Written by Dan Miller
Parking fines in downtown Middletown would double under a proposed ordinance being considered by borough council.
The proposal — approved by council for advertisement by a 6-0 vote during its Jan. 3 meeting — would increase from $15 to a $30 fine when a ticket is paid for within 48 hours.
After 48 hours but before a summons is issued, the fine would increase from the current $30 to $60, while the maximum fine for any parking violation in the downtown would go from the present $75 up to $150.
The proposal would also establish new time limits and restrictions covering a number of parking spaces and areas throughout the downtown.
In addition, the proposal would repeal some parking restrictions that are considered outdated, as they pertain to schools or businesses that no longer exist.
Finally, the proposal would establish a way by which residents who live in the downtown, and people who work at businesses in the downtown, can apply for and obtain permits from the borough that would exempt them from the new parking restrictions.
The borough would not charge a fee for such a permit. However, a “limited number” of the parking permits would be available.
Right now, most parking tickets in the downtown come from parking in spaces during times designated for street sweeping, or parking too long in areas that have a time limit, usually 30 minutes, said Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach.
The proposed ordinance would add new restrictions and limits. In other cases, time limits already on the books are being shortened to make them “more business friendly” to increase turnover in the spaces, Wilsbach said. The ordinance chiefly targets what is referred to as the downtown parking district, an area that includes the following:
• The south side of Brown Street just east of South Union Street to Pine Street.
• The north side of Brown from Pine to Union.
• Both sides of Poplar Street from Brown to Mill Street.
• Both sides of Mill Street from Union to Poplar.
Several downtown business owners long have complained to council to take some kind of action regarding parking. Councilor Robert Reid has taken the lead role on council in pushing for the changes.
The complaints have focused on commuters whom business owners say use the Amtrak train station on Mill Street and leave their vehicle in the same spot for days at a time.
Instead, these spots should be turning over on a regular basis for customers of downtown businesses, these owners say.
The downtown permits will be similar to the permit parking program that the borough established in the Grandview neighborhood several years ago, said borough Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach.
Council established the Grandview program in response to complaints from residents that they could not find on-street parking due to the spaces being taken up by the rising number of students attending nearby Penn State Harrisburg.
Wilsbach said he expects that downtown residents and businesses can start applying to the borough for the parking permits as soon as council gives final approval to the ordinance.
The borough will need to put up new signs in order to enforce the ordinance. The new signs should be up within about a month of final passage of the ordinance, Wilsbach said.
Come warmer weather, the borough also hopes to get to work on repainting the yellow curbing in the downtown that can also aid in enforcement.
However, Wilsbach said that the new provisions will become enforceable once the new signs are up.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 13:56
Written by Dan Miller
A proposed ordinance that says where a medical marijuana dispensary can be located in Middletown was approved for advertisement by borough council by a 6-0 vote on Jan. 3.
The ordinance would allow a medical marijuana dispensary in commercial zoning districts. A medical marijuana dispensary and a medical marijuana growers/processors operation would also be allowed in the manufacturing zoning district.
The ordinance would not supersede a provision in the state’s new medical marijuana law that a dispensary cannot be within 1,000 feet of a public or private school, or within 1,000 feet of a day care center.
However, the provisions in the proposed ordinance limiting a dispensary to a commercial or manufacturing district would effectively prevent a dispensary from locating within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center in the borough, said Councilor Diana McGlone, an advocate of having a medical marijuana dispensary in Middletown.
The provisions would also prevent a dispensary from being in a residential area, she added.
Having an ordinance in place is considered key to the borough positioning itself to being able to land one of the medical marijuana dispensaries that will be allowed to locate throughout Pennsylvania under the medical marijuana act that was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2016.
The state — through the Department of Health — will issue permits for no more than 50 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Pennsylvania, according to the DOH website.
Each dispensary may have up to three separate locations.
Just four dispensary permits will be granted by the DOH for the entire south central Region 3 of Pennsylvania, of which Dauphin is one of 13 counties. The others are Lebanon, York, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland, Adams, Mifflin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Fulton, Blair and Bedford, according to the DOH website.
In December, Borough Solicitor Adam Santucci had indicated that council should hold off on approving a proposed medical marijuana ordinance, to work out possible conflicts with the state law.
However, the borough may not have the luxury of waiting. The DOH will start accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensaries on Jan. 17, and the applications will only be accepted until March 20, according to an update posted on the DOH website on Dec. 21 by Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy.
