred.

Fager-Finkenbinder’s squalid and poorly conceived crematory project should not be allowed to proceed, and the neighbors must be protected. The contributions my parents, Edith and James Booser (and my grandparents), have made to the welfare and orderly governance of Middletown over many decades should not be defiled by the ambitions of Travis Finkenbinder and Mel Fager.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am the executor for my parents’ estate. Mom died in mid-August 2015, and Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home provided prepaid services to get Mom to the Hershey Medical School for body donation.

Even though almost two months had elapsed since Travis Finkenbinder obtained the crematory zoning permit from Jeffrey Miller on June 24, 2015, no Fager-Finkenbinder employee said a word to me or any member of my family about the proposed crematory, which I first learned about from a newspaper article in October.

During November and December 2015, I sent several emails to Fager-Finkenbinder personnel (including electronic copies to Travis Finkenbinder himself) and senior officials of the Middletown borough, none of whom provided helpful responses to any of my specific questions.

Bad call, Don. Now how about enforcing the existing ordinance? I am pleased that the appellants have challenged the July 26 zoning hearing board decision, and am confident that justice will eventually prevail, no matter how long it may take.

John Booser


Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 September 2016 16:18

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Lower Swatara comprehensive plan: Keep cooperation in mind

This is to provide some background information for the public meeting Aug. 25, 2016, regarding the update to the Lower Swatara Township Comprehensive Plan of 2004. 

We are owners of Bryncoed Farm on Fulling Mill Road, encompassing roughly 200 acres. Ours has been a family farm since 1933, when our parents, Sam and Carol Williams moved here from Philadelphia and Manhattan and began providing good, pure milk door-to-door for Harrisburg area families. 

All of us were born and raised here, and many of us still are your neighbors. Sam was president of the Middletown Area School Board, and was instrumental in establishing the new high school in the 1960s. Recently that building has been removed to make way for something new. 

For 83 years our family has appreciated our Lower Swatara community as a very good place to live, work, and raise a family. We hope we have been good neighbors, good citizens, and good friends. Our roots are deep. Now our farming days are done. We are up in years. There is no one to carry on the farm. It is no longer practical to maintain the property as a farm. So the time has come to sell the land, even though we regret leaving our homestead. 

Though some of our new neighbors’ roots are not so deep, we like any other citizen, hope to make the best use of our property in light of changing conditions around us. Every homeowner and business owner expects to have the freedom to move on and to benefit from the market for their property. Any good neighbor realizes compromises all around are necessary for the benefit of everyone. 

We understand using the family farm for residential development is attractive, but residential use brings downsides as well, such as increased pressure to raise taxes for school expansion, more police and fire support, more expense in general. Few of our neighbors are likely to be interested in higher taxes. 

Other uses increase revenue and keep taxes low without reducing services. Some say taxes go up anyway; think of the tax increases to support 200 acres raising children. Local businesses like Tyco, Hershey Creamery, Phoenix Contact and FedEx, etc., pay school taxes, but don’t add to the load of education. 

Our township property taxes are the highest by millage rate of any township in the county, and we would like to help prevent taxes from going higher. Zoning names like “Industrial” and “Industrial Park” do not mean smokestacks, especially here. Businesses know how important it is to be a good neighbor, just as we have tried to be for more than eight decades. 

The people who will get jobs in new businesses and then live here will want the same quiet, livable community as any other family. So it is important that new businesses build buffer areas to blend with the neighborhood. Reducing sight and sound is vital, and we believe the township is already working on that balance. In fact, on page 36 of the draft comprehensive plan, Alternative 2 already includes the requirement for buffering “from visual and operational impacts.” 

Solving congestion is a matter of traffic planning, replacing poor traffic patterns with new, efficient, quieter routes. The sound of trucks on Fulling Mill Road is less of an impact than the rumble strips at the turnpike interchange. (Replacing those rumble strips with quieter traffic control methods would be a big improvement.) 

Truck impacts can be controlled, just as with airports. It takes cooperation, not antagonism. Some may choose to be loud and aggressive, but we chose to work together for a more vibrant community for all. 

Because this is an ideal central transportation hub for the goods of the Eastern Seaboard, this area will probably not be used for agriculture much longer. Air, rail, and interstates make our area very attractive, not only for a warehouse, but also for technology, commerce and small business. That means jobs. 

Many of the offers that have come our way wish to use the land for Industrial Park or Industrial Park Light. Those uses do not mean blight, just as existing businesses on Fulling Mill Road are not offensive. We agree traffic planning needs a lot of improvement. We believe the township is quite sensitive to achieving cooperation among all parties, so our community will continue to grow as a great place to live and work. 

To the township: Please consider this viewpoint as you update the comprehensive plan. 

Thomas and Theresa Williams, Michael and Virginia Williams, Henry and Catherine Williams, Margaret Williams Stoops

Lower Swatara Township


Last Updated on Friday, 02 September 2016 14:30

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