Manayunk Neighborhood Council
Saint Mary of the Assumption

Page updated: 2018-03-12 22:22
Latest! New plans for Saint Marys approved.
At the public meeting, Thursday January 11, 2018, attendees voted overwhelmingly to support the new plan for 21 houses, 35 apartments, parking for North Light and parking for the community. The meeting was attendended by about 70 people and the final vote, to approve the project, was 55 in favor and 5 against.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to participate throughout this process.

Information on the first project proposal for 100 apartments and 132 parking spaces (March 3, 2016 - May 18, 2017)
Plan for Saint Mary's as of December 26, 2017
Public Meeting January 11, 2018, 7:30 PM at North Light Community Center
175 Green Lane.
21 Houses, each with 2 dedicated parking spaces
  • 12 Houses on Carson Street
  • 6 Houses on the north side of Conarroe
  • 3 Houses on the south side of Conarroe (former convent)
35 apartments (53 bedrooms, 52 parking spaces)
  • 20 apartments in the school (8 1br, 12 2br)
  • 8 apartments in the church (2 1br, 6 2br)
  • 7 apartments in the rectory (all 1br)
  • Unused parking will be available for rent to the community
16 parking spaces for North Light Community Center Mr. Bienenfeld will sell a portion of the lot to North Light Community Center and improve it for use as 16 parking spaces by North Light.
8-10 new on-street spaces on Carson Street The houses on Carson Street will be positioned so that Carson Street can be widened enough to allow two side of the street parking. This will create eight to ten new on-street spaces for unrestricted use by the community.
What You Can Do In Short
  • In late 2015 / early 2016 a developer, Jack Bienenfeld, out-bid others, to purchase the Saint Marys properties, and has an agreement of sale for the properties.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld proposed to build about 100 apartments (reusing the church, rectory, and school, and building new on the convent property and parking lot.
  • The proposed development would / has displaced 50+ local resident cars and threatened 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.
  • Councilman Jones expressed his support for the project and initiated a master plan to push the project through without zoning.
  • After many meetings and intense community opposition, Councilman Jones withdrew his master plan bill, effectively killing the project.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld went back to the drawing board and came up with a plan for 21 houses and 35 apartments.
  • After months of negotiations, Mr. Bienenfeld has developed the plan to the point where we believe it is ready for a public meeting. The plan includes 16 dedicated parking spaces for North Light and new on-street parking for the community as well as more than ample parking for the houses and apartments (creating the opportunity for some rental spaces for the community).
  • Councilman Jones has indicated he is willing to introduce a new master plan with community support.
  • There will be a public meeting for the project on January 11, 2018, 7:30 PM at the North Light Community Center.

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 Conarroe 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.

  • 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 - We are informed that the Planning Commission produce a design and development study 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 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 The project was asked to return for a second hearing.
  • April 17, 2017 - MNC and North Light Community Center met with the developer and Councilman Jones at City Hall. Mr. Bienenfield again refused to make a credible parking offer to North Light and stated catagorically that he would not reduce the size of the development by even one unit. Councilman Jones asked everyone to submit letters with their positions.
  • April 21, 2017 - MNC and North Light Community Center submitted letters (MNC Letter, North Light Letter)
  • April 25, 2017 - Saint John's response to questions from the March 22, 2017 public meeting. While I appreciate the legitimate concerns that you have raised, it remains our belief that overall the current plan, while certainly not perfect, is in the best interests of the community and strikes the right balance among the property's various development considerations and constituents.
  • April 25, 2017 - We met with Marty Gregorski, Director of Development Planning, at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. He was finally able to explain that a Master Plan was nothing more than a special form of site plan. It establishes building orientation and location but little else. He showed us the master plans for Philadelphia University among others. The bottom line is 99% of Mr. Bienfields development plan, and all the discussion around it, is irrelevant to the master plan. Master Plans, though part of an ordinance, are not available on-line. They can only be viewed by visiting the planning commission.
  • May 2, 2017 - Civic Design Review hearing.
  • May 5, 2017 - Letter from MNC to Saint John's asking for a meeting with Father Lawrence and the Parish Real Estate Committee to consider a different plan for the Saint Mary's property.
  • May 7, 2017 - Saint John's response to the MNC and North Light letters from May 5, asking for reconsideration.
  • May 15, 2017 - Councilman Jones withdraws Bill 170009 to re-zone Saint Marys
  • May 16, 2017 - Planning Commission hearing.; Cancelled -- Saint Mary's taken off the agenda after Councilman Jones withdrew bill 170009 on May 15, 2017.
  • May 18, 2017 - Bill 170009 due to be formally withdrawn at the city council hearing.
  • July 1, 2017 - The developer, Mr. Bienenfeld, announced that he had a new scheme which includes houses and apartments.
  • July 7, 2017 - MNC and North Light met with Mr Bienenfeld's achitect Jim Campbell to review the new scheme. (report of the meeting)
  • October 23, 2017 - After four months of radio silence MNC and North Light met with Mr. Bienenfeld to review and refine the new scheme. MNC there were problems with the scheme which detailed at the meeting and in a followup letter to Mr. Bienenfeld.
  • December 13, 2017 - MNC reached an agreement with Mr. Bienenfeld on the the final elements that we believed were necessary before we could present the plan at a public meeting. This included on-street parking on Carson Street, decks for the houses and additional interior landscaping / screening.
  • January 11, 2018 - Scheduled Public Meeting. 7:30 PM at North Light Community Center, 175 Green Lane.
Documents and Resources
Related News and References

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