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Crematorium hearings continue

The hearing on whether to uphold a zoning permit that was granted for the proposed Fager-Finkenbinder crematory in Middletown appears close to being over - but it’s not over yet.

The hearing being held by the borough’s zoning hearing board will resume on Thursday, May 26, at 6:45 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

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At least one more witness may be called by Aaron Martin, the attorney who is representing five residents who filed an appeal seeking to overturn the zoning permit that former borough zoning officer Jeffrey Miller granted in June 2015 allowing the crematory as an “accessory use” to the Fager-Finkenbinder funeral home at 208 N. Union St.

The board during tonight’s May 10 hearing heard testimony over the course of four hours from three witnesses - Michelle Allen, who is acting as power of attorney on behalf of her mother, Marjorie W. Rhen, who owns a residential property on North Union Street about a block away from the proposed crematory - Miller, and Jerry S. Walls, a professional planner from Montoursville who was called by Martin on behalf of the appellants.

The hearing comes down to whether the board will allow Miller’s June 2015 determination that would permit the crematory as an accepted “accessory use” to the existing funeral home. Once Fager-Finkenbinder obtained that approval, the company applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for an air quality permit required in order to operate the crematory at the location. That application continues to be under review by the DEP.

Allen testified that she did not learn of Fager-Finkenbinder’s plan to develop the crematory at the site until Feb. 7, when her husband learned of the proposal through a telephone conversation with a woman who lives next door to the funeral home.

Miller, the borough’s zoning officer from August 2014 to early December 2015, testified that contrary to what has been reported in the media, the zoning permit to Fager-Finkenbinder was not granted within a 24-hour period.

He said that he met with funeral home owner Travis Finkenbinder about the proposed crematory  about a week before Finkenbinder submitted the application. During this week Miller said he put in about 12 hours of research that led to his determination that the crematory would be a permitted use.

By the time Finkenbinder submitted his formal written application, Miller had already reached the conclusion through his research that the crematory would be a permitted accessory use, Miller testified.

Miller said he did not consult with anyone in researching the application, including the borough solicitor or any other attorney. He went online to the website of the state court system to research any court cases that would be applicable, Miller testified. He also researched the history of any previous borough decisions and actions regarding the funeral home property at 208 N. Union St.

Miller’s testimony indicated that the approval he granted in June 2015 was only for the “use” of the building as a crematory, and that a second zoning review would likely be necessary. This review would cover any changes to the building itself that would be required in order for it to be transformed into a crematory.

The permission that he granted in June 2015 - the subject of the present appeal - “was only meant to convey the acceptability of the use, not the structure,” Miller testified.

Miller was asked to explain a phrase he used in a letter accompanying his approval to Finkenbinder suggesting that the location of a crematory at the site had not been “fully analyzed.”

“I was uncertain as to whether I had all the relevant records” regarding the history of the funeral home at the location, Miller testified. “I could not find records that allowed for the funeral home to even exist.”

At one point, Miller appeared to concede a key issue that has been raised by opponents of the crematory - that use of the crematory by all of Fager-Finkenbinder’s four funeral homes, not just the one in Middletown - would mean that the crematory on North Union Street would no longer be “an accessory use.”

He said he never asked Finkenbinder whether bodies from his three other funeral homes would be brought to the crematory in Middletown, and that the subject never came up.

However while being questioned by a lawyer for the funeral home, Miller said that as long as the activity at the crematory was derived from “the principal use on the property” then “it is still secondary” to the primary use of the funeral home.

While being questioned by Martin, Miller said that it was his charge as borough zoning officer to provide a “literal” interpretation of the words in the borough’s zoning ordinance.

“A literal interpretation does not allow (a crematory) as an accessory use on the Fager-Finkenbinder property. Would you agree?” Martin asked.

“Yes,” Miller responded.

However, Miller agreed with the lawyer for the funeral home, Robert Max Junker, that the zoning ordinance allows for an interpretation to be made “in favor of the property owner.”

During his testimony Walls said that while Miller was not required to consult with the borough solicitor or any other attorney, “it’s always advisable” to do so when case law “creates a shadowy or unclear atmosphere” as to whether a use is allowed or not.

Asked by Junker to “accept” that zoning “is an infringement on a property owner’s rights,” Walls responded that at times one individual property owner “may have to live with a limitation” so as not to adversely impact others in the community.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 May 2016 14:56

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Does Middletown need more police?

You can have all the police officers you want, but you have to pay for them.

That was the message Mayor James H. Curry III and Middletown Borough Council had for Middletown residents during a council meeting on Tuesday, May 3, after it was revealed that there were no borough police officers on duty in town from 3 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 30.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 May 2016 16:55

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Man pulls gun, robs motorist in St. Peter's lot

 A motorist was robbed at gunpoint when he pulled his car into the parking lot of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on North Spring Street to change his infant’s diaper on Sunday, May 8, Middletown police said.

The victim pulled into the far end of the parking lot by Scott Avenue around 2:20 p.m. when a man approached the passenger side of the car and pointed a silver handgun, hammer cocked, at him, police said.

The victim gave the man his wallet, a pair of Bolle sunglasses, medications, a cell phone and an MP3 player, police said. He also tried to give the robber an inhaler that the victim used for asthma, but the robber refused it.

The robber reached into the open car window and rifled through the glove box, police said. He then fled on foot up Scott Avenue and toward Catherine Street, police said. The suspect was believed to be in the area of a field off Hunter Lane south of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Lower Swatara Twp., based on the tracking of the man’s cell phone, police said.

Police described the suspect as a Hispanic man, about 5 feet 9 inches tall with stocky to heavy build and with facial hair and tattoos down both arms, police said. He was wearing a green baseball hat, light gray or white
T-shirt and dark blue jeans. His hair was brown and short, and the amount that stuck out from underneath his hat was curly in appearance, police said.  Anyone with information about the robbery is asked to call Middletown police at 717-902-0627 or Dauphin County dispatch at 717-558-6900.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 May 2016 15:45

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ARE 10 ENOUGH? Middletown officials compare size of force to Lower Swatara, Justice Department standard

How many full-time police officers does Middletown need?

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 May 2016 14:55

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Dauphin Co. Sheriff warns of phone scam

NickChimienti2Dauphin Co. Sheriff Nicholas Chimienti Jr. has issued a warning about a phone scam targeting residents.    

Sheriff Chimienti has received numerous complaints over the past several weeks about scammers claiming to be from the county’s sheriff’s office (DCSO). “A former co-worker, a retired State Police Major, got a call on his cell phone from scammers stating they were from the DCSO and were investigating complaints by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and to turn himself in to his local police department or call the DCSO,” Chimienti said. “The callers also leave threatening phone messages.

 “These calls are bogus and do not originate from the Dauphin County Sheriff’s Office.  In various parts of the county, residents are being targeted and threatened with arrest by deputy sheriffs.  If you or someone you know receives a threatening call from someone claiming to be from the sheriff’s office, do not provide any sensitive information and report the call to law enforcement.”

Chimienti said the sheriff’s office does not require anyone to provide sensitive information in any telephone call, nor to purchase any kind of monetary device to avoid arrest.

Persons receiving a suspicious or threatening call or text message are recommended to immediately contact their local law enforcement agency and the DCSO at (717) 780-6590. “Anyone who has been a victim of this scam should try to record as much information as possible, such as a name, call-back number or email address, without giving any of their personal information away,” the sheriff added.

Last Updated on Monday, 09 May 2016 13:52

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