One Middletown council member files complaint against another over rentals, zoning
One Middletown Borough Council member has filed a complaint against another — who owns rental properties — regarding the question of how many unrelated people can live in the same house …
One Middletown council member files complaint against another over rentals, zoning
One Middletown Borough Council member has filed a complaint against another — who owns rental properties — regarding the question of how many unrelated people can live in the same house or apartment.
The complaint was filed this month against Councilor Diana McGlone regarding three rental properties in the 200 block of West Water Street.
The complaint was filed by Jenny Miller, who also lives in that block. Miller, who has served on the council since the beginning of the year, told the Press & Journal she filed the complaint on behalf of another resident who lives in the same block.
Miller’s complaint against McGlone led Council President Damon Suglia on Sunday, Feb. 18, to send an email to borough solicitors at McNees Wallace & Nurick, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter, Borough Chief Codes Officer Al Geosits and council Vice President Dawn Knull, informing them that Suglia is “removing Ms. McGlone from working on any future zoning, codes, or overlay issues or laws pertaining to the borough.” Suglia also sent the email to McGlone.
Suglia said his intent is not to shut McGlone out of the process, but that council work as a team.
“I don’t want her working on this alone. We are going to work on this as seven council people,” Suglia said.
At the heart of Miller’s complaint is a concern that the number of unrelated people living in McGlone’s properties is causing a shortage of available on-street parking.
The Press & Journal obtained a copy of a notice of violation that McGlone received from the borough dated Feb. 23. The notice obtained appears to refer only to one of the West Water Street properties.
The notice says while the property itself is a permitted use in the R-2 residential zoning district, the property is being rented to “a total of four” unrelated Penn State Harrisburg students.
“This is a violation of the Middletown borough zoning ordinance,” the notice says.
Asked if the borough should refer the complaint to an outside independent agency because it involves an elected official, Suglia told the Press & Journal in a phone interview on Friday that he did not believe that to be necessary.
“She is not being investigated as a councilor but as a landlord,” Suglia said. “Our borough is capable of handling this. It is not a criminal matter, it is a zoning matter.”
He acknowledged that McGlone could be fined, but only if she chooses not to “conform” to the zoning ordinance.
McGlone suggests change
Two days after the email from Suglia, McGlone during council’s most recent meeting on Feb. 20 proposed that council “consider changing the zoning to limit the number of adults over the age of 18 in a single dwelling unit to be less than five or six, depending on the overall square footage of the property to address overcrowding and address the definition of family, as it’s 2018 and the borough’s definition of family is outdated.”
Suglia said he believes it is a conflict of interest for McGlone as a sitting councilor to propose a change that impacts how many people are allowed to rent from her in her properties.
Asked by the Press & Journal if it is not a conflict of interest for McGlone as a councilor to be proposing a change in law that potentially benefits her, she responded by saying “Isn’t that my job and duty as an elected official, to put forth policies that benefit the entire community?”
Suglia in the email referred to “concern” that McGlone, “with her influence…in regards to zoning and code changes within the borough, may be partial to the changes being discussed by using her stature as a council member to possibly try to tilt the changes in her favor for her rental units,” according to the email, a copy of which Suglia provided to the Press & Journal.
Suglia goes on to write in the email, “while this may or may not be the case, it may raise questions to the public moving forward.”
Suglia added that after Miller had filed her complaint with the borough, Suglia became aware of comments from McGlone stating that “she was working with” the solicitor “to change these rules and regs that will allow what she is trying to accomplish to be legal.”
“I can’t have somebody saying this to the public. Then the public will think this is backdoor politics,” Suglia said.
The Feb. 18 email from Suglia prompted McGlone to read her statement during the Feb. 20 council in which — before calling for changes to the proposed ordinance — she contended that Suglia does not have the legal authority “to institute a policy to prevent a sitting council member from discussions regarding borough matters.”
McGlone labeled Suglia’s contention that she might “slant the zoning or codes to benefit myself because I am a landlord” as “quite humorous.”
“I am the one who has put forth proposals for a residential rental inspection program to address safety concerns for renters” and “a re-investment program that will provide low interest loans for homeowners and businesses to improve their properties,” McGlone said in her statement, adding “I’ve spent countless hours putting forth a new property codes proposal that was adopted to finally allow the borough to legally address blighted properties and go after slumlords. I continue to put forth proposals and ideas to improve our zoning and codes to address parking issues and overcrowding in units, and legally address the usage of properties whose usage is rentals and hospitality as the town continues to grow in population and the rate of rental units within our borough will rise with Penn State Harrisburg expanding and growing.”
No copy of complaint
Suglia in a phone interview with the Press & Journal on Friday, Feb. 23, said that despite the wording of his Feb. 18 email, he is “not removing” McGlone from the process.
