Project will entail instituting a zoning map amendment (re-zoning) that will consolidate part of the Residential R4 district (Starting from 128 West Broadway) into the existing business (C3) district of Historic Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe).
In doing so local government will facilitate the controlled and necessary growth and beatification of the walkable business district, create new opportunity for investment in the preservation of our town, protect our residential neighborhoods from unwanted development, and support those businesses already along West Broadway that are essential to the culture and history of Mauch Chunk.
The expanded C3 business district will better meet the needs of our community. Through effective planning we can ensure that zoning is better prepared to meet the future demands of our economy, that families have opportunities to grow and start their own businesses here, and that we preserve and enhance the environmental quality of our neighborhoods. By expanding the geographic footprint of the walkable business district, we promote a more uniform business district that helps alleviate congestion and overcrowding of the downtown. In doing so we can link existing cultural institutions on West Broadway to the thriving business district.
Old Jail Museum
Mauch Chunk Museum & Cultural Center
Black Diamond Art Gallery
A.S. Art Foundation
The Stabin Museum/Café Arielle
Gilded Cupid Bed and Breakfast
Kelly Suites On Broadway
Das Bärenhaus on Broadway
Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation
The existing businesses located along West Broadway have struggled to draw customers. Several of these businesses have cultural significance and contribute to our town's history and our heritage.
Residential Impact Planning
Zoning is one of the most effective tools municipalities have-to manage land use while protecting property values and keeping residents safe. When done right, zoning allows planners to manage growth in a logical and harmonious way that benefits the community. Because the current zoning in Jim Thorpe has not adapted to meet the needs of the community, we have developed serious problems with congestion and overflow from our business districts into our residential neighborhoods.
This project will expand the C3 historic business district into the R4 residential district. This will impact residents on West Broadway in that over time it is expected that more businesses will develop in that area. Some of these West Broadway residents will be averse to this change. But Borough Council and planning officials must consider the health and welfare of all its citizens. The moderate expansion of the C3 district into the R4 will help restore and protect the surrounding residential neighborhoods by decongesting the downtown and creating more opportunity for the controlled growth the economy requires.
Rezoning part of the R4 district into the C3 commercial district will provide incentive for businesses to invest in those areas where the business already is, and where we want to keep tourism as a viable economic base. This rezoning will also incentivize the beatification of those areas, improving the infrastructure, streets, and buildings. This will increase homeowners’ property values and generate new tax revenues that can be reinvested to better the community and reduce tax burdens on residents.
By increasing the “footprint” of the walkable downtown business district we greatly reduce the congestion that now exists on a weekly basis in the current business district. Decongesting these areas will improve quality of life for the residents and businesses in the downtown. It will help disperse crowds away from the train station and prevent overflow of people into the roadways allowing for smoother flow of traffic through town. The combined business districts will disperse crowds over a wider area reducing congestion overall.
Any district zoning will have positive and negative consequence. For zoning to be effective it must meet the current demands of the community as well as plan for future needs. It will never satisfy all residents in all ways, but through effective planning we can ensure our local economy has the resources it needs to thrive while taking steps to protect residents' interest in all districts.
Jim Thorpe borough is currently suffering from multiple crisis that are a product of the local economy outpacing community planning. The most prevalent of these crises is a lack of adequate parking. Local law makers, private investors, and residents are actively working to produce short- and long-term solutions for that challenge. It is critical to the health of the economy and borough that we find solutions for the parking crisis.
But solving the parking crisis doesn’t resolve the congestion of the downtown, lack of available space for restaurants shops and lodging to meet current and future demand, or the need for preservation of our buildings. Investing in parking without investing in the industry for which that parking is needed could result in a substantial waste of taxpayer money and resource as tourists find more accommodating and accessible places to go. And the failure to address crumbling homes and buildings in our historic district would result in the catastrophic loss of our heritage.
Some will speculate that rezoning part of the R4 district into the C3 business district will exacerbate our parking issues by attracting more people here. But increasing supply does not increase demand. If it did, then any fledgling economy could be revived simply by creating more stores, businesses could create more sales simply by creating more product. We need not look any further than the multitude of empty store fronts and failed businesses in our neighboring towns and in depressed cities across the US for evidence that increasing supply does not increase demand. And due to the existing parking ordinances and parking infrastructure, the access to parking that is required by our residents will not in any way be negatively impacted by expanding the business district. The reasonable expansion of the available space for businesses to develop is necessary to meet the current demand of people already coming here as well as the future increase in demand that can reasonably be expected allowing for organic growth over time.
Flagstaff Impact Planning
The historic Flagstaff Ballroom is currently under restoration and expected to re-open for business soon. Once a very popular attraction, the ballroom will look to regain that glory and owners have already made investments to add a Ferris Wheel to the grounds to help ensure that it does.
The project has a $2.5 million grant from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Comprehensive planning is underway to establish a world-class gondola cable car system attraction to link downtown Jim Thorpe and the Flagstaff Mountain Resort. These development attractions are overwhelmingly supported by the community and are anticipated to be a substantial draw to the area.