It is likely that persons or organizations wanting to locate a medical marijuana dispensary in Pennsylvania will target those municipalities that have established by ordinance where such a dispensary can locate within their borders, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told council on Jan. 3.
“If you want to be in the game,” council may not have time to take a “wait-and-see” approach, Klinepeter said.
“There is some stiff competition out there” for the permits to have a medical marijuana dispensary, McGlone said. “It’s critical with the transformation that the town is coming to — we’re all focused on economic development — of what this will do from a revenue standpoint for our borough, not to mention the humanitarian effect that this has upon people who are suffering.”
Janet Vastine Kirchner, a borough resident, said that the windfall that towns in Colorado have received since marijuana was legalized in that state could provide an indication of the revenue potential that the borough could realize from having a medical marijuana dispensary.
“One very small town in Colorado saw $800 thousand (in) marijuana tax revenue in their first and second year,” Kirchner said. “It is imperative that Middletown act on this. Our town has been coming so far in getting notoriety on the news … we’re getting on the map. This can really put us on the map.”
Carlisle and Steelton have both approved ordinances regulating medical marijuana within their borders.
The proposed ordinance in Middletown is based upon a model medical marijuana ordinance that was developed by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.
Besides Middletown and Steelton, the commission has received for review proposed medical marijuana ordinances from Swatara Township and from Penbrook, said Tim Reardon, executive director of the TCRPC.
The commission knows of three other municipalities in Dauphin County that are considering a medical marijuana ordinance, but “nothing official” has yet transpired, Reardon said.
On June 7, Middletown Borough Council received a public presentation from Alexander Fox Person regarding Person’s intent to locate a medical marijuana dispensary in the town.
McGlone told Council President Ben Kapenstein that she believes Person is still interested. However, Person did not respond to several requests for comment for this article that were emailed to him by the Press And Journal.
To date no interest in locating a grower/processor medical marijuana facility within Middletown has become evident.
Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2017 11:53
Written by Dan Miller
Council President Ben Kapenstein’s announcement of plans to hold a public meeting on police regionalization sparked a mini-debate at borough council’s Jan. 3 meeting.
The discussion was among Rachelle Reid, a former borough councilor, Kapenstein and Mayor James H. Curry III.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE: Interim police chief was NYPD detective, was at Ground Zero on 9/11
CLICK HERE FOR MORE: Lower Swatara officials: Early talks are about contracting for police by Middletown
Reid said that police regionalization has been explored many times in the past, but it “never goes through.”
The reasons mostly have to do with the differences between boroughs and townships, and unequal rates of pay among the police officers of the municipalities involved, Reid contended.
However, Curry and Kapenstein both said that the level of discussion so far between Middletown and Lower Swatara has gotten nowhere near the degree of detail necessary to address the issues being raised by Reid.
“There are a million details, but big-picture wise if we can find a way to keep the same or better level of service for the same or a discounted cost — if we can save money and keep the same or get a better level of service — then it is something that we have a fiduciary responsibility to explore, in my opinion,” Kapenstein said.
Curry said that the recent discussions with Lower Swatara have been nothing more than to see if the township is interested in pursuing the idea.
“It would be irresponsible not to explore, I don’t care how many times it has been talked about in the past,” Curry said. “It is something that can be beneficial if it is done the right way. Obviously, I would never sign off or agree to something if the level of service was not going to be what we have now or better, and there has to be a benefit in terms of financial.”
The mayor said he thinks the reason why regionalization efforts have failed in the past is that officials bite off more than they can chew.
“When you are trying to take six municipalities and shove them together in a region, that has never seemed to work,” Curry said. “I don’t think it’s going to be feasible with so many municipalities at the same time. You have to start on a small basis, in my opinion.”
Reid asked her uncle — longtime Middletown mayor and now borough Councilor Robert Reid — for his views on police regionalization.
Robert Reid acknowledged that he had opposed past police regionalization efforts involving Middletown, but that “I think we are in a different era today than when I was mayor.”
First of all, Reid wanted Middletown’s chief to be the regional chief. Second, Reid said it seemed to him at the time that Lower Swatara would get more police coverage under regionalization than Middletown.
Now he’s not so sure, Reid said, pointing to how coverage has worked under a regional police force in York County.
“Evidently, all the communities involved are getting the same amount of patrolling, so that is out of the question. That is one of the reasons why today I look at regionalization from a different viewpoint,” Reid said.
That answer did not satisfy Rachelle, who contended that Middletown residents would not have “adequate” coverage under a regional police arrangement.
Curry wondered how it is possible for Reid to reach such a conclusion at this early stage of the game.
