Thank you and Mr. Feldman for taking the time to meet with Kevin Smith and myself on Monday. It is clear that your investigations and thorough analysis is of great value in understanding the complexities of the site and the development of the design.
Whilst we are aware that you are continuing the 'due diligence' work and the evolution of the design is ongoing, we felt it would be helpful to list below the main points of our discussion and our initial reactions, particularly as many of our comments relate to the basis of your client's proposal for multi-family units.
This property is the third such property that the Archdiocese has disposed of in recent years including St. Josaphat's school and convent, St.Lucy's church, school, rectory and parking lot and now St.Mary''s - all within four blocks of each other.
The zoning classification for all of the properties involved is, as you know, RSA-5, which we believe is the appropriate classification for this part of Manayunk.
As we discussed, Manayunk has undergone a very disruptive period, particularly over the last 20 years whereby the majority of long term, owner-occupied houses have transitioned to rental properties with absentee landlords. Adaptive re-use of a number of existing properties into multi-family units has also occurred by variance and the impact has been, at best, minimally disruptive. This switch to rental properties, and particularly students sharing houses, has created many 'quality of life' and parking problems and an annual, cyclical 'churn' of tenants. Single family units, however, are not only compatible with the scale and of the existing housing stock but, in our experience, such new infill housing has provided elements of stability and investment distributed among the existing housing stock which has encouraged owners to upgrade the older properties and return them to owner-occupation.
ST.MARY'S SALE AND REDEVELOPMENT
We have no knowledge of the basis of this property sale or how the bids received were evaluated but we know of several developers who were proposing a combination of multi-family units within retained existing buildings together with single family units for the new residential construction; an accepted model for redevelopment of similar properties.
Additionally, on previous projects, where the retained buildings were considered for adaptive re-use, the approach has been to consider each building separately with, to the greatest degree possible, its own separate parking provision. We think this approach is also appropriate for this property, particularly as this would distribute parking across this large site and allow the maximum amount of parking be provided in the central section of the existing parking lot between Carson and Conarroe Streets. This approach is also consistent with the possibility of individual properties being submitted for a variance rather than the reliance on the development of a single master plan.
Our understanding, however, is that your client's present intention, and the basis of his offer to purchase the property, is to pursue 'multi-family units' across all the various parts of the site to include not only those existing buildings which are to be retained but also any new buildings that will be proposed. These units would be one or two-bedroom rental units which would be centrally managed. Your client, therefore, appears to have based his proposal on re-zoning the whole parcel offered for sale, developing a single master plan to be adopted - an option which has not yet been discussed.
This proposal, for a large number of managed rental units of one or two bedrooms with a higher density than single family units and with a greater concentration of parking demand would appear to be an inappropriate model for this location. The regular turnover of tenants and likely demand for parking in excess of 1 space per unit is likely will impact the immediate neighbors negatively and we see no benefits offered to the community to develop support for a zoning change necessary for this scheme to move forward.
OUTLINE PROPOSALS DISCUSSED
Below is our understanding of the proposals as they are presently being developed, together with our comments;
St.Mary's Church: to be retained and subdivided for multi family units above street level. The present proposal is to use the basement level for communal facilities and a management office. We would prefer, for reasons stated above, that parking for the units within the church be located at this lower level, accessed from the adjacent parking level.(See also our comment related to the school building).
Rectory: we would like your client to consider retaining the present use of a youth residential unit rather than the conversion to apartments, either by agreement with the church to exclude this property from the sale, or by leasing or selling this property. This present use is of great social benefit and has minimal parking demand. The suggestion to retain the rear yard would be compatible with this use.
Convent: we understand that adaptive re-use of this property would be difficult and the preference is for demolition. Lower level parking accessed from Conarroe Street with residential units above will be proposed.
School: the present thinking is to retain the school for subdivision of all floors (we are not clear on the use of the lowest floor) for multi-family use with the old play area on the Gay Street side of the building being used for some open parking behind a landscape buffer.
We feel that of all the existing buildings, consideration should given to demolishing this building for the following reasons;
- the building is out of scale with all the the adjacent buildings, particularly the church.
- the first floor is not compatible with residential units, being partially below grade on the north side and adjacent to a possible path on the south side.
