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Parking hearing for potential Asian restaurant on hold

New owners looking to turn the former Smuller House Bed & Breakfast at 460 N. Union St. into an Asian restaurant withdrew their application for a variance to Middletown’s zoning hearing board — leading to cancelation of a hearing that had been set for Feb. 13.

However, comments from a representative of new owners HE Group indicates that the group still plans to seek a variance to get relief from off-street borough parking requirements, and will submit a new application.

HE Group’s application for the Feb. 13 hearing had sought a variance to reduce the number of required off-street parking spaces from 19 to nine.

But the borough in reviewing the application determined that HE Group “met all the criteria” without needing a variance, said borough Codes and Zoning Officer Mark Shipkowski.

The property is in a commercial zoning district where a restaurant is an allowed use.

A Jan. 10 letter from the zoning board solicitor to borough interim Zoning Officer Robert Moyer also makes clear that, as far as the borough is concerned, HE Group meets borough parking requirements.

Under borough zoning, the parking requirements that HE Group refers to in its application only come into play if the owner plans to build a new building, or add to the existing one, Solicitor David Wion wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Press And Journal.

“There is no indication” that HE Group plans to build a new building or add on to the existing one, Wion noted. “As a result, there would be no requirement in this case for a variance in any event.”

Wion also in the letter noted HE Group’s application referring to having seven on-street parking spaces. But it is unclear how the restaurant can claim seven on-street parking spaces dedicated solely for its own use, when no spaces are signed or marked for that purpose.

Comments from Howard Dong, a representative of HE Group, suggests that the hearing cancelation may just be a delay and that HE Group still plans to seek a variance from the zoning board related to parking.

“HE Group submitted the zoning variance application for operating the business with less parking than the ordinance requires, so we could save as much as we could on this historical location including the trees and gazebo in the backyard,” Dong said.

The borough wanted HE Group to submit a building plan certified by an engineer, however HE Group could not do this in time for the Feb. 13 hearing, Dong said. HE Group now has its engineer working on the drawing to submit it to the borough as soon as possible, Dong added.

Dong on Dec. 21 presented HE Group’s plans to the Historical Restoration Commission. He told the commission then that HE Group hopes to preserve as much of the backyard, including the gazebo, as possible. But to do that HE Group would need a variance to reduce the amount of off-street parking.

HE Group acquired the property for $350,000 on Dec. 21, 2016, according to Dauphin County records.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:03

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Harold Denton, 'Hero of the TMI Accident,' passes away at age 80

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Robert Reid, left, and Harold Denton talk at at Penn State Harrisburg during an event marking the 35th anniversary of the accident in April 2014.

 

The “Hero of the TMI Accident” passed away Monday, Feb. 13, after a lengthy illness.

Harold Denton, President Jimmy Carter’s envoy in the Three Mile Island crisis in 1979, died in Knoxville at age 80 following a lengthy battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Denton became a celebrity to those who remember his calmness amid the chaos of the accident, and his reassurances in his lugubrious North Carolina drawl, the Press And Journal reported when he returned to the area in 2014 to mark the event’s 35th anniversary.

The last time he visited Middletown before that anniversary event, Denton wore a bulletproof vest.

He was scheduled to hold a press conference at the MCSO Building in the accident’s aftermath. During a check of the building, the borough police chief discovered a bullet on the floor of the auditorium.

Carter TMI 2Harold Denton, left, with Dick Thornburgh and Jimmy Carter at TMI in 1979

Fearing someone intended to literally shoot the messenger during the stressful crisis, the police chief asked Denton to don the vest. Denton agreed and, with the chief by his side, conducted the press conference while, he jokes, looking like “a Michelin tire.’’

Former Gov. Dick Thornburgh, who dealt with the nation’s worst nuclear reactor accident, called him a “savior to this area’’ during a speech at the 2014 conference. Former Middletown Mayor Robert Reid, who demanded answers from the company that owned the disabled reactor, echoed Thornburgh’s praise.

That hero talk? “It doesn’t affect me one way or the other,’’ Denton said at the conference. “I’m just glad it worked out well.’’

The borough was “in deep trouble” before Denton came to town, Reid told the Press And Journal on Tuesday after being told of his passing.

“It wasn’t until President Carter sent Harold Denton to town that it got straightened out. If he wouldn’t have come to town, I think we’d have been lost. We were dealing with frightened people. We were dealing with a company that thought they knew everything, but to me knew very little. They were the so-called experts who guaranteed us there could never be an accident at the island because they had backups to backups.”

Reid said Denton was a “down-home, folksy person” in the way he talked and reacted to things. 

“He didn’t talk to you in terms of a big-time nuclear scientist. He was down to Earth and spoke to you in words that you could understand. That was one thing that the people at GPU (General Public Utilities Corp., then the owner of TMI) just didn’t understand. They allowed … the people in this area to use their imagination. You know what they say about imagination. It’s the biggest nation in the world. We had a lot of frightened people in this area, and it was Harold Denton who really came in and calmed things down. 

“Once you looked at this man and you listened to him, you knew that you were in the hands of a good person,” he said. 

Denton was perhaps the most significant person who helped calm a tumultuous situation during the crisis at TMI, said Joe Sukle, publisher of the Press And Journal, who worked at the newspaper during the 1979 accident. 

“He was professional, accessible and honest to the media but most importantly to the residents, businesses and politicians,” Sukle said.

Added Ralph DeSantis, spokesman for Exelon, which now owns TMI: “Harold Denton was a trusted, credible and calming source of information at a time of tremendous confusion during the TMI-2 accident. Over the years he would come back to central Pennsylvania and give talks to schools, the media and participate in conferences. Our industry owes much to the contributions Mr. Denton made during his career.”

