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Proposed Anthracite Hotel gets one step closer to reality

SHAMOKIN — A new hotel at the site of the former Coal Hole and textile mill along Walnut Street is one step closer to reality following a Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing Tuesday evening on the stage of the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center.

Lark Berger Ventures LLC and Dunn Twiggar Co. LLC sought and was approved three variances for The Anthracite Hotel, a proposed 65-bedroom facility that would include a restaurant, meeting rooms, fitness area, roof deck and lobby.

Blue prints show that the former Coal Hole structure would be torn down and a four-story structure would take its place. It would include a 4,250-square-foot restaurant, king and queen bedrooms, and a 540-square-foot observation deck fronting Walnut Street.

The existing four-story former mill would be fully renovated and include more bedrooms and various amenities.

Both buildings would be connected by a four-story corridor at the rear of a one-story lobby measuring 2,200-square-foot with the main entrance fronting Walnut Street. The buildings would contain an elevator and water sprinklers.

There would be a total of 115 parking stalls in a lot across the street and two stalls alongside the hotel.

Andy Twiggar, managing partner of Lark Berger Ventures and Dun Twiggar Co., was grated exceptions for the minimum amount of parking stalls from 150 to 117; the length of parking stalls from 20 to 17 or 18 feet; and width of a loading dock on the eastern-side of the building from 12 to 10 feet.

Board Chairman Michael McLaughlin said language in the code regarding one parking stall for each 50-square-foot of restaurant space accessible to the public was open for interpretation, but the board felt it prudent to grant an variance to cover its bases.

Testifying were Twiggar, Josh Hoagland, of the Crossroads Group LLC; and Ted Strosser, of Baer Architects LLC. The applicants were represented by Attorney Robert Dluge, of Elysburg. Presented were deeds, floors plans, a brief history of the properties and an explanation for the variance requests.

Following a 10-minute recess, Zoning Board members Jerry Splaine, Bill Allen, John Shovlin and Chairman Michael McLaughlin voted in favor of the requests, which led to applause and cheers from the audience. Board member Craig Schoch was absent.

Twiggar said he received approval for the project from a variety of agencies, including DEP, the Northumberland County Conservation District and the City of Shamokin Planning Commission.

“We have a few more steps to go until we can actually put the shovel in the ground,” Twiggar said following the 90-minute hearing. And, some of them are big steps. It’s not like we are going to be turning ground tomorrow.”

Twiggar said he chose the name Anthracite Hotel to key off the legacy and heritage of the area, noting that Lark Berger Ventures had personal appeal, but did catch on.

“There’s a number of our businesses in the region that have ‘Anthracite’ in their names. When people come from out of the area to come riding at AOAA, they are going to ride at the Anthracite, so it ties into that,” he said, noting that he has the original plaque from the Walnut Hosiery Mills, which operated inside the building for decades. “Growing up, I was given an appreciation of the history and heritage of our area. Yeah, let’s celebrate it.”

Speaking in favor of the hotel were Mayor John Brown, Councilwoman Jennifer Seidel, Kathy Vetovich, president of SABER; Dave Porzi, AOAA director of operations; Betsy Kramer, of SEDA-COG; John Eccker, owner of Springfield Banquet Hall, Edward Manning, Mike Duganitz and Lorena Kutza-Porzi.

“Right now, it is a pile garbage. It’s a blighted structure that has sat there for years with no one considering anything for it,” Brown said of the Coal Hole. “What it can become? It isn’t just a hotel. It’s just not a business that Andy wants to put in there — it is part of our revitalization effort for the entire City of Shamokin.”

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Judge denies bail request by Torres in homicide by vehicle while DUI case

SHAMOKIN — Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III denied a request Tuesday by Miguel A. Torres, who is charged with homicide by vehicle while DUI, to be released on supervised bail and continued his preliminary hearing due to technical difficulties with video equipment at Northumberland County Jail.

It marked the second time Torres’ hearing has been continued. The first continuance was granted by Gembic at the request of Patrolman Raymond Siko III, the arresting officer in the case.

Torres’ attorney James Best, who serves as independent conflicts counsel for the county, asked the judge to release his client on supervised bail because Torres claimed his cellmate has COVID-19. Gembic said Torres, who is incarcerated in the county jail in lieu of $50,000 cash bail, told him he tested negative for the virus.

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz opposed any bail reduction in the case.

Due to technical difficulties with conducting a hearing via video from the jail that prevented the legal proceeding from starting at 11 a.m. and Best having a prior legal commitment, Gembic continued the hearing with no new date scheduled.

Torres, 23, of 724 E. Race St., Shamokin, is charged in connection with a Jan. 26 two-car crash at Mulberry and Market streets that claimed the life of Sharon Marie Adams, 66, of Shamokin.

Police reported Torres was high on marijuana and driving 62 to 64 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone when his Mini Cooper collided with Adams’ Honda, killing her and injuring her passenger, Robert Alter.

In addition to homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, Torres is charged with aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence, driving while under the influence of drugs, driving while under the influence of enough drugs to be incapable of driving, reckless endangerment, driving with a suspended license, reckless driving and speeding.

