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Editor's Voice: Emptiness benefits no one

Posted 8/5/14

It would make sense for Middletown Borough to acquire the 10 acres of vacant land along Susquehanna Street near the Susquehanna River that currently is owned by the authority that operates Harrisburg International Airport.

The land once held a …

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Editor's Voice: Emptiness benefits no one

Posted

It would make sense for Middletown Borough to acquire the 10 acres of vacant land along Susquehanna Street near the Susquehanna River that currently is owned by the authority that operates Harrisburg International Airport.


The land once held a neighborhood of 25 houses, bought and razed by the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority as part of a noise abatement program funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The homes’ owners voluntarily sold their property, located directly under a runway approach, to the authority because they were identified as potential participants in a noise buy-back program.

The acres currently are tax-exempt, because the authority is a tax-exempt entity. The authority maintains them – it cuts the grass and shovels the sidewalks. Under FAA rules, no homes or any other “noise sensitive’’ development can be built there – that would defeat the purpose of the buy-back program. And the area is in a flood plain, limiting commercial or industrial development.


The authority could hold onto the land forever, but that makes no sense for anyone involved. It would seem to be of no use to the airport, and leaving it vacant does nothing for the surrounding community.

A consultant hired by the authority recommends that the land be turned into a recreation site. There’s already a park and a ball field nearby.


Suggestions for the site have been made in the past. One was to build an ice skating rink for the winter, which could be built rather cheaply by the borough and filled with water pumped from the river or nearby Swatara Creek. That would be a wonderful fit for family-oriented Middletown, if the cost of construction, maintenance and insurance wasn’t high.


Even if that didn’t pan out, some type of park would be better for Middletown than a vacant lot.


The issue, we imagine – apparently, talks between the authority and borough have gone on before – is cost. One would think that acquiring the property from the authority would not be steep. The borough would have to pay fair market value, determined by an appraisal – but the fair market value of vacant land in a flood plain, one where the development options are limited, shouldn’t be very high.

A state grant could be obtained through Dauphin County to determine the best recreational use for the land, but the borough would have to put up $6,000 to $11,000 in matching funds, said Borough Manager Tim Konek. More specific ideas on what kinds of recreation facilities could be built there would give a better idea of potential maintenance costs the borough could face in the future.

The quality of life in Middletown could be enhanced by the borough’s acquisition of the land, and for a relatively inexpensive price. We urge the borough to continue to consider the potential of acquiring the land, and not slam the door on the proposal.
 
 

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