A Battle in Manayunk Over Saint Mary’s Site

Back in December, we told you that developer Jack Bienenfeld had the former Saint Mary of the Assumption church at 171 Conarroe St. in Manayunk under agreement and that he was pursuing an ambitious project for the site which would entail a combination of adaptive reuse and new construction. A reminder, the plans called for five new apartment buildings and a total of roughly 100 units and 138 parking spots. The project appeared on the Civic Design Review agenda last week but has since disappeared, postponed at least until April. Thankfully, the City didn't bother taking the CDR application offline, allowing us to learn some new details and grab some new images of the project.

Current view of the site

Overhead view from a few months ago

Detailed site plan

You can see in the site plan above, the plan entails two large buildings on Carson Street, three new buildings on Conarroe Street, and the residential conversion of the former church, the old rectory, and a school building. The project would include a few open spaces and we're pretty sure that at least some of them, like the dog park and the open space on Gay Street, would be open to the public. A small section of the site would be used for surface parking, but the majority of the parking would be located under the residential units, partially below grade. Architectual work was done by Campbell Thomas, and we think the proposed buildings would look pretty nice.

Two buildings planned for Carson Street

Rendering of one of the buildings

Cross section of part of the project

But we've buried the lede! As we told you previously, the community hates this project. And since the property isn't zoned in such a way that the project would be permitted by right, that should be a huge problem for the developer. Fortunately for Mr. Bienenfeld though, Councilman Jones has introduced an ordinance to spot rezone the property, which would allow the project to move forward by right. As you might imagine, this move has incensed some neighbors, and a dedicated page on the Manayunk Neighborhood Council website describes the history of the project in exacting detail. 

Since we last checked in on the property, representatives from MNC have met twice with Councilman Jones and the developer, and reading the MNC meeting summaries, it's clear that those meetings resolved none of their concerns about density, loss of public parking, and loss of parking for the nearby North Light Community Center. Nevertheless, the Councilman introduced a rezoning ordinance prior to the second meeting with MNC. After that meeting, the Councilman agreed to hold a public meeting on March 7th at North Light Community Center, at which we can assure you the project will be evicerated by MNC and near neighbors. Even so, this project is set to move forward unless Councilman Jones pulls back the ordinance for the property and we couldn't tell you in good faith whether that will happen or not.

What do you think? Is a 100 unit project appropriate for this site, or should the developer build single-family homes, which is what it seems the community desires? Is it reasonable to insist that a property owner reserve parking for neighbors and a nearby community center, or should the developer be able to do whatever he wants with his property, within the code? We'd hope that there's room for some negotiation between the neighbors and the developer to find some kind of middle ground, but looking at the tone of MNC page for this project, we wonder whether the well has been poisoned at this point.

For more information and to see firsthand what will happen next, we suggest that you go to the community meeting next week. And bring your popcorn, we bet there's gonna be some yelling.