Manayunk Neighborhood Council
Saint Mary of the Assumption
Questions For Jack Bienenfeld

Manayunk Neighborhood Council has scheduled a public meeting for Wednesday March 22, 2017, 7:30pm at North Light Community Center, 175 Green Lane.

The Indivisible Guide gives some great advice on Town Hall meetings.

  • Make your voices heard by asking good questions.
  • Be polite but persistent, and demand real answers.
  • Don't give up the mic until you're satisfied with the answer.
  • Keep the pressure on.
  • Support the group and reinforce the message.
  • Record everything!

While you work on what you want to ask Developer Jack Bienenfeld we thought we would write down some of our questions.

In a Nutshell

From October 2015, Mr. Bienenfeld's architect worked with the planning commission to create their draft plan for Saint Marys. Which turned out remarkably similar to Mr. Bienenfeld's eventual project.

Subsequently Mr. Bienenfeld bid around a million dollars more for the property than any other bidders. His project was for all multi-family. Other bidders included single family homes and community parking (pieced together from various sources).

For over a year Mr. Bienenfeld has witheld copies of plans from MNC. We, as a Registered Community Organization, are required to evaluate the project and hold a public meeting. We have recently been able to get their CDR submission. It does not include any detail on the re-use of the church, rectory and school. Finally, under threat, they released partial plans for the Church, Rectory and School five days before the RCO meeting scheduled for March 22, 2017

In the year we have known about this project, Mr. Bienenfeld has offered no concessions to the community nor has he offered to modify his plans in any way to address community concerns.

MNC believes that Mr. Bienenfeld has been so uncooperative with the community because he was confident that Councilman Jones would push his spot-zoning ordinance through and there was, therefore, no need for him to consider the communities concerns.

Things a Developer Might Say
  • Mr. Bienenfeld might say that the site can't be developed as all single-family because the church and rectory are historically certified. Duh! Straw man argument alert! The church and rectory is less than 20% of the site. They are important (and Mr. Bienenfeld has not shown any plans for them) but it's what happens to the other 80% that is the even bigger question.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld might say that a single-family home development would not have to provide parking at all. It is true that single-family housing does not require parking but it is a nonsense argument. The reality is that developers will tie themselves in pretzels to provide parking. Mr. Bienenfeld only has to provide 30 spaces but he is in fact providing 132 (and won't even give a paltry 10 of them to North Light).
  • Mr. Bienenfeld might say that a single-family home development would not have to provide community parking. That is true but not realistic. Re-development of the site needs to consider re-use of the existing buildings which would likely be done with zoning variances. The church and rectory are protected but not the school and convent. A developer might want to seek a variance and negotiate with the community rather than tear down the school to build by-right. Councilman Jones' spot-zoning bill has eliminated the need for Mr. Bienenfeld to negotiate with the community and has excluded developers willing to negotiate with the community.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld might say that it's too hard to build houses on the site. Our experience in Manayunk is that developers have routinely developed difficult sites, including carving space out of rock on Boone, Lyceum and Shurs Lane, removing industrial buildings and propping houses up behind a 20 foot retaining wall on Silverwood, to hanging houses off a cliff on Manayunk Ave.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld might say he offered parking to North Light. He has made one effectively meaningless offer of ten phantom spaces to North Light. He offered to, if he could not sell them to his renters, to allow North Light to use up to ten available spots, wherever they happened to be. If he didn't have 10 spots, he would pay North Light $125/month for up to 10 spots so they could purchase parking elsewhere. Ten random spots might accommodate some staff parking but does not accommodate the evening and weekend programs, does not accommodate the safe streets for children pick up and drop off and does not accommodate the disabled residents using the food cupboard. The offer of payment is as useless as it is inadequate. There are no spots nearby to purchase.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld might say that the development will be good for Main Street. Given that 300 apartments have been built on Main Street in the last 15 years, and 750 are being built within walking distance of Main Street and that people come to Main Street from all the neighboring communities (70,000+ people), the difference, between houses and apartments here, wouldn't keep one light bulb lit on Main Street.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld might say how pretty the buildings are. They are still five apartment buildings stacked over 50.000 square feet of parking. They are still 100 apartments, 154 bedrooms, and 132 parking spaces. There is still no parking for the community. Just because you call something grand doesn't make it grand. A couple of benches next to a patch of grass is not a park. A planter in an unused corner is not green space.
  • Mr. Bienenfeld has been calling the alley-way between the school building and 177 Conarroe a dog park and a public amenity. The owner of 177 Conarroe might not see it that way. Does he know what Mr. Bienenfeld is planning for him. It doesn't provide much room for dogs to run and play so it can be better described as a Dog Poop Park.
Questions For Saint John's