“I am letting her know that (staff) is not to take any direction from her alone in regards to doing any proposed ordinance or zoning ordinance changes,” Suglia said.
McGlone said she is “100 percent behind” the change she proposed at the meeting.
“You start with that with a discussion, not with targeting a landlord who rents to students,” she said.
McGlone told the Press & Journal she is not sole owner of the properties, but co-owns them along with her father and other business partners.
According to Dauphin County tax records, the properties are owned by Sweet Arrow Properties LLC, which has the same address as McGlone’s residence in the 800 block of Adelia Street.
The third property named in the complaint is owned by Middletown Properties LLC, which according to county tax records also has the same address as McGlone’s residence.
Miller declined to provide a copy of her complaint, which she said she had provided to the borough via email.
Klinepeter also denied a request from the Press & Journal for a copy of the complaint filed against McGlone.
“A code complaint is considered a non-criminal investigation and is considered an exception to the Right-To-Know Act,” Klinepeter told the Press & Journal in an email. “Therefore I can’t provide it to you.”
McGlone said the notice of violation she has received from the borough pertains to the definition of a family in the borough code as being “one or more persons occupying one dwelling unit and maintaining one common household, provided that no more than two persons are unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption. Foster children shall be considered as adopted for the purpose of this definition.”
McGlone said she considers the complaint to be discriminatory against Penn State Harrisburg students.
She also contends that she is being “targeted” by borough council, in that McGlone said she is only one of many landlords in Middletown who rent to Penn State Harrisburg students.
“To my knowledge, no other property owners who also rent to more than two unrelated persons are being issued alleged violation notices within the borough,” McGlone told the Press & Journal in an email.
The notice Feb. 23 followed McGlone being contacted regarding the complaint by Geosits on Monday, Feb. 12.
According to emails provided by McGlone to the Press & Journal, she and Geosits had arranged to meet at the properties on West Water Street on Thursday, Feb. 15. However, McGlone said she had to cancel the meeting due to an unrelated scheduling conflict involving her job.
McGlone said she heard nothing further until receiving the Feb. 23 notice of violation.
Asked if she is violating the ordinance by allowing too many unrelated people to live in the residences, McGlone said she and her partners intend to fight the complaint using “legal” means, the exact nature of which she declined to specify.
She contended that the parking issues in the 200 block of West Water Street were there before she and her partners acquired the properties. She added that parking is a problem all over the borough.
Miller, who was elected in November, filed the complaint following a council discussion she had brought up in January regarding occupancy permits in Middletown and how this relates to the availability of on-street parking.
The discussion led to an informal consensus among council that the borough should be enforcing an existing ordinance that requires all landlords in Middletown to inform the borough regarding how many tenants live in a given rental unit, and whether those tenants are married.
Landlords are also to provide details regarding the habitable square footage of a rental unit, information that the borough can use to determine how many off-street parking spaces the property owner is required to provide under borough law.
“We need occupancy permits on these buildings,” Miller told the Press & Journal. “It would create a better environment for the tenant, the landlord and certainly the neighborhood. Our neighborhood has lost its harmony of being a neighborhood, because everyone is upset over this parking situation. I see neighbors fighting with neighbors over this, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be.”
Miller said she is not “targeting one particular person” — McGlone in this instance — but trying to bring to light a situation that needs addressed borough-wide.
“I just see a situation that (should) have some kind of control put on it,” Miller said, adding that besides parking there are health and safety reasons why the borough needs to know how many people live in a rental unit at any given time. “If there was a fire how would we know how many people we are looking for?”
Miller also said that before getting elected to council she had been aware of complaints involving over-crowding regarding rental units elsewhere in the borough.
Miller herself is the owner of two single-family homes in Middletown that she said are both rented out to families.
Regarding possible changes to the ordinance, Miller said “I don’t think a landlord should be making these decisions, but through the solicitor and council as a whole this program should be rectified so everyone is happy. That’s my hope.”
New procedure for solicitor
Suglia in the email also lays out a procedure by which tasks assigned to the borough solicitor by council are to go through Suglia as council president.
“If (the solicitor) needs to ask someone something I would take that back to council,” Suglia told the Press & Journal in the phone interview. “It would be my job then to bring this back to council, not to make a decision (unilaterally as council president) but to bring it back to council.”
Direction to the solicitor would then be relayed through Suglia, based upon what council seeks to accomplish “as a team,” Suglia added.
Suglia said that if he did not have legal authority to take the action regarding McGlone, he would have been informed of that by borough Solicitor Adam Santucci.
Suglia also provided to the Press & Journal a Feb. 19 email from Santucci regarding a discussion that Santucci and Suglia had had about Suglia’s email regarding McGlone.
Suglia said that the Feb. 19 email from Santucci is “confirmation” of the process going forward by which questions and concerns from council are to be conveyed to the solicitor and to borough staff, and vice versa.