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Controversial Manayunk project draws mixed reviews with design committee

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The committee voted to continue the CDR process

A proposed pedestrian walkway would cut through the St. Mary’s master plan in Manayunk.
Renderings by Campbell Thomas & Co.

After listening to several Manayunk residents express their concerns about the redevelopment of a former church campus, the Civic Design Review committee voted yesterday to continue the CDR process for the St. Mary's Master Plan District.

The committee voted 3 to 2, although the majority of them agreed that the actual design for the master plan was “sensitive” and a “serious proposal.”

The redevelopment at play involves the former campus of St. Mary of the Assumption, which includes a church, rectory, school, and a parking lot on 1.7 acres bound by Carson, Conarroe, and Gay streets and Brewery Alley.

The proposal calls for 130,840 square feet of both existing and new structures, with 100 apartments, 34 of which would be located in the church, rectory, and school. The rest of the units would be new construction. Parking for 132 vehicles and 50 bike spaces are also included.

The committee acknowledged that the site was complex, given its size, sloped streets, and historic nature. Committee chair Nancy Rogo-Trainer pointed out the positives of the design proposal, commending the designer Campbell Thomas & Co. for creating active elevations along Carson Street, pedestrian walkways, and preserving the site’s current structures, two of which are certified historic.

But she added, the design fell flat along Conarroe Street. The committee also said that while the overall design was overall agreeable and sensitive, the added density was an issue.

The project, developed by American Living Concepts of Manayunk, was proposed in conjunction with an ordinance introduced by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. in January that would change the area’s zoning from single-family to multi-family housing.

If the ordinance were to go through, the project could be built by-right.

Manayunk residents have been vehemently opposed to the project, citing concerns of added density and lack of parking in a neighborhood that’s already struggling with these issues. In recent years, residents and nearby North Light Community Center have been renting the spots in the parking lot that’s currently on the site.

At a three-hour community meeting in March, residents voted 145 to 6 in opposition of the master plan.

“I recognize that I live in the city, so I do not expect to park in front of my house,” said Manayunk resident Dana Dabek. But since losing the parking spaces in the church, I’ve sometimes had to park half a mile away from my home.”

“It’s just very saturated,” she continued, “and the concern with the design is sheer density.”

The proposed development is located a couple of blocks away from the Manayunk train station, but many residents commute outside of Philly to areas that are not accessible via public transportation, Dabek said.

“I’m not opposed to transit-oriented development,” she said,” but it’s not appropriate for this site,” Dabek said.

With the CDR’s vote to continue the process, the St. Mary’s Master Plan will have to present an updated proposal one more time before moving onto to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The CDR is a non-binding advisory board to the PCPC.