“That’s something that we didn’t even get into,” the mayor said. “To say that you don’t think there is going to be adequate (coverage), I’m not sure how you can come up with that. I can’t come up with that because we haven’t even gotten to that point.”
Kapenstein said that the issues Reid was raising are all good questions, and he encouraged her to bring them up again at the upcoming public meeting.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 14:31
Written by David Barr
Talks between Lower Swatara Township and Middletown about combining their police forces are still in the “preliminary stages”, according to Lower Swatara Board of Commissioners President Jon Wilt.
Wilt said that there have been no discussions on regionalizing the two forces, only talks about contract services have occurred. He added that there has only been “one real serious discussion” and “everything is yet to be determined.”
CLICK HERE FOR MORE: Interim police chief was NYPD detective, was at Ground Zero on 9/11
CLICK HERE FOR MORE: Level of service regional police would provide questioned at meeting
“There’s nothing really to say,” Wilt said.
Public Safety Director Frank Williamson compared talks to sticking a toe in the water, saying that both sides have been “just getting a feel” for the option.
“It’s been nothing more than, ‘Hey would you like to have some meetings on this?” Williamson said.
Williamson added that if talks were to escalate and plans were to start coming together, it would be a year at least until everything was finalized, and if a plan was struck, it would be a five-year agreement. Due to the length of the contract, both sides don’t want to rush into anything.
Williamson said he supports the idea of buying the amount of police coverage for the time a community wants it, but he worries about the effect such a move would have on Lower Swatara should something arise, as he doesn’t want to take away from the current services Lower Swatara offers its residents.
As of now, Lower Swatara has 14 sworn officers on the force, with three sergeants. Each sergeant has two officers under them and once the two criminal investigators are promoted, there will be three officers for each of the three sergeants.
Some of the positives that could come from a combined department would be a larger agency, which would allow for more promotional opportunities and more training, which would allow for a better-trained agency. All of that would result in more consistent policing policies, which according to Williamson, is “a big positive for our residents.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 14:34
Written by Dan Miller
It took more than a year, but Middletown finally has a full-time codes and zoning officer to replace Jeff Miller, who resigned in December 2015.
Toward the end of borough council’s Jan. 3 meeting, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter introduced Mark Shipkowski, a lifelong borough resident who was nearing the end of his first day on the job.
With Shipkowski on board and borough council a few months back having approved revisions to the code ordinance to create a board to hear appeals of code violations, the town is positioned to start going after blighted properties in Middletown, Councilor Diana McGlone told the Press And Journal afterward.
The borough up until now has not been able to do effective code enforcement, because no mechanism was provided under the law for a property owner to appeal a violation, McGlone said. Council has remedied that with passage of the codes update that was enacted in late 2016, she said.
“We now have the legal capabilities for meaningful and forceful code enforcement,” McGlone said.
Borough council is to serve as the appeals board under the code revision, Klinepeter told the Press And Journal.
As envisioned by McGlone, the appeals board was not set up to hear appeals of relatively minor violations such as tall grass or weeds. Someone receiving one of these violations can file an appeal through the district judge, she said.
The appeals board is meant to consider a more significant violation, or violations, that could ultimately be used by the borough as the basis to seize a property that is considered blighted, or to place a lien on such a property, she said. In such a case, the property owner could appeal the violation or violations to the appeals board.
The code update that created the appeals board also allows the borough to access the powers of Act 90, a state law that gives municipalities the “right” to determine that a property is blighted, and to then go after the assets of the property owner to compensate the borough for any expense involved in cleaning up or even razing the property, McGlone said.
McGlone made no secret that she has three specific properties in mind for the new powers that the borough has — with help from Shipkowski to carry them out. These include the property that included the former Bunky’s restaurant in the first block of South Union Street, the so-called “leaning house” on Mattis Avenue, and a dilapidated yellow residential property at the square.
“Those are the top three properties in the borough that are extremely blighted and will be addressed immediately,” McGlone said.
Furthermore, “anybody who has a blighted property in this borough is now put on notice — we will be coming,” she continued. “I would advise blighted property owners in the borough to clean up your properties or reach out to borough staff for assistance, because we will be knocking on your door soon.”
McGlone, who is a landlord, said that she hopes by spring to introduce a proposal that would provide “probably two options” for borough council to create a residential rental inspection program. McGlone held three hearings in early 2016 to gather public input toward launching such a program.
Highspire and Royalton are among municipalities near Middletown that have their own residential rental inspection program, McGlone said.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 11:23