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We should explore what an overlay zone will do

The replacement of old storm sewer and water lines in Middletown’s business district is moving along. It’s not too early to think of what will happen after the work is done, and the revitalization of the downtown begins.

 

That’s because Middletown has the potential to be transformed during the next decades by development sparked by the growth of Penn State Harrisburg. With the university’s enrollment growing, and the number of privately-owned dormitories increasing in the borough and neighboring Lower Swatara Twp., it’s prudent for borough officials to look ahead, and for the town to decide what it wants.

 

Perhaps Middletown would like to preserve those striking Victorian mansions along Union Street. Perhaps Middletown would like to see taller buildings in its business district, with retail on the first floor and apartments above.

 

Future development is likely to come from outside – by out-of-town developers. If Middletown wants some control, it must act.

 

That’s what is intriguing about a rather unspecific proposal to create a revitalization overlay zone for Middletown’s downtown, something that would create more rules for future development than the usual zoning ordinances.

 

Middletown Borough Council voted to apply for a grant from the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission to draw up a proposal for the new overlay zone. Some councilors voted against it – one saying he did not have enough information to make a decision. We’re not sure if it’s because it’s difficult nowadays to get some borough officials to talk publicly about their plans and ideas, or because there simply are no specifics yet as to what is desired.

 

As Tim Reardon, executive director of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, notes a revitalization overlay zone can allow for regulations that are specific to certain types of properties, such as historical structures – and there is no cookie-cutter overlay zone. “It’s locally driven,’’ he said. “They can decide what requirements they want to go into the overlay district.’’

 

With Middletown perched on the edge of an uncertain future, it makes sense to explore the options available to the town to preserve the quality of life it wants. As long as the public’s voice is heard, it’s a worthy pursuit.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 19:12

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Delayed, but not derailed

Middletown has waited, and waited, for years now for the proposed new Amtrak train station that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has promised on West Main Street. It appears to be delayed, but not derailed.

 

Now it probably won’t be built until sometime in 2017, at the earliest. It’s easy to be discouraged by the delay, but PennDOT seems intent on making it a reality. Indeed, it has acquired the land and the funding – about $32 million. What’s taken time is agreements on track layout and design from the three participating railroads that pass through Middletown – Amtrak, Norfolk Southern and the Middletown and Hummelstown Railroad. Amtrak will do the track work, and the project must be coordinated with Amtrak’s labor force, which is busy with other projects.

 

The new station would help in Middletown’s renovation – it’s the keystone of a plan to transform the western end of the borough, including an extension of Emaus Street that would bring travelers and students at nearby Penn State Harrisburg to a restored downtown business district.

 

The delay is disappointing, but not discouraging. Don’t give up on the project yet.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 September 2014 19:30

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Editor's Voice: A symbol of our future?

Penn State Harrisburg unveiled its newest campus building this month, a revamped classroom complex that is a symbol of the university’s impact on Middletown.

The front of the renovated Educational Activities Building is a remodeled 1950s barracks from the former Olmsted Air Force Base, which stood at the site until 1969.

The back is a two-story addition, filled with classrooms, a performing arts rehearsal room and benches made from oak trees cleared from the site. It’s noteworthy that three of the classrooms hold more than 100 students each – the three largest classrooms on campus.

Penn State Harrisburg has grown so much – from a tiny branch campus to a university of more than 4,000 students – that it now needs lecture halls, not just classrooms. It’s fitting that they would be in a building where a little bit of old Middletown was taken and transformed into something new.

The university is far from done. A three-story student center, including a 400-seat auditorium, is planned just across the street from the Educational Activities Building. College officials have submitted preliminary plans to Lower Swatara Twp.

“Remember, this is not the last building,’’ Chancellor Mukund Kulkarni, cutting the ribbon at the Educational Activities Building on Wednesday, Aug. 20, told a crowd gathered for the ceremony. “We are going to build some more.’’

Private developers already have built student housing near the campus for more than 1,000 students. While most of the construction has been done in Lower Swatara, the impact surely will be felt just across the border in Middletown, where students living on and near campus will shop, eat, live, and spend their money.

Penn State Harrisburg promises to transform Middletown in a way that the manufacturing industries such as steel, once transformed towns. The borough now has zoning in place that addresses student housing within its limits. It’s just the beginning of a co-existence that could be beneficial to all, if both the university and the town work together.

The Educational Activities Building is an impressive edifice, particularly for what it symbolizes. We are anxious to see how the new complements the old.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 18:28

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Editor's Voice: The vote for police chief includes a touch of class

Perhaps the most striking thing about Middletown Borough Council’s hiring of Pennsylvania State Police captain John Bey as the borough’s next police chief is that the decision was unanimous.

No matter what you think about the move by two councilors on a committee that screened and interviewed candidates for the job to vote on recommending Bey without a third member and Mayor James H. Curry III present, you should be glad that politics did not get in the way of hiring such a qualified person to such an important job.

The unanimous, 9-0 vote for Bey at a council meeting on Monday, Aug. 18 – and the standing ovation given to him by all members of council – was a classy move that gave the occasion an even more optimistic glow.

Bey still must undergo a Civil Service Commission examination and a polygraph test, and needs to be certified by the state as a municipal police officer and gain his honorable discharge from the state police to officially retire from the force. He could be on the job in Middletown within a month.

His law enforcement experience – 25 years as a state trooper – and his military experience (he’s a senior master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve) is impressive.

His willingness to talk to the public during the interview process was encouraging. And the fact that he has offered to work in Middletown for no benefits – just a salary that will not be more than $72,500 – is incredible. Middletown is lucky.

The only issue that some might find with the hiring is that Bey, who has recently built a house in Susquehanna Twp., is not a borough resident. Under borough ordinances, council can waive a borough requirement that Bey live in Middletown for 15 months, and grant extensions if it chooses. At least one councilor has expressed a desire to reconsider that requirement. Certainly 15 months should be ample time for the community to determine if Bey is worthy of a pass on that requirement.

We imagine that council and the mayor will handle disagreements about the process – was the committee vote a political end-around to assure a desired result? – among themselves. The vote by the committee was taken with Councilor Scott Sites and Curry, a participant in the interviews, absent, guaranteeing that there would be no public deliberation among those responsible for recommending a candidate for the post. That  is disappointing.

But it did not hurt the borough’s chances of getting a great candidate, and residents should be happy with the hiring.

It’s also worth noting that Steelton Borough Council hired a longtime borough police officer, Sgt. John King, as its next police chief on Monday, Aug. 18 by a 4-0 vote. A 24-year veteran of the Steelton force, King had been serving as acting chief while council conducted a search for a chief.

Council member Brian Proctor called him “an asset to the community since he started here.’’

Good luck to both new chiefs.
 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 18:39

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Editor's Voice: Christmas arrived early for the Elks and Middletown

By Jim Lewis

Perhaps it was the Christmas spirit that moved a record number of people – 200! –  to buy tickets for the Middletown Holiday Candlelight Tour of Homes on Dec. 8 and 9. And maybe the 224 people who paid to see the

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 22:53

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