After nearly a year of negotiations, a revised development plan for the St. Mary of the Assumption Church campus in Manayunk cuts the number of units nearly in half, and provides new on-street parking as well as dedicated off-street parking for a busy community center.
The new plan, which community leaders support, will be presented to residents at a 7:30 p.m. Thursday meeting at the North Light Community Center, 175 Green Lane.
Last March, Manayunk residents overwhelmingly voted to reject developer Jack Bienenfeld’s plan, which would have brought more than 100 apartments to the old church site at 176 Conarroe St. They cited a too-dense neighborhood of narrow, hilly streets; traffic congestion; and little parking.
Irene Madrak, executive director of North Light, bitterly fought the proposal. But she said she was “bowled over” by the changes in the new plan, which has a combined total of 56 units — 21 townhouses and 35 apartments.
Kevin Smith, president of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, also supports the new plan.
There was a period where the community and developers “locked horns” over whether there would be on-street parking on Carson Street. The developer wanted the townhouses closer to the street, eliminating parking on that side of the street. The community wanted to push back the houses to allow eight to 10 additional spaces, which is part of the new plan.
The old proposal also had threatened to end a practice of off-street parking for people visiting North Light, which offers tutoring and after-school programs for children and a food pantry and other services for adults and senior citizens.
Under the new plan, North Light will be able to purchase 16 spots on the former church parking lot, along Carson, directly behind the center. The 16 parking spaces are the equivalent of three townhouses the developer will forgo.
After residents challenged Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. to visit Manayunk at morning and evening rush hours, when people scramble for parking spaces, he met with both community leaders and the developer last March and told them the project could not go forward without dedicated parking for North Light.
“I’ve met people who were the direct product of that community center,” he said. “That wasn’t always a half-million-dollar-a-unit neighborhood. It was one time a blue-collar neighborhood, and a lot of tough kids came through that community center. Some of them wound up in my office as interns.”
The St. Mary’s campus spans a one-acre, two-block area from Carson to Conarroe to Gay Streets, and the new apartments will be built inside three former properties: the old St. Mary’s church building, its rectory and its school.
St. Mary’s, which was built in 1849 by German stonemasons for the neighborhood’s German-speaking Roman Catholic residents, had its final Mass in July 2012. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia finally closed its doors for weddings and funerals in November 2015.
Two of the properties, the church and the rectory, were placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.