Parking issues pit residents vs. developers in pocket of Manayunk

 This small lot at 147 Gay Street — which offers spots for 30 vehicles — has become a flash point pitting residents against developers. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

This small lot at 147 Gay Street — which offers spots for 30 vehicles — has become a flash point pitting residents against developers. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

Forget the Joni Mitchell song about paving Paradise. In Manayunk, the neighbors are fighting to save a parking lot. 

In a section of the city where on- and off-street spaces are tough to find and getting tougher, even the small lot at 147 Gay Street — which offers spots for 30 vehicles — has become a flash point pitting residents against developers.

Site history

The open space on Gay Street has existed since a church burned there in the mid-1970s.

In 1978, the property was conveyed to the city, which razed the remains of the church building and “left the lot pretty much as it is today,” said Kevin Smith, president of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council (MNC).

“People had the understanding that when the church was demolished, it would be left for the community as a parking lot,” Smith explained.

Since that time, various developers have proposed plans to build housing or other projects on the site, and the neighbors have always said no.

Last February, another proposal for development was made, and Fourth Distict City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. introduced a bill that would allow the sale of the property, according to Smith.

“So, we started writing letters,” Smith said. “The councilman agreed not to introduce the bill, and the original agreement of sale with the developer has expired.”

Lingering conflict

In response to questions from NewsWorks, Josh Cohen, special assistant to Jones, issued a statement regarding the Gay Street site.

“As part of a comprehensive review of parking in Manayunk, Roxborough and East Falls, we are taking a hard look at existing parking on city streets, at institutions and existing parking lots,” it read. “147 Gay Street is part of this study and review.”

In a letter seeking a meeting with Jones in October, Smith offered the MNC’s review of the parking situation in the Gay Street neighborhood.

“This area around 147 Gay Street represents one of the most dense, if not the most dense, areas in Manayunk,” it stated. “Parking difficulties, from the high density, are exacerbated by the street configuration where the majority of streets have parking on only one side or no parking at all.”

Parking space diminished

The MNC review estimated that “there is only one-third of a parking space per house” in the neighborhood.

Many spaces have been lost over the past year due to residential development and many other spaces are “under threat” of further development, the letter said.

Smith told NewsWorks that there has been “a pattern over the past five years where developers are fishing in every nook and cranny to add a house. We want the City Planning Commission to consider the parking issue here.

“We think the city should really look at this area and see if the city can grab some of the property or come up with a plan with parking goals and targets, and use that to steer development.”

Traffic and parking are issues throughout Philadelphia, Smith said, but the problems are particularly acute in Manayunk.

“The percentage of rentals has increased, with multiple cars per house,” he said. “At the same time, developers are building on every space, including small private lots. That trend has continued and it’s getting worse. The city is failing to do any appropriate planning in this area.”

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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