JIM THORPE, PA. -- The prospect of a Hare Krishna "City of God" in this eastern Pennsylvania mountain community has dismayed residents, who have expressed concern that sect members will try to convert the youth and turn the area into a haven for panhandling.

"Right now, the good people of Jim Thorpe are scared to death that you might come here," Mayor Thomas Wildoner told Krishna representatives who inspected a 400-acre site this month. "There are many concerns we have about you."

Members of the religious sect, a Hindu offshoot whose followers wear saffron robes and shave their heads, favor the site, which overlooks the borough, because it is close to its 1,000 devotees in and near Allentown, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Krishna officials said.

"It will be an opportunity for people to become acquainted with us," said Krishna spiritual leader Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada.

He and planners who inspected the defunct Flagstaff Mountain Park Resort envision their walled city as a "bastion that stands for fortification of religion, decency, purity and love of God." Owners of the land have offered to sell, and the Krishnas are negotiating. No price has been revealed.

The Krishnas plan to build the city first with wood and then with brick and stone, patterning it after their jeweled, marbled and gilded headquarters at New Vrindaban, W.Va., south of Wheeling.

"We have to deliver it to the people in general for their welfare," chief architect Murti Swami said. "Therefore, we are delivering this concept of the City of God to the people of the East Coast region . . . and to 12 other locations throughout the world to help humanity restructure their communities in time so that they can save their religion, save their devotion, their culture and their identity."

The completed city would enclose 280 acres within a 4 1/2-mile wall and provide shelter for 12,000 people inside and an additional 30,000 outside, he said. Along with gardens and a palace, it would have a bomb shelter stocked with provisions for 42,000 people for 30 days, he said.

Representatives of the 5,200 Jim Thorpe residents, mostly Protestants and Roman Catholics, said they are happy with their religions and do not need the Krishnas.

"We don't want your kind here," residents told Krishnas at a recent news conference where blueprints of the proposed city were displayed.

"I don't trust what they were trying to sell here," said Wayne Hunsicker, a resident of nearby Lehighton. "I'm very concerned about it because these people are coming into a very conservative society, and they will try to get younger people into their type of religion."

"My encounters with {Krishnas} have been in airports and cities where they panhandled and pushed themselves on you. I don't want my customers being panhandled on the streets," said Jeffrey A. Reitz, president of the Jim Thorpe Area Commerce Association.

Such reactions are not new or surprising, Bhaktipada said.

"Anything new at first provokes opposition, especially anything that is very vital spiritually," he said. "We don't intend to bother anyone. We want to live and let live, but we want to make available something very wonderful."

Summit Hill resident Wesley Hiles said he is particularly suspicious of the Krishnas since Bhaktipada was expelled this summer by the international Krishna movement's governing body.

"If they don't want you, we don't want you," Hiles said.

Bhaktipada remains head of the New Vrindaban commune, which refused to recognize the expulsion, prompted by a federal indictment accusing Bhaktipada of arson, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and arson, and other charges.

"They haven't proved anything yet, and I don't think they will because {the charges} are not true," Bhaktipada said.

He and his followers said they are not worried about being accepted in Jim Thorpe.

"We will not come to them," Krishna monk Vaikunthanatha Das said. "They will see us by our works, not by our words, and they will come to us."