Manayunk Neighborhood Council
Saint Mary of the Assumption

Council members: It's our prerogative: "I'm never going to abuse [my councilmanic prerogative]. I'm always going to put the interest of my district first. -- philly.com May 13, 2016
Page updated: 2017-04-06 21:16
The Civic Design Review hearing took place April 4, 2017
The project will have to return for a second hearing (probably May 2, 2017)
curbed.com article about the hearing

March 22, 2017 Saint Mary's meeting result: 170 attendees, 145 against re-zoning, 6 for.
Philly.com article covering the Saint Mary's project and the March 22, 2017 meeting.
BillyPenn article covering the March 22, 2017 meeting
Review article covering the March 22, 2017 meeting
New Section: Related News and References.
CBS 3 Story about the meeting on March 22
Patch Story about the meeting on March 22
Our questions for the developer
Plans submitted to the Civic Design Review
Review Article about the May 7 Public Meeting with Councilman Jones
What You Can Do Why You Want To Do It

What is Spot Zoning
Why This is Spot Zoning
Why it is Illegal





Map


Civic Design Review Submission (plans).



In Short
  • A developer, Jack Bienenfeld, has an agreement of sale for the Saint Mary's properties, having out-bid others who were proposing single family homes, perhaps confident that he could get his high density apartment project through with the help of Councilman Jones.
  • The Archdioceses has accepted the offer without consulting the community and without, apparently, concern or understanding of its impact on the community.
  • The proposed development will / has displaced 50+ local resident cars and threatens North Light Community Center who depends on the existing parking lot (in use for over 30 years) for its evening and weekend programs, safe streets for children pickup and drop off and for disabled residents using the food cupboard.
  • North Light serves 3,000 community members per year and reached out to the property owners numerous times about purchasing a portion of the lot for parking, after a decades-long use agreement, and were told they would not sell only a portion of the property. To date, North Light has retained use of the lot during the agreement of sale.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld is proposing 100 apartments with 154 bedrooms, in five new three-story buildings plus the church, the rectory and the school. Along with 138 parking spaces.
  • Councilman Jones has been backing this project since its inception in late 2015. In all that time the Councilman has sought no public input and has hidden in the shadows until finally agreeing to meet with MNC on December 14, 2016.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld, perhaps knowing he has Councilman Jones' support, has not offered any concessions to the community.
  • Councilman Jones has introduced special legislation crafted specifically for his developer and his project. Pushing the project through with legislation, instead of normal zoning, makes it very difficult to challenge. We believe the constitutes illegal spot zoning.
  • Councilman Jones and his Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Cohen have repeatedly promised a series of public meetings. The Councilman has not held any public meetings, has not scheduled any public meetings and has not responded to requests to schedule meetings or even outline their planned process (one exception, see below). The only public meetings have been hosted by MNC and the councilman has only sent his staff.
  • MNC has met twice with Councilman Jones. At the first meeting, January 12 2017, we discovered that Councilman Jones was determined to carry through his spot zoning plan and had, in fact, been working with his developer for over a year. Read a report of the meeting.
  • At the second meeting, February 1, 2017, which included Councilman Jones' developer and the Planning Commission, we discovered that nothing had changed. The developer would not change anything about his plan and would not commit to any concessions or benefits to the community or North Light. That, despite transparent attempts by Councilman Jones to lead his developer to a more sympathetic position. Councilman Jones also introduced his plan to have residents, who are losing their parking as a result of his project, park in a remote, to be determined lot, and from which they can take a bus or taxi home. Read a report of the meeting.
  • While at the February meeting, Councilman Jones thoughtfully neglected to let us know he had already introduced his spot zoning ordinance a week earlier. Councilman Jones' spot zoning ordinance, bill 170009 (with maps)
  • After a year of ducking, dodging and weaving, the Councilman is now running full speed ahead to get his spot zoning bill through city council. North Light has been asking for a community meeting but Councilman Jones and Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Cohen claims there is no time. This, after the Councilman promised, over and over, that there would be multiple public meetings. There is all the time in the world Councilman. It is your schedule and yours alone.
  • As of February 27, 2017 Councilman Jones has agreed to hold a public meeting March 7, 2017. About 250 residents turned out to question Councilman Jones on what he was doing and why. (Review Article about the May 7 Public Meeting)
  • On Wednesday March 22, MNC held a public meeting in our role as a Registered Community Organization. Saint John's and the developer were questioned for nearly three hours before the group voted 145 to 6 to oppose re-zoning the property.
  • The project was reviewed by the Civic Design Review committee on April 4 (see the curbed.com article). The committee voted to have the project return with more information. This will likely be May 2, 2017. The Planning Commission hearing will probably follow on May 16, 2017.
Who Can You Contact

Our elected representatives love to hear from their constituents. Give Councilman Jones a call, or better yet, get a group of friends together and go visit him.

See the contacts page for information on all the people waiting to hear from you!

Background

The Saint Mary of the Assumption church was founded in 1849. The last mass was held July 1, 2012 and it was officially closed November 1, 2015.

