Jones to withdraw proposed rezoning for St. Mary’s site in Manayunk

Councilman Curtis Jones announced Monday he will withdraw a bill that would have changed the zoning at the St. Mary of the Assumption Church site in Manayunk.

MANAYUNK >> Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. has announced he will withdraw the proposed bill that would have opened the door for a new 101-unit development at the site of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Manayunk.

The Fourth District councilman announced his decision in a statement Monday afternoon, which said Jones intends to withdraw the proposed bill at Philadelphia City Council’s May 18 meeting.

The bill in question was a proposed master plan for the site at 76 Conarroe St., which spans 17 combined lots between Carson and Gay streets and currently includes the church, convent, parking lot, rectory and school buildings.

The church was closed in 2015 after merging with St. John the Baptist and St. Josephat three years prior. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and developer Jack Bienenfeld of American Living Concepts of Manayunk reached an agreement of sale for the site in early 2016.

American Living Concepts of Manayunk had proposed creating a 101-unit development at the site, which is currently zoned for single-family homes and rowhomes. The proposed master plan, introduced by Jones in January, would have rezoned the site to RMX-2, which allows for residential mixed-use.

“This development had its merits and may work in other areas, but it is not right for this location,” Curtis said in the statement. “As it relates to the St. Mary’s bill, I will withdraw the bill at the next stated meeting of City Council on Thursday May 18th.”

The proposal for the site had met with strong opposition from the community from nearly the moment it was introduced. Residents first turned out to a Manayunk Neighborhood Council meeting in December, followed by two meetings in March with Jones and Bienenfield, respectively, that both packed the gym at North Light Community Center.

At all of the meetings, residents had voiced strong opposition to the proposal, saying they would prefer to see the single-family rowhomes allowed by right to be built at the site. Among the chief concerns with the proposed plan were its impacts on traffic and parking, with many residents saying the current situation is problematic enough and adding more than 100 new residents would exacerbate all of the issues.

Another particular concern for the community would have been the loss of the church parking lot, which has approximately 100 spaces currently used by residents and North Light. Officials from the community center had voiced opposition to the plan, saying event rental, a key revenue stream for the center, depends upon access to the lot.

Throughout the meetings, residents had called for Jones to withdraw his proposed bill.

At the second march meeting, the Manayunk Neighborhood Council overwhelmingly voted to oppose the plan in March.

American Living Concepts of Manayunk’s plans for the site had been before the Philadelphia Civic Design Review Committee April 4 and May 2 and had been scheduled to go before the city planning commission Tuesday.

“I have heard from many residents who feel very strongly about the future of their neighborhood who cited traffic, density and overdevelopment as areas of concern,” Jones wrote in the statement.

“My goal was to broker compromise but it has become abundantly clear to me that is not possible,” he wrote.

The councilman said he will work with the planning commission and streets department to address residents’ concerns about parking and traffic.

The news met with immediate joy from the community on social media.

“Thank You to everyone who participated in the meetings, flyers, calls, letters, posters and everything!” Manayunk Neighborhood Council President Kevin Smith wrote in a message to the council’s email list Monday.

“The bill is being pulled, but Saint Mary’s is still going to be redeveloped and I am sure we will be back at the table soon enough,” he wrote. “The Councilman has committed to a ‘holistic plan to address parking and traffic issues.’ We look forward to that process and to working with all parties to make Manayunk better for everyone.”

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