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Grenade that turned out to be harmless prompts evacuation of Interfaith Apartments

grenadeSubmitted Photo -- This is the grenade that was found in an Interfaith Apartment unit.

Interfaith Apartments on Mill Street in Middletown was evacuated Tuesday night July 12 after a grenade was found in one of the apartments.

The grenade was determined to be an inert training device and was safely disposed of by a bomb squad with the Pennsylvania State Police, Middletown Police Chief John Bey told the Press And Journal.

MtownInterfaithApartmentsThe grenade was found in a can of Pringles potato chips that had been left in the apartment of a former Interfaith resident who had recently moved out and is now under hospice care.

The device, referred to as a "Pineapple Grenade" in a borough police report, was found in the can by an Interfaith maintenance man cleaning out the apartment who immediately called 9-1-1. Borough police were dispatched at 8:26 p.m. Tuesday and arrived at the scene at 8:28 p.m.

A photo of the grenade taken by borough police was sent to state police, who responded with their bomb squad.

Police also evacuated the eight-story apartment building and blocked off traffic access to the surrounding area.

A staging area for the residents was set up in the Amtrak park and ride lot across Mill Street. The Moose Club next to the lot was also opened up by two club employees who were working late. Residents were invited to go into the club if they needed to sit down or to get some water. Some residents went into the club while others preferred to wait outside, police said.

The grenade was described as being made of metal, with a bluish top and a pin through the handle. Bey said the device was found to be inert - not capable of exploding - and had likely been a training prop that the man living in the apartment had collected as a souvenir.

Police do not know how or when the man came to be in possession of the grenade, or how long it had been in the apartment, Bey said.

A follow-up search of the apartment during the incident by a bomb-detecting dog provided by Harrisburg Police uncovered cartridges and shotgun shells in the closet. These were determined not to be a hazard, police said.

Five borough police officers, including Bey, were involved in the incident and were assisted by borough fire and emergency personnel.

Besides the state police bomb squad and Harrisburg police, Middletown police were also assisted at the scene by police from Steelton, Highspire, Lower Swatara Twp. and Penn State Harrisburg.

Police remained at the scene until 11:28 p.m. The grenade was taken away by state police and Bey said he does not know what they will do with it.

"I'm sure they have a whole stash of those things," Bey said of the state police bomb squad.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 July 2016 13:36

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North Union plans call for stores, hotel, eatery

ZoningSignN Union WEBPress And Journal photo by Eric Wise — One homeowner on North Union Street in Lower Swatara Twp. erected a sign in opposition to rezoning the Dickerson property at Route 283 and North Union Street. Dickerson and other property owners have applied for a variance that would allow commercial use of the property, now zoned for residential.  

A revised plan for development of 15 acres along North Union Street in Lower Swatara Township calls for a restaurant, office building, several stores and a 79-room hotel on the southern edge of Route 283.

Lee Dickerson will bring his quest to sell the remnants of what he says is his family's five-generation farm along Route 283 to the Lower Swatara zoning hearing board July 14. His application for two variances was revised since June, when the hearing was continued because some property owners dropped out of the process.

The land is zoned residential-suburban. Dickerson requested a variance to allow commercial development of the 15.55-acre site on North Union Street from the Route 283 ramp to the private road Condran Drive.

The revised application shows a conceptual plan for the site, with 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 then lead to an office building and a 79-room hotel as the property stretches toward Swatara Creek along the highway. The application proposes razing eight homes, half of which Dickerson said are vacant, dilapidated and uninhabited. To develop the site for commercial use, Dickerson plans to bring water and sewer lines to the area.

He is seeking a second variance that would allow more than 30 percent of the site to be covered with impervious surfaces, areas that do not absorb water, such as parking lots. Tom Luttrell, a consultant who has worked with Dickerson during the process, said the lack of public sewer and water lines in the area has caused problems for many properties with contaminated wells and failing septic systems.