Father Lawrence has said to MNC “The Parish was convinced that the buyer shared our overarching desire that any redevelopment plan must be in the best interests of not only the Parish, but the immediate neighbors as well as the larger Manayunk community." How is this redevelopment plan in the best interests of the immediate neighbors?

Why didn't you consult with the neighbors or community regarding the redevelopment of the property?

Saint Mary's parishioners contributed much to their church over the years. Were they consulted on it's disposition?

Did Saint John's know that Councilman Jones was planning to re-zone the property when they accepted Mr. Bienenfeld's bid?

North Light approached you as early as November 2014 about buying part of the parking lot. Who advised you that it was not possible to sell a part of the property to North Light?

Councilman Jones, at the March 7 meeting, agreed to meet with the other developers who submitted bits. Will Saint John's cooperate with the Councilman in contacting those developer?

Questions For The Developer
  • Follow the money

    Councilman Jones has introduced an ordinance to spot-zone the property to multi-family. You helped create the groundwork for that ordinance. Did that give you an unfair advantage when bidding for the project?

    Would you have bid on the project if you knew you had to apply for a zoning variance? Would you have bid the same amount?

    Would you have bid on the project if you knew you had to build single-family homes and allow for community parking? Would you have bid the same amount?

    How much would you bid for a project that included single-family homes and community parking that kind of project?

  • Does That Sound Fair To You

    Do you think the loss of 108 parking spaces (30% of all available on and off-street spaces) will be a hardship on the neighbors and for North Light?

    Your project is not allowed under current zoning. Why do your, renters, therefore, have more of a right to the parking spaces than the current neighbors?

    Do you have a plan to compensate the community for the loss of the parking they have had access to for over 30 years?

    You have not offered any concessions to the community. Why is that?

    Would you like to offer something now?

    You could not even promise 10 token, and effectively useless, spaces to North Light. How hard are you trying?

    Have you talked to the owner of 177 Conarroe and are they excited about the new "dog park" next door?

  • If You Fail to Plan, You Plan To Fail

    Do you think this is spot-zoning? If not, why not?

    The Philadelphia 2035 Plan calls for the preservation of the character and density of our row house neighborhoods, including Manayunk. Why should you be exempt from that?

    How is it better for the community to have 100 apartments with 132 parking spaces, than it is to have single family homes with community parking?

    There are over 1100 apartments already being built in the immediate area. 750 withing walking distance of a train station and of Manayunk. Will there even be a market by the time these are built?

  • He Said What?

    Mr. Bienenfeld. In September of 2016 Father Lawrence, from Saint John's, wrote to MNC about the selection process for you as the winning bidder. He stated "The Parish was convinced that the buyer shared our overarching desire that any redevelopment plan must be in the best interests of not only the Parish, but the immediate neighbors as well as the larger Manayunk community." How is this redevelopment plan in the best interests of the immediate neighbors?

  • This project is a bad project any way you twist and turn it.

    Why can't we start over?

    Why can't we do some real planning?

    Why can't we find a developer and a project that will make this community better, not worse?

  • Return to Saint Mary's Zoning Page