Manayunk Neighborhood Council
Saint Mary of the Assumption
Why You Want To Call!

What is Councilmanic Prerogative and Why Is It Important

There is a system in City Council where when a district Councilperson submits a bill, every other Councilperson votes for it.

This means whatever bill the Councilman introduces in City Council will pass.

The Saint Mary's properties are zoned for single family homes. Row houses or twins.

Councilman Jones has chosen to introduce a bill to rezone the Saint Mary's properties to all apartments, instead of letting his developer take his chances, as is the normal procedure, asking for a variance (exception) in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustments.

This eliminates much of the community involvement in the process.

What is Spot Zoning and why is this Illegal Spot Zoning

According to a Wikipeda article on spot zoning

Spot zoning is the application of zoning to a specific parcel or parcels of land within a larger zoned area when the rezoning is usually at odds with a city's master plan and current zoning restrictions.
The small size of the parcel is not the sole defining characteristic of a spot zone. Rather, the defining characteristic is the narrowness and unjustified nature of the benefit to the particular property owner, to the detriment of a general land use plan or public goals. The rezoning may provide unjustified special treatment that benefits a particular owner, while undermining the pre-existing rights and uses of adjacent property owners.

Councilman Jones' bill 170009 appears to meet every definition of spot zoning.

See our page on spot zoning for details.

Why Is This Bad Development
  • This development ignores the zoning code updated in 2012. The property and the surrounding area is zoned and developed as single family homes (row houses and twins). The Councilman's spot-zoning ordinance ignores the zoning and the surrounding community.
  • The Councilman is ignoring the community - Councilman Jones has chosen this course without consulting the community. He has not consulted with MNC. He as not consulted with the neighbors. He has not consulted with Manayunk Development Corporation (MDC). We don't know who, if anyone besides the developer, he has consulted with.

    Councilman Jones has refused to hold any public meetings and has not scheduled any public meetings. Vague promises of future meetings, if kept, will occur after the bill is on it's way to be passed by City Council (That is to say they would be token, pointless meetings to appease the community)

  • Councilman Jones' plan ignores the City's 2035 plan, passed in 2014.
  • This is not Transit Oriented Development - This is a more complicated point. High density development, near a train station, is a feature of TOD but this area and Manayunk are not compatible with TOD. See the section on Transit Oriented Development below
How Is This Overcrowding
  • Councilman Jones' high-density apartment proposal will add at least twice as many, and maybe three times as many, people and cars to this already very dense area, compared to maximized single family home development.
  • The community is losing a substantial parking resource for the sole benefit of Councilman Jones' developer.

    By developing the Saint Mary's parking lot, the immediate neighborhood is losing about 70% of it's off-street parking and about 40% of it's total parking (on- and off-street)

  • This area represents one of the most dense, if not the most dense, area in Manayunk. Parking difficulties, from the high density, are made worse by the street configuration where the majority of streets have parking on only one side or no parking at all.
  • The same narrow crowded streets, with limited ways in and out, already result in substantial congestion as cars try to leave in the morning.
  • A recent marketing study shows that over 80% of Manayunk households have at least one car, compared to only 50% city-wide. Manayunk has cars.
  • This area of Manayunk has only 210 on-street parking spaces for 310 houses

    There were, until recently, approximately 180 other private / off-street spaces.

    Of those 180 off-street spaces, 60 if them have been lost since 2014 (to residential development) and now 108 more from the redevelopment of Saint Marys. The only off-street space left is 147 Gay Street, which, as recent as 2014, Councilman Jones' proposed to sell to a developer.

    One has to wonder what Councilman Jones has against Manayunk.

  • MNC fought for years to get cars off our sidewalks. Now they are back as desperate residents try to find the vanishingly small number of remaining on-street spaces.
But isn't this good for Main Street

In the last 15 years over 300 apartments and condos have been added on Main Street. It you try to draw a simple parallel between apartments and the Main Street you would have to conclude that the more apartments are built the worse does Main Street.

Main Street draws, within a short drive, 35000 people on this side of the river and a similar number on the other side. There are currently over 1000 houses below the cliffs in Manayunk and over 10000 people within 10 minutes walking distance to Main Street.

The Isle, nearing completion at the bottom of Cotton Street, will provide 156 apartments.

600 apartments are nearing completion across the river with hundreds more planned.

The effect on Main Street of the difference between single family homes or apartments will be statistically irrelevant. Unfortunately, the effect on the neighborhood will be dramatic and bad.

How Councilman Jones Has Declared Residents to be Second Class Citizens

Councilman Jones is pursuing a cockamamie plan to provide remote parking to residents who are losing parking because of his development.

That means his developer gets all the parking they want but existing residents should take a bus or taxi to a remote lot somewhere in upper Roxborough.