“They are desperate to sell, but can’t sell because of the sewer and water problem,” Luttrell said. “We have people who are absolutely desperate to sell.”

Problems with water and sewer for these homes have developed over the decades since they were built, and these issues have now placed owners in a bind, as they never expected this type of hardship in selling their homes, Luttrell said.

“I think it’s unconscionable how (the commissioners) ignored these people’s problems,” Luttrell said. “They should be bringing water and sewer there.”

Dickerson began this process by applying to the township for a zoning change in the fall of 2015. The planning commission discussed the proposal, which Dickerson then withdrew and resubmitted with changes. The planning commission considered the revised proposal and voted 3-1 in December to recommend the commissioners approve it. The township commissioners did not take any action, and state law sets no requirement for when they have to act on a recommendation from the planning commission.

Dickerson said during the planning commission process that commercial development was the best way to get water and sewer lines to that part of the township. Homeowners would have to pay a tapping fee of $3,200 under the Lower Swatara Municipal Authority’s current rates once the lines reach the area.

Chris DeHart, a planning commissioner and former fire chief for the township, said in December that he supported the proposal for commercial development because adding water to the area would protect public safety by having water available for firefighters. “It seems the board is against any rezoning,” Luttrell said.

Following a lack of action, Dickerson withdrew the application and applied for the zoning variances instead.

More than 30 members of the public attended the June 9 zoning hearing during which the board accepted a request from David Tschudy, Dickerson's attorney, to continue the hearing for one month.

As the application progressed through the planning commission in 2015, some residents questioned the need for commercial development in a residential neighborhood and bemoaned the potential increase in traffic along North Union Street. Others agreed for the need for water and sewer in the area, and the desire to improve the area by removing blight.

The township was beginning its review of the comprehensive land use plan last fall when Dickerson applied for the zoning change. A steering committee appointed by the township commissioners completed its review and made recommendations for zoning changes June 20. In this draft proposal, now before the township’s planning commission, the Dickerson property would become zoned for commercial use, said Anne Shambaugh, township manager.

The land past the hotel close to Swatara Creek eventually could become a ball field, hiking trail or park for the township, Luttrell said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 July 2016 15:47

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Another council member quits

Middletown Borough Council has yet another vacant seat to fill – before council has had a chance to fill the seat that was just vacated by Robert Louer Sr.

Ed Shull had only been on council representing the Third Ward since Jan. 19, when he was chosen to fill the seat vacated by Vicki Malone, who resigned in September 2015.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 July 2016 15:29

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Council reverses on square

Plans for putting a new face on the Middletown town square at Main and Union streets have been put on the back burner by borough council, at least for now.

Reversing a decision from just two weeks before, council on July 5 voted 5-0 to back out of a contract to pay consulting engineers $18,600 to come up with a design for how to make the square more attractive to motorists and the public.

At least 19,000 vehicles a day pass through the square, either on Main Street (Route 230) or north and south on Union Street (Route 441), according to traffic counts compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Council took the action despite Solicitor Adam Santucci advising members there is no guarantee that the borough can get out of the contract with HRG that council had approved by 6-3 vote on June 21. There is also no guarantee that the borough can avoid paying the entire $18,600 to HRG, Santucci pointed out.

There was no word yet on whether HRG will allow the borough to get out of the contract. “This remains an open issue. It has not been resolved,” Santucci told the Press And Journal on Monday, July 11. HRG did not return a phone call from the Press And Journal seeking comment.

Voting to get out of the contract was Council President Ben Kapenstein and Vice President Damon Suglia, and members Anne Einhorn, Diana McGlone and Robert Reid. Members Dawn Knull, Ed Shull and Ian Reddinger were absent. First Ward Councilor Robert Louer Sr. resigned effective July 1.

HRG since getting the contract on June 21 had already come up with a conceptual drawing that the firm was supposed to present to council and to the public during the July 5 meeting.

