By Anita Oh

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A battle is brewing over what could happen to the former site of the St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Manayunk and its 108 parking spaces.

“A lot of the long-term residents feel they’re second-class citizens compared to what the developers want to bring in,” says Irene Madrak, executive director of the North Light Community Center, which is across the street from the site.

Developer Jack Bienenfeld recently submitted plans to the city’s Civic Design Review Board, which show a proposed 100-unit multi-family apartment complex with 132 parking spaces for tenants at the site at 176 Conarroe St.

“The loss of this parking lot represents about 30 percent of parking in the neighborhood, so it’s a big hit,” says Kevin Smith, president of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council.

Without off-street parking, North Light Community Center could eventually have to shut its doors, says Madrak, because some of its only revenue comes from renting out spaces like the gymnasium for events.

The center serves 3,000 people per year through efforts like the Food Cupboard and childcare programs.

“We can’t compete in the rental market if we don’t have off-street parking,” Madrak says. “It is emotional for me because I’ve spent my whole adult working life here. I’ve worked here for 37 years.”

Another road bump, the property is currently zoned RSA-5, which would allow the construction of about 44 single-family homes or row homes by right. Residents say that is what they expected and accepted could be built.

However, Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who oversees this district, recently introduced an ordinance that would allow for residential mixed use, such as the proposed 100-unit apartment complex.

Jones is adamant that he is working with the community to explore options, including a remote lot complemented by van services, angled parking, and the potential expansion of mass transit.

“That community center is a historic community center. It’s saved a lot of lives of youth in that community. Any negotiation that does not include North Light parking is dead on arrival,” Jones told Eyewitness News by phone on Monday.

Many neighbors say they are frustrated by what they feel has been a lack of communication between Jones and the community.

Bright orange signs posted in windows make it clear — some Manayunk residents do not want the project to move forward as proposed.

They say it would exacerbate problems of overdevelopment, congestion and the lack of parking in the area.

“Every nook and cranny is being filled up now,” Smith said.

“Parking in Manayunk sucks,” added Poulita Soukhanthat, who works in the area.

Community members are scheduled to meet with the developer at a meeting at the North Light Community Center on Wednesday, March 22 at 7 p.m.

The developer previously declined comment to Eyewitness News and did not respond to further requests.

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