The property is a collection of 16 lots spanning from Carson Street to Gay Street. There are five buildings (church, rectory, school, convent, and a garage) and a 100 space parking lot. The properties between Carson and Connaroe are split by a right-of-way / alley known as Brewery Alley.

All the lots are zoned RSA-5 (rows and twins). The rectory was granted a 5-year variance, in May of 2012, to operate as a rooming house (5 units, max 10 people) by Yale School as transitional housing for high functioning Asperger Syndrome and Autistic students.

The church and rectory have been designated historic.

The entire collection of lots has been put up for sale as a block.

This area is under particular pressure for parking. It has dense row-house blocks, one-side of the street parking (and no-side parking). There is only about one on-street spot for every three houses.

There has been a steady loss of off-street parking. The Saint Mary's parking lot has 100 spaces and provided parking (by paid permit) for 50+ cars. It also provided open parking, as well as 15 dedicated spaces, to North Light, who also depends on the lot for programs.

The lot has been closed (with an exception for North Light), leaving the neighborhood, around Saint Mary's, with about half the parking it had just three years ago and only one on-street space for every three houses.

This area is also sensitive to (over)development due to the narrow, one-way, streets, complete inability to handle overflow (if inadequate parking is provided) and proximity to the morning rush hour congestion.

North Light Community Center has had an agreement to use spaces in the lot for over 30 years. They have tried to buy parking spaces from the Archdiocese but were turned down. Insufficient parking threatens North Light's long term economic stability.

Summary

On March 3, 2016 we were informed that the property was under agreement of sale by developer Jack Bienenfeld. The developer has been undertaking various surveys and investigations of the property.

In March of 2016, MNC met with architect James Campbell, representing the developer. Mr. Campbell presenting very preliminary plans that would place approximately 110, one and two bedroom, apartments on the parking lot and in the church, rectory, and school. The convent would be rebuilt as an apartment building. The plan did not include any parking for the community or North Light Community Center.

MNC conveyed to Mr. Campbell that we believed that any development of the property should be a mix of single family homes, combined with re-use of at least some of the buildings, and community parking spaces.

Since that first meeting the project has not changed in form or scale. Current plans call for 100 units, 154 bedrooms and 138 parking spaces.

The parking lot has been closed to neighbors. The parish is still allowing North Light to use a portion of the upper parking lot until the sale goes through.

Councilman Jones has introduced legislation to re-zone the entire set of properties to multi-family and is rushing to get the bill pushed through city council as fast as possible.

Councilman Jones held a public meeting March 7, 2017. About 250 residents turned out to question Councilman Jones on what he was doing and why. (Review Article about the May 7 Public Meeting)

MNC held a public meeting, with the developer, as the Registered Community Organization for the project. Thos in attendance voted 145 to 6 to oppose re-zoning the property.

The project in being reviewed by the Civic Design Review committee. The next hearings will likely be May 2 2017 with the CRD committee, followed by a Planning Commission hearing on May 16 2017

