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Dickerson property on North Union won’t be used for restaurants, hotel

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 11/28/18

Land on North Union Street just south of Route 283 won’t be the home of two new restaurants, an office building and a 79-room hotel.

Dauphin County Court Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. on Oct. …

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Dickerson property on North Union won’t be used for restaurants, hotel

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Land on North Union Street just south of Route 283 won’t be the home of two new restaurants, an office building and a 79-room hotel.

Dauphin County Court Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. on Oct. 22 dismissed an appeal of a Lower Swatara Zoning Hearing Board decision regarding what is known as the Dickerson property.

In April 2016, Fritz Lee Dickerson IV, Fritz Lee Dickerson III, Ashton Chase Dickerson, Thomas Steele and Ann Korb applied for a zoning variance to allow commercial development. The site includes the remnants of a multi-generation family farm that was largely taken for the construction of Route 283 in the early 1970s. 

Dickerson III had argued that the property he wanted to develop is not suitable for residential-suburban use any longer, mainly because of the noise from the highway and the industrial use of land on the other side of Route 283 at the FedEx facility.

A second variance would have allowed more than 30 percent of the site to be covered with impervious surface, such as a parking lot.

One of the conditions of the variances was to have the Dickersons, Steele and Korb extend public water and sewer to the area.

The variances would have allowed them to combine five lots totaling 17.08 acres into retail property. The lots are located south of Route 283 in the 1800 block of North Union Street and on Condran Drive off North Union.

According to court documents, four of the properties are owned by the Dickersons, Steele or Korb, and Dickerson III has a contractual option to purchase a portion of what is known as the Church parcel to the east of the Dickerson property.

After a hearing that spanned over several months in late 2016, the township zoning hearing board denied their application.

On Feb. 7, 2017, they appealed the decision to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas. Their attorney, David Tshudy, argued that the denial was not supported by testimony and evidence that had been presented during the hearing, calling the decision “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law” in court documents.

In his conclusion, Clark said that the burden for a variance is heavy. He wrote that the Dickersons, Steele and Korb fell short of satisfying the burden.

Clark noted that beside the Church property, all of the other properties have been used residentially within the last 11 years. He wrote that Steele had septic issues on the property, but was able to connect two of the four homes on the land to private septic systems.

Clark wrote that both parties haven’t tried to put their properties on the market, and two of the Dickersons’ homes hadn’t been appraised.

“Taking this into consideration, a more appropriate remedy would be to seek a rezoning of the entire affected neighborhood rather than a variance solely for appellants’ subject property,” Clark wrote.

Township solicitor Peter Henninger said in an email that he was pleased with the decision.

Tshudy did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Clark’s conclusion, the zoning hearing board noted that applicants must prove five elements to qualify for a variance — the variance denial would result in a hardship because of the property’s unique physical circumstances or conditions; because of the conditions, the property can’t be developed within the zoning ordinance’s provisions and a variance is needed for use of the land; the hardship is not self-inflicted; the variance wouldn’t alter the character of the neighborhood or harm public welfare; and the variance is the minimum that would grant relief.

In the court documents, Clark wrote that Bill Gladstone, a sales agent for commercial real estate and a Dickerson witness, testified that the best use would be a “commercial-type use.” However, Clark said that Gladstone said it could be marketed as one of the permitted uses in the residential-suburban zoning district, such as a medical or dental clinic, golf course, country club, cemetery, church or park.

Six other individuals who live in the area were granted party status, and Clark wrote that they objected to the proposed development of the land, out of fear that it would increase traffic, noise, light and pollution.

Lee Dickerson’s plan called for a sit-down restaurant and a retail store along North Union Street, on the southern edge of Route 283. Traffic would enter using a new private road, Lee Drive, to reach these buildings and a second retail store behind the first. Dickerson Street would lead to an office building and a 79-room hotel as the property stretches toward Swatara Creek along the highway.