Theater Marquee Drums Up Controversy in Muncy

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MUNCY -- Several people in Lycoming County are upset that borough leaders in Muncy will not allow a church to buy a building in the business district. The catch is, the zoning board's decision was made almost a year ago.

The marquee outside the former Ritz Theater on North Main Street in Muncy is drawing some attention and sparking some concern.

Jessica Zink from Hughesville saw a picture circulating on social media and stopped to take a look during a trip downtown.

"Anybody should be allowed -- if it's going to bring something good to the community -- it should be allowed there," said Zink.

The message on the marquee reads, ‘Building for sale. Sorry churches not allowed by borough. Retail and bars OK.'

It was put up recently by the owner Jay Richards. Earlier this year, a church wanted to buy the building. Muncy's zoning board said no.

"I guess I just wanted the truth to be known,” said Jay Richards.

Richards tells Newswatch 16 businesses might have to remodel inside the theater if they were to buy, but for a church, the set up with the sloped floor would be perfect for the service.

"Nice seating, stage area, to do that we need to file a variance with Muncy borough," said Pastor Salvatore Minnella of 3:16 Covenant Church.

3:16 Covenant Church currently holds services at the Holiday Inn on Pine Street in Williamsport.  The church hoped to turn the old theater into its new home.

The church needed a zoning variance because the theater is located in Muncy's central business district.

According to the zoning board solicitor, the board denied the variance because the owner of the theater had options other than selling to a church.

"It seems the zoning board is not aware of its obligation under federal law to grant a variance to allow land to be used for religious purposes unless there is a 'compelling' reason to deny the variance,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania in an email.

"They have to raise the issue, and if they don't raise the issue either at the hearing or at the appeal, then it's waived," said Howard Langdon.

"If I knew this for ourselves, we probably would have taken that approach during an appeal process, but now that we are so far into it, I'm just glad we are opening up the door for maybe possibly another church or possibly ourselves to take an approach at this,” said Minnella.

3:16 Covenant Church is currently looking at properties in Williamsport. As for the old Ritz Theater in downtown Muncy, it's still for sale.

10 comments

  • Rb

    Unreal. Churches should be allowed anywhere. But put a bar in u have all kinds of issues. Wow then what we see here is lets put a bar in for drinking shootings stabbings & fights. But when it comes to those who believe in Christ lets turn that away. Isn’t there enough bars. This is y I’m so bless I’m leaving this state soon. But I am so bless for our church now where we live.

  • Liz

    Muncy has all factions of religious churches represented already. We don’t need another one. I wish someone would buy the theater to keep it as a theater.

    • Harry

      Why would someone want to buy a theater that has no support from the community. If the guy who owns it was making any money there do you think he would be selling it. Maybe you should buy it and invest all your money into it and open it up once again as a theater and we will see how it goes for you…

  • Tammy Gibson

    I myself have had many run-ins with the current owner when my Sister lived in an apt. close to his property… This guy is not a nice man, what he is doing is wrong in it’s self… He has gotten free advertising knowing him that is what he wanted… The building is falling apart as can been seen from the street view… I am sure there is a lot more to this story than is being put here… ” May have nothing to do with the type of person he is.” However this matter should of been dealt with in a manner that kept it between Muncy and the church… I do hope the property is sold, a Youth Activity Center would be nice, I do believe they had one there in the past with bands and stuff but the outcome was not good it needs more supervision if that were to happen… But hey he got the free advertising…

  • Sal

    The whole story is not being told here. This theater would need to convert to digital to operate at a cost of $ 70,000 dollars. There is a big theater just miles down the road from it’s location. Nobody is going to reopen a theater here because it is not supported by the locals. That leaves this owner with a very limited base of buyers. The cost to a buyer to put in a retail or bar business would be worth the investment because nobody is going to shell out that kind of money hoping they are going to make a success of it in a small town. If Muncy is so concerned with this building why don’t they buy it and take if off the guys hands and use it as a Community center. The whole point of the story is that it is illegal for them to deny the variance under federal law….

  • Ronald Ray

    Come to Williamsport and you can have a church, barroom, hookers, drug dealers and a residential full of children all on the same block even in the same building, that’s why Williamsport is number one and your towns not, YEAHHHH !!!

  • ozzycoop

    A business or commercial district needs to bring jobs and money to a city. A church does not do that.
    Leave the commercial front for a business that is going to help the city prosper by giving jobs and bringing in tax dollars. This church needs to stop being so petty and try to understand.

    • jimbrony

      How many living wage jobs would any business that took up residence in that former theater maintain? How much money would a buyer have to spend to re-purpose the building for their use? Have you ever been to Muncy or the surrounding area? Muncy – nice small town that it is – is just that – a small town with no big business within the city limits. This building has been vacant for quite some time. The church family isn’t being petty, it’s the owner that is speaking his mind through the marquee. Do you think that the folks attending services there wouldn’t stop at other local businesses for gas, food, etc? Saving souls for eternity and pulling people from gloom and despair, or the almighty dollar? I can see where your allegiance is. Billy Graham said it best – prepare for persecution.

  • Samson J. Dogg

    No WNEP, you drummed up the controversy. Must have been a slow news day for this to air. Maybe there should be a follow up story on how many church building are up for sale or closed in Lycoming county? You never seem to miss a beat on reporting on a church folding up somewhere in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre area.

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