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Does borough have parking problem?: Editorial

Posted 5/15/18

Penn State Harrisburg is the college on the hill, out of sight for most Middletown residents and therefore out of mind when it comes to their daily lives.

But of course those Penn State students …

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Does borough have parking problem?: Editorial

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Penn State Harrisburg is the college on the hill, out of sight for most Middletown residents and therefore out of mind when it comes to their daily lives.

But of course those Penn State students are not separate from the borough. They eat here, shop here and in many cases live here.

Yes, places such as Campus Heights exist to cater to those very students. Plans are in place to build even more such housing, but that is years away.

Even then, the demand for student housing likely will continue to grow, as the number of students at Penn State Harrisburg keeps increasing.

There will always be Penn State students who live in the borough, no matter how much the campus housing nearer to the campus grows. Some people just don’t enjoy the dorm-like experience and want a different type of living arrangement.

Most borough residents likely don’t have a problem with the Penn State students — that is, until it affects their lives.

The amount of parking available in the borough is a problem — or at least a perceived one. Many residences don’t have off-street parking. When residents rely on street parking, they tend to get territorial about the spots in front of their homes.

The issue brought before Middletown’s zoning hearing board May 8 is a result of how Penn State students are affecting the lives of borough residents, and how residents are using a borough statute to solve the problem.

The borough bans more than two unrelated people living in a house. Four Penn State students were living in a rental property at 239 W. Water St.

In March, Councilor Jenny Miller filed a complaint against the property’s landlord, Diana McGlone, with the borough contending that McGlone was violating the zoning ordinance regarding how many unrelated persons can live in a single-family dwelling. That complaint led to the May 8 hearing. McGlone was a member of the council at the time as well but has since resigned.

Miller has a vested interest in the issue at 239 W. Water St. She also lives on that block, although said she filed the complaint on behalf of another nearby resident.

Zoning rules and code enforcement might seem mundane. Then a divisive issue rolls along and all that changes (the plans for a crematory in the heart of the borough, for example, that have since gone by the wayside).

In a story on today’s front page, Press & Journal reporter Dan Miller summarizes some of the diverse perspectives brought out at the May 8 meeting. We respect those viewpoints, and they each have some merit.

Students say the ban limits their housing options in the borough and is perceived as a sign that Penn State Harrisburg students aren’t welcome in Middletown. Borough residents worry about parking. Landlords worry asking too many questions of potential renters runs afoul of the law.

The board will deliberate behind closed doors June 13 and render its decision in public June 28. The decision can be appealed to Dauphin County Court. Even then, keep in mind that the zoning hearing board just interprets the ordinances. It doesn’t create them.

“The zoning ordinance and revisions to it are prepared by the Middletown Planning Commission, formerly the Middletown Planning Committee, and adopted by the Middletown Borough Council,” Chairman Jack Still read in a statement.

In other words, it’s up to others to actually make changes.

This issue has come up before, with parking issues involving Penn State students. That was closer to campus, however, in the Grandview Avenue area. Permit parking was put in place.

The current zoning ordinance only dates back to December 2013. In the R-2 residential zone which includes the 200 block of West Water Street, the ordinance limited student housing to a specific definition that referred to apartments, but did not appear to include existing single-family houses which were defined separately.

The changes were intended to preserve the existing “residential character” of neighborhoods like the one on West Water Street, and to deter people from buying up and renovating homes in order to rent them to Penn State Harrisburg students, according to comments borough officials made at the time.

That is unfortunate. We have said this several times before. Penn State Harrisburg is not going away. We need to co-exist in the best way possible.

Before permit parking becomes a potential solution again, here are a couple of thoughts.

1. Change borough rules so that only vehicles and not boats and trailers can be parked on streets.

2. Allow landlords to apply for zoning variances so that Penn State students can live in a dwelling such as that at 239 W. Water St.

3. Ensure that the ban on more than two unrelated people living in a house is being applied fairly across the borough.

4. Consider a traffic study of the entire borough. The council approved up to $5,000 to study the left turn from Main Street onto Union Street. How about a study that would figure out some parking solutions — or find out if there is even a parking problem at all. One of the students who lived at 239 W. Water St. told the Press & Journal that “there’s always parking. You might have to walk a little bit, but it’s not like blocks away.”

We realize residents want “their” spot in front of their house. But parking on public streets doesn’t work that way.

Let’s try to determine how bad the parking situation is before we start blaming Penn State students for taking up all the spaces.

There is a balance that can be reached. The conversation at the zoning hearing is a good starting point.