In addition, developers have cleared acres of local forest on Flagstaff to facilitate development of permanent housing and potentially to address the town’s parking crisis. That development is approved for construction of more than 300 residential homes, introducing more local traffic and business to the historic downtown district. It’s imperative that we prepare for that growth now through effective re-zoning that will allow for the controlled growth of our business district.
The lack of accessible space within the downtown forces people who are starting businesses here to look outside of the historic business district, resulting in unwanted development in residential neighborhoods.
Now Is The Time
The state awarded Jim Thorpe and neighboring Summit Hill Borough a combined $30,070 grant to assist in cooperative efforts to provide updated and more consistent zoning, subdivision, and land development regulations (“SALDO”). That work is currently under way.
Rezoning requires a great deal of motivation, work, expertise, and money. With the borough actively engaged in such an effort now with funding in place, it is not only opportune timing to address this needed re-zoning, but incumbent on borough and county leadership to ensure a comprehensive effort is made to understand our communities needs.
The .2 miles of Broadway and Race St. that make up most of the current historic business district is overrun throughout the year. Thousands of people are coming virtually every weekend but in many instances are unable to find a place to park, can’t find place to eat, find a shortage of places to shop. In an economic environment where surrounding communities are vying to pull from Jim Thorpe to stimulate their own economies, our economy will likely weaken and could fail entirely if effective strategies to address these challenges are not sought and implemented as quickly as possible. In addressing these challenges, we can protect and beatify our residential neighborhoods while also helping Jim Thorpe to once again become the economic hub for the entire county.
It's also important that community planners are aware of the extent of disrepair that many of the homes and buildings within the historic district and along West Broadway are in, many of which risk being lost forever if restoration efforts are not taken soon. The sheer expense of salvaging and restoring some of these old buildings is cost prohibitive due to their size and condition. If these buildings cannot be maintained and are not available for business use, many of those distressed properties are more valuable as parking lots then they are as residential housing. To prevent the destruction of our historic district we must act now to promote investment in the restoration and preservation of our town’s heritage for future generations.
Successfully implementing the C3 zoning amendment will require helping residents to understand how expanding the footprint of the C3 business district will help create a better quality of life for all residents. To do so we’ve created a website so that the details of this plan can be made accessible to anyone who’s interested in understanding how the rezoning plan will work and the benefits it will provide.
The congestion and crowded downtown has created an environment where many residents don’t come downtown for coffee anymore, or don’t come for dinner anymore, or don’t have a place for their friends to gather anymore. Many residents specifically avoid shopping in the downtown business district and especially on weekends to avoid the crowds and lack of space. The larger impact people feel is a loss of community and the loss of quality of life.
We must also not lose site of the value a strong business economy provides to a community. Without it, taxes can become unbearable, blight persists, property values drop, crime rises, poverty increases, population decreases. By moderately expanding the C3 district in the way this project proposes we do, we can encourage a more healthy and sustainable business district as well as improve life in residential ones.
If local government doesn’t solve our challenges fast enough, like overcrowding and parking, then private enterprise will. And private enterprise will look for the most profitable solutions, not necessarily the ones that the community wants. Jim Thorpe tourism economy is very profitable, so unless local government is working to address these challenges instead of trying to repress them, we are going to continue to get unwanted solutions. The deforestation of Flagstaff Mountain is a good example.
Long-term success of this plan will require that community leaders provide equal weight and consideration of the economic and residential needs of this community in all decision-making processes. We must not assume that any amount of economic prosperity will continue if deliberate efforts are not made to support the local economy. There are countless examples of once prosperous towns and cities falling into depressed states because they were unable or unwilling to recognize and adapt to the needs of their economy as well as to broader economic trends. We need not look any further than to the history of Mauch Chunk as a case study for such failures. But it was the vision and activism of this same community that led to its rise to prosperity as a coal town, and then with the railroads, and then with architecture, and then with tourism, and that same vision and activism that has led to the resurgence of a strong local economy. We must embrace that spirit to prevent the mistakes of our past.
Through effective rezoning and controlled growth of our historic business district, we can ensure that the local economy remains healthy, that we continue to provide opportunities to our residents to grow their community in a responsible way, and to protect our residential neighborhoods from unwanted development and congestion.
Comparable Business Districts
Study of other successful small town historic business districts around the country can help us understand how to better adapt to address the challenges our community faces as well as to better achieve our goals. The following comparable business districts have similar geographical limitations and each share distinct similarities with Jim Thorpe. But they differ in that each has developed tourism in a way that it has become a primary driver of employment for the area.
These towns all provide a high quality of life for their residents and each has recently been rated as one of the 50 best small mountain towns in America. All have developed either or a combination of satellite parking and trolley service to accommodate the volume of business to the area, have similar sized historic business districts, and some even have developed gondolas to transport people in and out of town.