Manayunk Neighborhood Council
Saint Mary of the Assumption

February 1 2017 Meeting With Councilman Jones--Meeting Report

Report from Manayunk Neighborhood Council

At the meeting

MNC: Kevin Smith, John Hunter, Kat Lambert, Sean Pincus
North Light: Irene Madrak, Dana Dabek, Jim Hadden, Mike Donahue
The Councilman's Developer: Jack Bienenfeld, Jim Campbell (architect), Brett Feldman (attorney)
City of Philadelphia: Councilman Jones, Al Spivey, Josh Cohen. Matt Wysong (Planning Commission)


On January 24, MNC was notified that Councilman Jones would like to organize a meeting with us, the developer, and the Planning Commission, in the next week. That meeting was held February 1, 2017.

When we met with Councilman Jones on January 12 (the first time he agreed to meet with us, although he had been talking to the developer for over a year) he agreed to meet again. We believe that led to him calling this meeting.

Councilman Jones never stated a purpose for the meeting but it appeared to be an attempt, by the Councilman, to lead his developer to make some or other concessions to the Community.

It came about because Councilman Jones, when we met with on January 12 and he ag

If that was it, Mr. Bienenfeld didn't get the message. He seems confident that his Councilman will back him all the way.

He presented the same plan we all had seen before, with no changes or concessions, and he steadfastly ignored the Councilman's transparent attempts to coach him into sounding reasonable.


Councilman Jones had only invited MNC to the meeting but, as another key player, we invited North Light to come along with us.

When we arrived at the Councilman's office, the architect for the Councilman's developer's, Jim Campbell was already setup for a presentation.

Councilman Jones arrived and asked what was the meeting agenda. It was his meeting so we had expected him to set the agenda. It was never made clear what the purpose of the meeting was.

Mr. Campbell and Mr. Bienenfeld proceeded with their presentation.

The presentation contained some marketing statistics that MNC had previously not been given but overall, and in detail, the project did not seem to have changed since our second meeting, with the developer, back in July of 2016. The plan has not changed in any relevant way since we first talked to the developer's architect (Mr. Campbell) in March of 2016.

The presentation was done in a hurry and did dwell on or fully explain the proposals. We were not given copies of the presentation.

The project, in the absence of actual plans from the developer, seems to consist of five three-story apartment buildings on the parking lot and convent areas, along with apartments in the church, rectory, and school. A total of 100 apartments and 138 parking spaces. There would be 46 one-bedroom apartments and 54 two-bedroom apartments. A total of 154 bedrooms.

Councilman Jones struggled to direct his developer's arguments away from national statistic and toward information and arguments relevant to Manayunk. Mr. Bienenfeld didn't seem to get the memo and continued quoting one irrelevant statistic after the next in justification of the project.

Councilman Jones also struggled to direct his developer to commit to 10 parking spaces for North Light. The Councilman had previously promised there would be parking set aside for North Light. Again Mr. Bienenfeld didn't seem to have gotten the memo and could not and would not promise any spaces to North Light. North Light has been clear that 10 spaces would not be helpful so it is ironic that Mr. Bienenfeld could not even commit to that uselessly small number.

Renters will pay for assigned spaces. There will be some guest spaces, and if there is anything left over, some un-designated spaces for North Light.

The project will include "green space" in the form of some sidewalk planters.

The project will include "open space" in the form of driveways.

The project will include, as a public amenity, a pet poop station in an internal court yard behind the rectory.

Mr Bienenfeld confirmed that he hadn't decided if parking would be included in the lease or charged separately.

Councilman Jones is proposing some form of remote parking, for other residents, accessible by bus or taxi. There were no details with this proposal, such as who would pay for, own, operate and secure the to-be-identified lot. On the surface it is an absurd and insulting proposal that makes existing residents into second class citizens and expects them to leave their cars in a remote lot and take secondary transportation back to their houses.

We were critical that the project appeared to have been blessed by Councilman Jones as far back as October 2015 and the Councilman had determined from the beginning to force the project through as spot zoning. We were critical that the Planning Commissions draft plan, developed in consultation with the developer and released in January 2016, appeared to be tailored to the developer's plan and not an independent study.

We stated that we were categorically against the change in zoning which is backed by the two public meetings we held and the over 700 signatures on the on-line petition. MNC has already voted to oppose the change in zoning.

The only arguments Mr. Bienenfeld offered, against single family home development, financial.

Councilman Jones tried to lead his developer to committing some parking for North Light but Mr Bienenfeld didn't bite. (Update: On February 16, 2017 Mr. Bienenfeld offered North Light up to 10 undesignated spaces if he had any left over. In the case there weren't 10 spaces left over he would pay North Light $125 per space (up to 10) for them to find parking elsewhere. North Light has indicated that this is, besides inadaquate, not logistically managable

Matt Wysong, from the Planning Commission, asserted that he had not seen the developer's plans until August 2016. That may be literally true but we know that the Planning Commission worked with the developer's architect in the preparation of that draft plan in late 2015.

In the end Councilman Jones committed to holding a public meeting to explain his reasons for supporting the development and his ideas for parking improvements.

Councilman Jones promised to drive around the area in the near future (really, after backing the project for a year). He followed through with on February 13.

A meeting, we found out later, he had no intention of holding.

The developer's attorney announced two days later that the Councilman's spot zoning bill, 170009, had been introduce a week earlier on January 26 and they they had all sat across the table from us in silence.

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