- the (large) windows are predominantly on the north and south sides, providing generous light when classrooms but creating privacy problems with neighboring houses when converted to multi-family use.
- the east elevation is forbidding and lacking windows and, although set back from Gay Street, the building overwhelms even the new house adjacent.
- if the building were to be demolished, appropriately-scaled new residential units could be provided along both Conarroe and Gay Streets with rear parking accessed off Gay Street.
If the school building were to be retained, we suggest that whatever measures necessary are taken, utilizing transfer structure where necessary, to provide adequate parking for the apartments above within the first floor of the existing building and the yard facing Gay Street. The central entrance on Conarroe St.could be retained, with the office and meeting room proposed for the church basement relocated to this building and accessed from this entrance.
PROPOSED NEW RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS:
Carson St.: the proposed row configuration aligned along the Carson St.frontage, stepping up the sloped street, with parking below grade is appropriate. However, we see no reason why these units could not be single family units rather than apartments. An average 20' width would allow two parking spaces per unit, similar to the houses presently being built across Carson Street as part of the St.Lucy's development.
Conarroe St., west side: 2 rows, perpendicular to Conarroe St. above below-grade parking are proposed. This configuration is appropriate for the multi-family units proposed although the detailed layout and pedestrian circulation needs to be developed. An alternative would be a row of single family units arranged along the street frontage over sub-grade parking, similar to our suggestion for Carson St. This would also meet the zoning classification and leave more space in the center of the site for additional parking.
Conarroe St., east side: following the demolition of the existing convent, the proposed row configuration over partial below-grade parking is appropriate. (See comments re Carson St. above, for the substitution of single family units rather than multi-family units.)
PROPOSED PARKING PROVISION
We understand that the target is to provide, as a minimum, parking on the basis of 1 space per unit. Presently, the proposed parking for all of the buildings (with the exception of the parking at the convent site and surface parking adjacent to Gay St.) would be concentrated within the central excavated area between Carson and Conarroe Streets. Additionally, as the present proposal is for all multi-family units, the number of spaces required would be greater than would be required for an option of mixed multi family in existing buildings and single family for new buildings.
We propose an alternative solution to provide a significantly greater number of parking spaces than 1 space per unit. As we noted above, we suggest that the lower level of the church and the school should provide the required parking for each of those 2 properties, and the rectory should be excluded. The remaining new properties, if considered as single family units with below-grade parking integral to each unit, would be located along street frontages and would meet the 1 parking space per unit criteria and potentially 2 spaces per unit in the majority of cases. The remaining center portion of the site can then be given over to additional parking and vehicle circulation.
We also see the potential for developing additional levels of parking if the existing sub-surface fill is removed, particularly in the north west area of the site. This additional parking can then be used to meet the inevitable additional demand for parking above the 1 space per unit ratio and, potentially, for paid -parking available to neighbors.
ADDITIONAL POINTS DISCUSSED
- the suggested development of pedestrian paths across the site was encouraged. The area in the center of the site between Carson and Conarroe could be developed as a landscaped space above parking.
- the suggestion to set back back the facades of the new buildings on either side of Conarroe St to widen the street was also encouraged. This could be expanded to the area in front of the church, raising the carriageway to eliminate curbs and create a plaza which would also act as a traffic-calming measure; similar measures could be considered for Carson and Gay Streets. We are aware this would need to be negotiated with the City.
- if the alley, Brewers Alley, running through the center of the site, has to be maintained, the possibility of accessing parking along the rear of the neighboring properties to the north and south should be explored.
- vehicle circulation within the site between Carson and Conarroe should be developed and the direction of streets reviewed with the City. Reversing the direction of traffic flow on Carson St., for example, should be explored.
We hope our comments regarding the proposals convey our concerns and our aspirations for this significant property in our neighborhood.
We are disappointed that our attempt to raise the pressing issues of parking and the development of the St. Mary's site, raised in our letters to the Councilman and the Planning Commission in September of last year, (and recently copied to you) were not addressed before the property was offered for sale and have had absolutely no impact on the initial proposals for this project. However, we will continue to pursue these goals as the project design evolves. To that end, we applaud your client's willingness to discuss proposals with us at such an early stage of the design development and look forward to further discussions.
Manayunk Neighborhood Council