Timeline
  • 13.8 billion years ago - The Big Bang
  • 4.6 billion years ago - The sun and solar system form from the gravitational collapse of interstellar dust and debris
  • 1685 - William Levering buys the area, later to become Manayunk, from William Penn
  • 1840 - Manayunk incorporated as a borough
  • 1849 - Saint Mary of the Assumption founded
  • March 17, 2014 - In response recent losses of parking and the threatened sale of 147 Gay, MNC asks the Planning Commission to undertake a parking study of Manayunk
  • April 27, 2014 - In response to Councilman Jones' bill 140133 to sell 147 Gay, MNC asks Councilman Jones to undertake a comprehensive parking study of Manayunk and to create a comprehensive parking and development plan for Manayunk.
  • October 22, 2014 - We acknowledge that the Councilman has agreed not to sell 147 Gay, and we again call for a parking and development study . We include our own survey of the parking shortage in area of Manayunk around Saint Mary's.
  • November 7, 2014 - North Light Community Center reaches out to St. John the Baptist to let them know that Secure access to off-street parking for 20-30 vehicles has been identified as one of North Light's most critical need in order to continue our services to the community and requested an opportunity to work with you and St. John the Baptist Parish to acquire a portion of the current parking lot located on the Carson Street portion of the property to meet that need.
  • August, 2015 - We are notified that the Saint Mary's property is for sale.
  • September 2, 2015 - MNC writes to Councilman Jones and the Planning Commission asking for a study and a development plan for the Saint Mary's properties.
  • October 14, 2015 - Planning Commission begins working with the developer on a draft plan for Saint Mary's
  • January 14, 2016 - The Planning Commission produces a Draft Adaptive Reuse and Redevelopment Analysis of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, Manayunk. The draft suggests high-density townhouse / apartment development. The draft includes an 82 unit and 91 unit scenarios and dismisses single family homes. We learn that Councilman Jones is planning special spot zoning legislation for the development of the site, to circumvent the normal zoning process.
  • March 3, 2016 - MNC was contacted by architect James Campbell of Campbell Thomas & Co. representing developer Jack Bienenfeld who now had the property under agreement of sale.
  • March 21, 2016 - MNC Met with the developer's architect, James Campbell. Mr. Campbell outlined a preliminary plan to develop the site with 110 apartments and no community parking.
  • March 23, 2016 - MNC held a public meeting to inform the community what was going on with Saint Mary's and to solicit feedback about what sort of development would be acceptable.
  • March 23, 2016 - The developer's architect, James Campbell, expressed concern that they could not meet the expectations of the community and the Planning Commission and have a viable project.
  • March 24, 2016 - MNC gives a written response to the developer from our March 21, 2016 meeting
  • March 30, 2016 - The developer, Jack Bienenfeld, donates $2500 to Councilman Jones
  • July 22, 2016 - The developer, Jack Bienenfeld, donates $1000 to Councilman Jones
  • July 27, 2016 - We met with the developer, Jack Bienenfeld, and his architect Jim Campbell at North Light Community Center, along with North Light representatives. The plan presented was nearly identical to the plan outlined in March and contained no community or North Light parking or any other community amenities. We were not allowed to take any materials from the meeting.
  • August 8, 2016 - MNC and North Light Community Center met with State Representative Pam DeLissio to review the project.
  • August 10, 2016 - Developer Jack Bienenfeld met with Manayunk Development Corporation to solicit their support for his project (meeting handout. MDC later voted not to take a position.
  • October 12, 2016 - State Representative Pam DeLissio asks for a meeting with MNC, North Light, the Developer, and others, to review the proposed development. The developer, as far as we know, never responds and no meeting has been held.
  • November 1, 2016 - MNC met with Councilman Jones' representative Josh Cohen along with Matt Wysong from the Planning Commission, to discuss the news that Councilman Jones had asked the Planning Commission to create a Master Plan for the developer's project. The Planning Commission will be proposing a high density multi-family project consistent with the developer's plan. MNC opposes both the type of project being proposed (dense multi-family) and the Master Plan approach.
  • November 2, 2016 - Saint John's holds a meeting for parishioners.
  • November 22, 2016 - MNC writes a letter to Councilman Jones with our concerns about the development and the proposed Master Plan process, and asking for a meeting.
  • December 14, 2016 - Second community meeting was held at North Light Community Center, 175 Green Lane, at 7:30 PM in the community room. Report on the meeting
  • January 1, 2017 - Saint Johns officially closed the Saint Marys parking lot to all residential parking
  • January 12, 2017 - MNC Meeting with Councilman Jones where we discovered that Councilman Jones was determined to carry through his spot zoning plan and had, in fact, been working with his developer for over a year. Read a report of the meeting.
  • January 26, 2017 - Councilman Jones quietly introduces his spot zoning ordinance, bill 170009 (with maps) without informing MNC or North Light or the community. The bill on the city council web site.
  • February 1, 2017 - MNC and North Light met with Councilman Jones, his developer Jack Bienenfeld, and the Planning Commission. Councilman Jones attempted to steer his developer into making some some sympathetic arguments and overtures. Mr. Bienenfeld offered no concessions to the community. The Councilman committed to holding a public meeting about the project (which he has since indicated he will not do). Councilman Jones did not mention that he has already introduced the spot zoning ordinance. Report of the meeting.
  • February 16, 2017 - The developer, Mr. Bienenfeld, met with North Light and offered to provide 10 undesignated parking spaces for the Center's use with the conditions that those spots could be accessed on a first come/first serve basis if and only if there are 10 spaces remaining after the developer meets the demand from his tenants (cost is $125 monthly for space rental). If there are less than 10 spaces left after meeting the rental demand by developer's tenants, the developer will contribute $125/monthly per each space (less than 10) to NL for NL to find parking elsewhere. This offer is not logistically manageable because the spaces could be anywhere on the site including as much as 2 blocks away on Gay St., but there is also no practicable way to manage/monitor the spaces. In regards to the offer of funds for NL to cover the cost of leasing parking elsewhere, there is no other feasible parking available for NL to purchase. Furthermore 10 spaces are inadequate to support North Light's programs. Councilman Jones acknowledges that the developer's parking offer for North Light is not satisfactory.
  • February 22, 2017 - First plans! Downloaded the developer's Civic Design Review Submission
  • February 27, 2017 - Councilman Jones agrees to hold a public meeting on March 7, 2017 at 7:30 pm. The meeting will be held at North Light Community Center, 175 Green Lane.
  • March 7, 2017 - Councilman Jones public meeting a North Light drew 250 neighbors. Read About it in the Review.
  • March 17, 2017 - Developer finally supplies partial plans for the Church and Rectory and the School.
  • March 20, 2017 - Additional church and rectory sections. Additional school sections.
  • March 22, 2017 - Public meeting with the developer at 7:30 pm at North Light Community Center, 175 Green Lane. See our questions for the developer. Meeting results: 170 attendees, 145 against re-zoning, 6 for re-zoning.
  • April 4, 2017 - Civic Design Review Hearing (read about it at curbed.com). The project was asked to return for a second hearing.
  • May 2, 2017 - Likely Civic Design Review hearing.
  • May 16, 2017 - Likely Planning Commission hearing.
Documents and Resources
Related News and References



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