Church sues Jim Thorpe to stall Carbon project
Jim Thorpe community members are battling Carbon County to protect St. Mark and St. John Episcopal Church. A county project calls for chipping away at the rock from the mountain behind the property. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTOS
A Jim Thorpe church has filed a lawsuit against the borough for allowing a proposed three-story office building and parking garage to move forward.
St. Mark’s and St. John’s Episcopal Church filed the suit against the borough and borough council in the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas on Friday afternoon asking for council’s decision to be reversed.
The suit states that the church, located at 21 Race St., is appealing the borough’s decision to grant Carbon County conditional plan approval for the Susquehanna Street project. Council granted approval in a 4-3 vote at its February meeting.
At that meeting, Jim Thorpe Mayor Michael Sofranko, who cast the tiebreaking seventh vote for the approval, said, “This moves things forward, but it’s not the end of the road. The land development agreement still needs to be worked out. This buys the church some time to get some of their concerns addressed in that agreement. My number one concern has been and is the church. I don’t want to see anything happen to it.”
Several church and surrounding business members, as well as local residents have been vocal about their disapproval of the project for several months because it requires the removal of 40 feet of bedrock from the base of the mountain, which is part of the church’s foundation.
The church, in its suit, reiterates that the building is in a national historic district, is a national historic landmark and has many irreplaceable artifacts, including two Tiffany stained-glass windows.
The suit alleges that the county misrepresented material facts to the borough on Dec. 8, stating that the borough’s planning commission minutes state, “‘easement agreements have been made for the properties (the county) may anchor into the church and the bike shop.’ No such easements exist.”
The suit continues that the church believes that the scope of the project requires an NPDES permit for the rock removal and has not been completed so the action taken by the borough “abused its discretion and committed an error of law in approving the Susquehanna Street project.”
Because of this, the suit alleges the project “threatens immediate and irreparable harm to the historic structures and fixtures at the church property. ... and violates various provisions of the borough’s zoning ordinance.”
Carbon County has been working on building additional office space since 2016.
A group called Stop the Susquehanna Street Project has also been formed and a petition on Change.org against the project currently has 1,489 signatures.