According to his obituary, Denton is survived by his wife, three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He graduated from North Carolina State in 1958 in nuclear engineering, and began his career at the DuPont Savannah River Plant as a reactor physicist. He joined the Atomic Energy Commission and served more than 30 years in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He was the director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation for a decade. 

After TMI, he continued to be active in nuclear safety, following up after nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi reactors. He received honorary degrees from Gettysburg College, Lebanon Valley College and the University of Pennsylvania. He was honored with a Presidential Distinguished Executive Award from Carter, and the James M. Landis Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The accident at TMI began around 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979, when a stuck valve, human error and confusing alarms allowed radioactive cooling water from the core of Unit 2 to spew from the top of the reactor vessel and flood the containment building around it, causing a 12-day pressure-packed crisis where local residents anxiously waited to hear just what went wrong – and how serious it was.

Reid, popular in Middletown for staying at his post and demanding answers from Met-Ed, TMI’s operator at the time, at the 2014 conference praised Denton, who was the director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation at the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1979, for his ability to get answers amid chaos and conjecture from so-called experts. 

Eric Epstein, chairman of Three Mile Island-Alert, the citizen watchdog of nuclear power created after the accident praised Denton at the conference for remaining calm under pressure in 1979.

“It was a difficult situation – it was clearly a pressure cooker,’’ said Epstein. “It was a situation where the governor was not receiving accurate and timely information. I think Mr. Denton brought stability and calm to the area.’’

Even at the conference, Denton dealt with the tough questions in his soothing drawl. When a woman stood up after his speech and challenged his contention that no harmful amounts of radiation were released in the accident, claiming her skin turned red and a metallic taste formed in her mouth at the time, he deflected a moderator’s attempt to end the confrontation. 

“That’s very interesting,’’ he told her calmly. “I’ve heard those stories for the time TMI happened. My impression was we were unable to detect radiation in that way.’’

The rumor at the 2014 conference was that Denton was delivering his last speech on the subject of the TMI accident. Pressed on its accuracy, he was coy. 

“If I make it to the 50th anniversary, I’ll come back,’’ he said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:51

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Middletown in photos: The aftermath of the snow

Press And Journal reporter Dan Miller took to the streets on Thursday to get these photos of the aftermath of the snow.

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Last Updated on Friday, 10 February 2017 11:44

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Lower Swatara takes next step on buying Shireman Farm tract

The Lower Swatara Township Board of Commissioners moved to enter into an agreement to acquire a 32-acre tract of land contingent upon receipt of a grant Wednesday, Feb. 1, with the hope of giving more land to the Lower Swatara Township Athletic Association.

The land in question is the Shireman Farm tract at the southeast corner of Longview Drive and Ebenezer Road. In December, Lower Swatara was awarded a 50-50 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to convert it into a municipal park. 

Initial plans called for a softball field and walking trail as well as picnic areas. 

Both the township and DCNR planned to contribute $187,000 toward the purchase.

In public comments addressed to the board, LSTAA president Jason Wagner spoke of how LSTAA is growing and stressed the importance of having more room for an organization that plays a role in attracting and keeping people in the area. LSTAA, incorporated in 1967, provides youth baseball and softball programs.

“We have continued to have capacity concerns. We are bulging at the seams quite frankly,” Wagner said. “This is sorely, sorely needed in our township. I can’t stress that enough. I encourage you to capitalize on this opportunity. Don’t let it slip away because the potential benefit in the use of something like that for the youth of our community would almost be immeasurable. 

“If we’re going to grow our community, we have to have the vision, we have to have the willingness, and we have to be able to dream big because if we want people to move here, we want people to live here, we want people to work here, and most importantly we want people to stay here, these are the type of things we need to bring into our township.”

Wagner added how he has heard others speak well of amenities in places such as Hershey, Lower Dauphin and Harrisburg, that attract local children to play for them instead of in Lower Swatara and Middletown.

“I want this to be an opportunity where we can showcase the communities around us what we have to offer, not everybody talk about what exists outside our township. I just think that’s a good use of taxpayer dollars, and I would encourage you to really give consideration to that.”

It was suggested to the board that the land be converted into a complex with eight ball fields, two tennis courts, two basketball courts, a skateboard park, a dog park, eight pavilions, and many walking trails.

“Mrs. Shireman has offered us a nice opportunity here. The price is good. I just think we have a heck of a bargain here, a heck of an opportunity for the township that I’ve heard a lot of public support,” Commissioner Todd Truntz said. “I would certainly be willing to move to proceed with this whatever the next steps are, perhaps entering an agreement with Mrs. Shireman contingent upon the grant stuff falling into place.”

Even if the property couldn’t be developed into what the board hopes it could be, it still could be used for picnics, hiking, dog parks, and recreation in general.

“It’s a great first step to really providing something our community can be proud of,” Wagner said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2017 09:23

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Interim chief can carry firearm, make arrests

Middletown’s new interim police chief has received approval from a state agency to carry a police department firearm and have full powers of arrest.

George Mouchette told the Press And Journal on Friday Jan. 27, that he had been issued a number from the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission certifying that he is fully qualified.

The number is preliminary, in the sense that the commission itself meets quarterly and cannot issue a permanent number until after its next meeting, Mouchette said. However, the preliminary number is good until the permanent number arrives, which Mouchette said he expects within the next few weeks.

A retired New York City police detective, Mouchette was appointed interim chief and sworn in by Mayor James H. Curry III on Thursday, Jan. 5.

However, Mouchette first had to be hired by the borough before he could meet several of the requirements necessary to be certified, such as going through the Middletown Police Department’s firearms instruction course and qualifying on the range, Curry has pointed out.

Mouchette was appointed to lead the department following the resignation of former Chief John Bey, who left on Dec. 30 to accept a full-time position with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2017 09:14

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