But instead, Kapenstein started the discussion on July 5 by saying he had asked Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter to request that HRG not come to the meeting. HRG did not attend.
Since the June 21 vote “I’ve heard a lot of talk that people don’t want this done,” Kapenstein said, referring to improving the square. “I feel like people have changed their minds a little bit.”

That sentiment was evident in comments council heard from residents before the issue came up on the agenda.

“That square has been the way it is for as long as I can remember,” said Kay Wealand, who turns 63 in October. 

She also spoke for several, including some on council, who have urged that instead of launching a new project on the square the borough bring closure regarding what is to be done about the Elks Theatre.

“This town is the oldest town in Dauphin County and we should be preserving the history of this town,” Wealand said, referring to the theater.

Council is holding a public meeting on the future of the Elks Theatre for Thursday, July 21.

Downtown businesses deserve a break after two and a-half years of almost nonstop road closures stemming from public improvement projects, said Robin Pellegrini, owner of the Alfred’s Victorian restaurant. “Now you want me to deal with more?”

HRG under the contract awarded June 21 was to have the drawing done by Aug. 1 so the borough can meet a deadline for applying for a Dauphin County gaming grant.

One of the three councilors who had voted against the contract on June 21, McGlone had contended the time frame was too tight to allow for sufficient public input regarding what people would like to see done at the square.

“I believe it (the square) needs redone,” McGlone said before the follow-up vote on July 5. “It’s the timing of” the project that is wrong. McGlone was also among those who said council should resolve the Elks Theatre issue first before tackling the square.

McGlone suggested the borough obtain the conceptual drawing that HRG has done, and turn the drawing over to the borough’s newly re-established planning commission.

The commission over a period of several months can continue working the concept, which should ensure adequate public input throughout the process, McGlone added.

The borough should be able to apply for the gaming grant next year, Klinepeter said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 July 2016 15:26

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Borough parking: It’s time to have your say

If you live or run a business in downtown Middletown and want to have a say about parking, you should attend borough council's next meeting on Tuesday, July 19.

Chances are good that council will take some action on recommendations included in a study of parking in the downtown that was completed in May by the Middletown Police Department.

The study agreed with business owners who have been saying that a shortage of parking in the core downtown is caused by Amtrak commuters taking up key spots for hours and days at a time because the lot at the train station on Mill Street is full.

For example, the study found that 72 percent of vehicles parked during peak times in the core downtown area were registered to owners outside of the 17057 zip code.

Among recommendations in the study are higher parking fines, placing time limits on how long a vehicle can be parked in certain spots, and allowing downtown residents to apply for parking permits.

The core downtown zone includes the north and south sides of Brown Street between South Union and Pine Street; the north and south sides of Mill Street between South Union and Poplar streets; and the west and east sides of Poplar Street between Brown and Mill streets.

The study also looked at a broader area of the downtown, but found that the concentration of non-17057 vehicles was only evident in the core zone.

Council has had the study since June 7 when it was briefly presented by Mayor James H. Curry III. However, no action has been taken. Toward the end of council's July 5 meeting, a call for action came from Councilor Robert Reid, who has been the most vocal about doing something to address the downtown parking issue.

“I don't want to see that study put on the shelf and forgotten about,” Reid said.

But before council acts it needs to hear from downtown residents and business owners - who likely have their own opinion about how long a time limit is best, and other aspects of the recommendations, said Borough Solicitor Adam Santucci.

On a related note, Councilor Diana McGlone for several months has been trying to get the borough to put up signs that would direct people to the free parking that is available in the lot behind the Municipal Building off West Emaus Street.

Now is the time to act, while the downtown parking issue is still manageable, Reid told the Press And Journal afterward. "A community should always control downtown parking because you don't know what will happen from one day to the next," Reid said.

"Today it could be the train station, tomorrow it could be something else. Tattered Flag is going to bring a lot of people to town," Reid said, referring to the combined brewery/distillery brew pub that is to be fully open in the Elks Building by sometime this fall.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 July 2016 15:22

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