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Catasauqua church puzzled by zoning issue

It seemed like a clear, clean purchase. The site of the former Blue Monkey Sports Bar and Restaurant, Howertown Road and Grove Street in North Catasauqua, was for sale. A civic-minded nondenominational church with a diverse congregation was seeking a new home. All appeared well.

Revolution Church approached North Catasauqua Borough Zoning Board for a variance, so members could relocate the church from 5 Race St., Catasauqua, to the North Catasauqua site.

The issue raised by the zoning board was the lack of a 35-foot access to the entrance to the building and parking. This puzzled Revolution Church Senior Pastor Jim McIver, who said these were not issues at the Blue Monkey or the former 19th Hole restaurant.

North Catasauqua Council President Peter Paone said his understanding of the zoning variance request was Revolution Church neither submitted an application for the variance nor submitted the zoning meeting request fee timely. Therefore, the zoning board meeting, which was set for Sept. 16, was canceled.

Paone noted borough council unanimously recommended a variance not be granted by the zoning board two days before the zoning meeting was to be held. Council cited the limited number of for-profit businesses present in the community as a reason to deny in order to maintain the borough’s tax base.

Several areas of zoning compliance issues, according to Paone, were property offsets, too high a level of impervious cover on the property and parking challenges.

“I have never dealt with a zoning officer or a building inspector ever, never in my 49 years, like North Catty,” McIver said. “The zoning officer stopped communicating with me.”

McIver, a minister with 49 years of church service, noted he has had experience in the building and purchase of buildings during his long career.

Paone said he was not aware of the details or timeliness of the zoning officer’s communication with McIver.

“We wasted two months to get any headway,” McIver said.

Revolution Church was founded in September 1996 in Allentown. The church relocated to Catasauqua in September 2013.

The church’s Race Street building was purchased by Pennsylvania Department of Transportation as part of Catasauqua’s Lehigh and Race streets project. The project was voted down at Catasauqua Borough Council’s meeting Sept. 8. It is unclear if the project can be revived.

The PennDOT purchase of the Race Street property necessitated Revolution’s move.

Revolution Church has met the past two Sundays for services at Catasauqua Park and Playground, 501 American St. McIver is grateful Catasauqua council allowed parishioners to temporarily take part in services there.

The plan for Revolution now is to coordinate livestream Sunday services through its website, revchurch.cc.

McIver is seeking a place for his congregation of more than 200 members to worship, with about 175 attending Sunday services. He wants to remain in either Catasauqua or North Catasauqua as the church is growing. He feels the members have a positive impact on the community with their message and racially diverse congregation.

Revolution Church has a good relationship with the Catasauqua police and fire departments, the borough manager and the borough’s mayor.

Vincent Smith, Catasauqua Borough Council president, said he hopes Revolution Church can find a home in Catasauqua.

“The church is supportive of our community, which is appreciated. They are nice people,” Smith said.

“Catty Borough has been good. We support the police, fire department and the borough. The fire department needed some money for their services, and [Revolution] church helped out,” McIver said.

For now, the North Catasauqua deal is dead. In an uncertain time due to the pandemic, Revolution Church’s future is even more uncertain.

“If we found a property elsewhere, we will move,” McIver said, though he noted he wants the church to remain in Catasauqua or North Catasauqua.

PRESS PHOTO BY BILL LEINER JR. Revolution Church, 5 Race St., Catasauqua, is searching for a new location after its current property was bought by Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.