Councilman Jones doesn't know where the lot will be, he doesn't know how it will be secured, he doesn't know who will pay for it, and he doesn't know if anyone will use it, but he would like you to please accept this token of his understanding and please support his apartment project and trust him that your new parking will be tremendous.

Manayunk and Car Dependency

According to a recent marketing study, over 80% of Manayunk households own cars as opposed to only 50% city wide.

Manayunk lacks basic services like food, shopping, banking, a liquor store, a hardware store, etc.. All the services are up a steep hill or far away. Few people willingly accept the hardship of walking or taking a bus for the most basic daily needs.

Manayunk is a bedroom community for suburban jobs. Even when one person works in center city, their partner may work in King of Prussia or elsewhere, requiring a car.

Councilman Jones is Ignoring You article about Councilmanic Prerogative: Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said the verdict wouldn't give him pause about how he exercises the power, "because I'm never going to abuse it. I'm always going to put the interest of my district first. -- May 13, 2016"

Councilman Jones has not consulted MNC

Councilman Jones has not consulted North Light Community Center

Councilman Jones has not consulted the Manayunk Development Corporation.

Councilman Jones has been talking to his developer!

Councilman Jones likened his spot-zoning ordinance to the process used to re-zone an area of Philadelphia University. He boasted how many public meetings were held and how many he attended.

Councilman Jones has not held any public meetings, attended any public meetings, never notified the community of his plans to re-zone the Saint Mary's property, and appears not to be planning any public meetings.

This is a little bit tricky because MNC is required to hold a public meeting in our role as a Registered Community Organization, after which the project will be reviewed by the Civic Design Review committee, then the Planning Commission.

After clearing the planning commission, the design is set and the bill is clear to be passed by City Council.

Councilman Jones is hoping to have his Civic Design Review meeting on March 7, his Planning Commission hearing on March 21, then off to City Council as soon as possible after that.

When will the councilman be holding all the public meetings he promised and what will there be left to discuss?

UPDATE: Councilman Jones has agreed to hold a public meeting March 7 (7:30 pm at North Light Community Center). The CDR meeting will be pushed back to April 4, with the Planning Commission to follow.

What Is Transit Oriented Development

Wikipeda defines Transit Oriented Development (TOD) as

In urban planning, a transit-oriented development (TOD) is a type of urban development that maximizes the amount of residential, business and leisure space within walking distance of public transport.

A TOD typically includes a central transit stop (such as a train station, or light rail or bus stop) surrounded by a high-density mixed-use area, with lower-density areas spreading out from this center. A TOD is also typically designed to be more walkable than other built-up areas, through using smaller block sizes and reducing the land area dedicated to automobiles

The principal is to reduce car usage by concentrating development around public transportation hubs (bus train, etc.

Manayunk would appear to be an ideal TOD location but in fact it is not.

Reduced car usage depends on people being able to live comfortably without a car. Manayunk fails in this regard.

According to a recent marketing study, over 80% of Manayunk households own cars as opposed to only 50% city wide.

Manayunk lacks basic services like food shopping, banking, a liquor store, a hardware store, etc.. All the services are up a steep hill or far away. Few people willingly accept the hardship of walking up a long steep hill or taking a bus for the most basic daily needs.

Manayunk is a bedroom community for suburban jobs. Even when one person works in center city, their partner may work in King of Prussia or elsewhere, requiring a car.

In other words, Manayunk is not a suitable for Transit Oriented Development.

Furthermore, Councilman Jones' proposed development has an abundance of parking and therefor cannot be considered Transit Oriented Development.

Councilman Jones' development is not Transit Oriented Development and there is no justification for its high density and incompatibility with the surrounding community.

In contrast, Ridge Avenue has many of the characterises supporting Transit Oriented Development. It has a full range of services accessible by convenient bus routes (also walkable and bike able) that also serve Center City.

Why Is This Bad Planing

This is not Transit Oriented Development and so fails a basic test for TOD development and therefor there is no planning justification for this high density project completely out of place with its surroundings and creating a hardship for its neighbors.

Even if it resembled TOD, Manayunk is not an appropriate community for TOD development (see Transit Oriented Development section above)

The plan disregards all the principals and goals laid out for Manayunk in the Planning Commissions 2035 plan. See the spot zoning page for details.

This neighborhood has been under increasing pressure from development for many years and MNC has been calling for real planning to determine the state of the neighborhood, identify resources and work with the community to plan how the neighborhood could and should evolve. In fact, there has been no planning. Councilman Jones has, instead, decided to carry a flag for a developer simply seeking to maximize his profit with no consideration for the community.

It's actually not bad planning, it's the complete absence of planning.

Return to Saint Mary's Zoning Page