Early plans for St. Bridget School site: 32 apartments for young professionals (college partiers not welcome)

On Tuesday night, a select group of East Falls residents received a hint of what is to come to the former St. Bridget Elementary School site.

Located on Stanton Street, the school was shuttered last year as a part of an Archdiocese-wide effort to staunch deficits at the parish level.

As reported by NewsWorks, the former-school property is currently under contract to developer Gary Jonas and his company, HOW Properties.

Limited details

Jonas did not envision Tuesday’s meeting as a formal presentation of plans to the broader community; instead, he desired a feedback session with the school’s immediate neighbors.

While definitive details about the design were scarce, Jonas said he plans approximately 32 apartments for the property’s two adjoining buildings.

The residence would consist of a mixture of one and two-bedroom units – the building’s gymnasium, where the meeting was held, would be multi-level lofts – aimed at young professionals drawn by easy access to the nearby SEPTA Manayunk-Norristown Regional-Rail line.

Jonas did not provide a targeted price tag for the units, but said that he planned them as rentals with a possible option to buy. The envisioned timeline for the project would be about 14-to-16 months from the time permits are secured from the city.

Parking concerns again broached

Predictably, Jonas faced scrutiny from both a handful of neighbors and the members of the wider community over plans for parking.

At present, he said he intends to convert the school’s former playground on Stanton Street into a parking lot with 20 spaces. To achieve parking availability closer to a desired 1:1 ratio, Jonas has struck a deal with St. Bridget Parish leadership to have residential access to the church’s Midvale Avenue parking lot.

Though originally given five spaces, Jonas predicted that with a reconfiguration of the lot – and the removal of a retaining wall – he could double that. As is the case at other HOW sites, tenants would be charged a fee to park.

Asked about the potential for interior parking, Jonas said that he would need to construct an additional story on the newer of the school’s two buildings to accommodate this usage.

How about Onion Flats?

Residents at the meeting were also concerned with competition with Onion Flats, a large mixed-use development planned for Ridge Avenue, only a few blocks away from St. Bridget.

Jonas responded that he expects the two projects to serve different clientele, with his being transit-oriented young professionals seeking a lower price-point than Onion Flats. He was adamant that he would rent to college-aged partiers.

Jonas also polled residents about what they’d like to see happen on the site. Senior housing and mixed-commercial usage were both mentioned. Jonas was open to the potential for senior housing, but Chris Wood, also from HOW Properties, said that they had not received any interest from potential vendors.

What’s coming up?

Jonas said that the site is currently zoned for single-family usage, so he would need a variance from the city to permit multiple residences.

A refusal is expected from the city, at which point Jonas would need to present his plans formally to the East Falls Community Council.

Bill Epstein, chair of the EFCC’s Zoning Committee, said that he heard some good ideas Tuesday night, but that the developers still had work to do, particularly in regard to parking availability.

He specifically mentioned the developer’s wish to charge residents for parking, which runs counter to accepted practice in several Northwest community organizations.

“We’ll have to see what develops,” he said.

Others present said that residents of surrounding streets potentially impacted by the proposed apartments should be specifically invited to a second private meeting prior to the formal presentation to the EFCC. Jonas agreed to do so.

Toward the conclusion of the meeting, Wood also pledged to be a good steward of the property.

“We will constantly stay in contact with you to try to fix any problems as they come up,” he said. “We all have an interest in making sure that it works together. We’re going to be neighbors for a while.”

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