Manayunk Neighborhood Council
Saint Mary of the Assumption

January 12 2017 Meeting With Councilman Jones--Meeting Report

Report from Manayunk Neighborhood Council

At the meeting

MNC: Kevin Smith, John Hunter, Adam Ertel, Alan Rosenberg
City of Philadelphia: Councilman Jones, Al Spivey, Josh Cohen

The Councilman opened the meeting with a story about how the zoning code was re-written in order to reduce the influence of City Councilman in zoning issues. We did not understand this and it has not been our experience.

With regards to this project it is not allowed under the new zoning code, thus does not prevent the Councilman's involvement, and it would not have been allowed under the old code.

On the other hand it appears to be an argument of convenience , as we found out later, to justify his decision to use the master plan to circumvent the normal zoning process.

We reiterated, with the Councilman, all the information we had sent over the last three years regarding the crowding, loss of parking and the need for planning. We noted that the City's 2035 plan sets a specific goal of preserving the City's row house neighborhoods.

We explained our opposition to multi-family re-zoning and asked the Councilman to withdraw the master plan. When asked to explain the need for a master plan, the Councilman referred to the Maloomian project (the apartments being built at the bottom of Cotton Street) and how it had taken 15 years to get built and that he did not want that to happen.

This appears to be a threat to us that he will introduce a bill, over our objections, if we cannot come to an agreement with the developer. He knows that, due to councilmanic prerogative, any bill he introduces will be passed.

It is, in any event, hard to see any parallels between the projects. The Maloomian project was, in fact three projects. Over the span of the three projects Mr. Maloomian only offered one change to the third project. A change we thought made the project worse than it already was.

On the other hand we have worked out compromises and agreements with many other developers. We believe that a compromise should make a project that is bad for the community into one that is good for the community or at least not bad. It is not a compromise to make a really bad project slightly less really bad or offer small changes that don't address community concerns.

Over the years we have come to agreements on many projects, small and large. Among them:

  • 3 Rector Street – We opposed the demolition and conversion of the historic mill building into condos. The building was eventually renovated into valuable commercial space, by the same developer, who thanked us for stopping his original plan.
  • Wilde Yarns – We reached a compromise that allowed them their 45 units if they supplied additional parking. The project is now under construction.
  • Saint Lucy's – We worked out agreements for the redevelopment of the parking lot, school, rectory and church. While there was some contention about the church, the developers made substantial changes to their plans to accommodate community concerns.
  • 226 Krams – A project we opposed because we felt it was too tall and too dense. The ZBA reduced the size of the project. While row houses would have been the best solution, we were recently able to negotiate a reduction in the height while keeping the 24 units allowed by the ZBA, along with additional parking. It is now being built.
  • Green Lane – A developer proposed to demolish the historic Carnegie library (1906) and build 25 homes. We negotiated the preservation of the library (as 7 apartments) and 15 homes, which have since been built.

Since 2010 we have written 96 letters to the Zoning Board. 44 in support, 19 non-opposition and 33 opposed.

When we questioned how this high-density (twice the density of row homes) would benefit the neighborhood, the Councilman offered the idea that, because it's so good to live in Manayunk, we should welcome the opportunity to make a hundred families happy.

This was another remarkable argument that seemed geared to, on the one hand, say he was thinking of the community, and on the hand, put us on the defensive. Of course, then, why not 500 families?

In the end it was clear that Councilman Jones has been backing the project from it's inception. This explains the Planning Commission producing a “draft plan”, very much resembling the developer's plan, long before we knew there was a developer.

The Councilman understands that the project could not stand up to community opposition in the normal zoning process and has therefor undertaken a legislative re-zoning approach to ensure it's success.

The Councilman understands that the project could not stand up to community opposition in the normal zoning process and has therefor undertaken a legislative re-zoning approach to ensure it's success.

We are always willing to discuss meaningful compromise. We have, however, made it very clear to the Councilman and to the developer, that we don't believe that the high-density multi-family project being proposed for Saint Mary's is good for the community.

We believe the ball is now in their court to show us that they have more than one idea.

Return to Saint Mary's Zoning Page