SNYDERSVILLE — The Hamilton Township Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend a special use application without conditions for a Korean-based religious group to use the Pocono Dome as a church.
That was among of the new revelations that came out of the first session of a special use hearing in front of the township’s zoning hearing board. The board must approve the church’s use of the property, with or without additional conditions, before it can be considered by the township supervisors.
The recommendation came out of a hearing by the planning commission a week earlier. The planning commission only issues recommendations to the board. The zoning board has the final say on issuing a permit.
The World Society Mission Church of God, with 2.5 million members worldwide, hopes to convert the dome’s use for religious services, education and recreational events, church spokesman John Power testified at the hearing. The church has a deal in place to pay $2.9 million for the sports complex.
Power expects the church to draw between 20 and 50 local members at the outset. He said the church, one of about 100 in the U.S., will also attract members from northern and central Pennsylvania.
The maximum capacity of the church is 1,498 worshipers and officials, based on the township’s zoning ordinance of 3.5 seats per parking spot and 428 available parking slots. Residents had concerns about busing people in for special events, which Power said he did not currently envision.
Tom McKeown, a real estate broker and appraiser since 1976, was first to testify. He focused on the effect of property values if the dome were to be converted into to a church.
“My job was to look at whether the proposed changing use would have a negative impact on values in the area,” McKeown said. “I do not believe it will have a negative impact on valuations. I hold that with a reasonable degree of certainty.”
He said he looked at other situations where a property was converted into a church. He examined the old Shawnee Academy, which was converted into the Light of The World Church, as one of his two examples.
“I have yet to hear anyone complain about diminution of property,” he said.
That did not sit well with residents, who demanded a more formal analysis of the effects of the church on property values, rather than what McKeown referred to as an evaluation.
The Pocono Dome sports complex is on Mackes Street, off Metzger Road in Sciota. The roadway has a one-lane bridge, and residents were concerned about traffic tie-ups.
Joseph Burns of Cherry Valley Road asked McKeown how the additional traffic would impact home values.
“There could be a difference in the flow of traffic volume,” Burns said. “If we have a great concentration of vehicles flowing slowly into intersections, has any thought been given to that in valuation as far as traffic jams and getting our kids somewhere?” he asked.
“I did not do any appraisals,” McKeown said. “I just examined the situation.” He also said he did not do any traffic studies, which the board said could be a condition of its approval.
Resident Richard Pierce also questioned the effect of traffic on property values.
McKeown said, “It depends, sometimes it can have a positive effect — on a commercial level.”
The church intends to use the complex for Saturday and Tuesday services and daily evening bible studies, Power said. He expected about 20 to 40 church members to attend the studies when it first opens. After that, he would not venture a guess. He said the church would be open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Power, in his testimony, felt the property would be adequately screened with natural landscape. But several residents said although that were true in the summer, it wouldn’t be of much help in the winter.
“We would consider input from the community on that and other things,” Power said. He also said there were no plans to erect a fence around the property.
During his cross examination of Powers, Hamilton Township solicitor John Dunn said when the dome was first approved, the sewage enforcement officer for the township allowed a maximum of 1,667 gallons a day in discharge.
“If there is a change of use in the building, it must be recalculated by the sewage enforcement officer,” Dunn said.
Dunn asked if the church would serve meals at the dome, and to what extent would it affect the sewage flow. Power said the church was committed to following all township occupancy requirements and building ordinances.
Power was unsure of the growth or use of the facility, and somewhat unfamiliar with the internal features of the property.
“We will be buying the building first and make the projections later,” Power said. “We anticipate growth, but it will be limited to what the ordinances are.”
Resident Doug Metzgar asked why the church would spend $2.9 million for 40-50 people.
“The facility offers a lot of different types of uses. It’s a church with a big gym inside of it. Our members like to play soccer,” Power said.
The church is classified as a 501c3 charitable organization.
“My concern is the loss of taxes to the Stroudsburg school district of about $80,000,” resident Jane Hartin said. “It will rest on the shoulders of the rest of us. I’d like to see it remain as a viable building.”
The meeting was adjourned during Power’s cross-examination and will be continued at 4:30 p.m. on July 12 at the Monroe County Safety Center.