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4 cases of COVID-19 push MCA schools to switch to hybrid format

MOUNT CARMEL — Four people at Mount Carmel Area School District have tested positive for COVID-19, sparking administration to announce Tuesday that students now will attend a hybrid form of education.

“This move is being made to reduce our building population and help with social distancing,” Superintendent Pete Cheddar said in a video posted on the school district website.

The scheduling change will be in place for the next two weeks, Cheddar said, at which time the district will reassess the situation.

Earlier this week, district administration had reported two cases of coronavirus and reportedly closed the school buildings on Monday for a “deep cleaning” of the facilities.

Cheddar said the “schedule can change at any time,” but will not affect students who had previously chosen to pursue virtual learning.

The temporary hybrid schedule goes into effect beginning today and is based on students’ last names. It “will reduce building populations to recommended levels, while allowing some in-person instruction to continue,” according to a document posted on the district’s website late Tuesday evening.

According to the document, all pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first- and second-grade classrooms will meet at full capacity every day, with social distancing and face coverings required.

For more details, go to https://www.mca.k12.pa.us/wp/ or call the district office at 570-339-1500.

Cheddar cautioned parents and students to “prepare for the possibility of all virtual days in the future.”

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Requests for Northumberland County COVID-19 funds is 'much more' than what's available

SUNBURY — Northumberland County officials and SEDA-COG are in the process of reviewing applications seeking a portion of the $8.2 million the county received to assist with COVID-19 expenses.

County Commissioners Sam Schiccatano, Kym Best and Joseph Klebon have already allocated $1 million of the federal funding to DRIVE (Driving Real Innovation for a Vibrant Economy) to expand wireless broadband network access in rural areas of the county.

Entities that were able to apply for the remaining $7.2 million included nonprofits, municipalities, and businesses with fewer than 100 employees that did not receive funding through the Federal Paycheck Protection Program or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program established under the CARES Act.

Schiccitano said a meeting between county officials and SEDA-COG was held Tuesday morning to start the process of separating applications by entities, such as school districts, fire departments and county agencies. He was unsure the exact number of applicants, but said the total amount requested is “much more” than the funds available.

“We are looking at, hopefully, in the next two weeks approving the first round — at least the county’s first round,” Schiccitano said. “We have submissions from the prison (Northumberland County Jail), which are a priority right now, and the courts. … We put a priority into the prison because of what has occurred there.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, 10 inmates and two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, and there’s been between 10 and 15 negative results, according to Northumberland County Court Administrator Kevin O’Hearn.

Schiccitano explained that the Northumberland County Jail submitted 17 requests, some of which have been earmarked for further review by SEDA-COG, which is assisting the county by providing professional expertise and grant administrative services, as well as activity development and management, to ensure accuracy and adherence with federal and state regulations.

“We will be looking at what actually qualifies,” he said of applications submitted by all entities. “We are doing priorities because we feel we need to address things right away. It’s going to take awhile to approve them and then get the invoices. And we have to do this by the end of the year.”

Schiccitano said the applicants cannot request items or services that are not COVID-19 related or covered by another program. The services or materials purchased, he further explained, must also be used to address the pandemic. Eligible expenditures must have been incurred during a period from March 1 through Dec. 20.

County officials desire to install an HVAC system in the Northumberland County Courthouse, but concerns have been raised that the air quality control system would be installed sometime after 2020 and may not directly respond to the pandemic, which would disqualify it from the grant program.

“It can’t be put in for February. Maybe COVID is over and the system is not used for COVID,” Schiccitano stated. “So, we are trying to make sure (the requests) is stuff that we can get done between now and the end of December.”

During Tuesday’s commissioner’s meeting, Schiccitano was appointed as the commissioner representative on the DRIVE board. On the recommendation of DRIVE Executive Director Jennifer Wakeman, Jebediah Stotter and Dennis Hummer were also appointed to the board.

Schiccitano expects that DRIVE will be able to expand broadband internet services in rural areas by the December deadline. The project, he said, will assist students and teachers engaging in virtual learning.

The Danville-based economic development council of governments is currently seeking companies to submit proposals for broadband network expansion for Northumberland, Columbia, Montour, Snyder and Union counties. The commissioners of all five counties have entrusted DRIVE with a portion of their CARES Act block grant funding to expand broadband access in underserved areas throughout the region.

DRIVE stated that the project is intended to provide a rapid expansion of internet accessibility in the collaborating counties in response to the COVD-19 pandemic. The resulting increase in telework, telemedicine and tele-education, it continued, has made reliable broadband internet “increasingly indispensable” to residents and businesses in the region.

The ideal solution, DRIVE stated, should provide business class connectivity, capable of delivering a minimum of a 25 megabytes per second of synchronous connection, to residential and business customers in the counties, especially in underserved areas. The backbone for the core network should provide a minimum of 1 gigabyte of available bandwidth.

Auxiliary Chaplain MaryAnn Varano was named Woman of the Year by the Mount Carmel VFW Auxiliary. “Her dedication to the organization has been exceptional, from her attendance at meetings, several donations including afghans for veterans in nursing homes and hospitals and her participation at many fundraisers held by the Auxiliary,” according to Theresa Kofskie, historian and trustee of Mount Carmel VFW Post 2110 Auxiliary.