On the corner of Mansion and Gay streets, a vacant lot served as parking space for about 30 cars each day. The lot had been looked after and cared for by the community for thirty years, after the church once standing there burned to the ground. It offered those on Gay Street and the nearby houses an opportunity to escape the hassle of finding a parking spot along the street. Recently, however, a new bill proposed byFree city council threatens the convenience the people of Gay Street have been afforded for 30 years.
“That parking lot is like a savior,” said Debbie Feigel, resident and owner of a handful of properties on Gay Street. “I have two sons in the military and when they, or other family, come up they can’t park on the street because its permit parking. It’s all we have.”
“There used to be a man who lived in the house right next to it that would take care of the trees and grass around the lot,” said Lisa Fiorilli, who resides across from the lot. “I believe a woman has a garden in the back there as well.”
Although the sale of the lot would bring in more people to the community, it would also force some longtime residents out.
“If the lot were to be sold, honestly, we’d probably try to move,” Feigel said. “We own a number of buildings and lots in the area but we don’t want to sell. We would rather have a greater quality of life than being overdeveloped.”
Overdevelopment of the area has quickly become a major problem. St. Mary’s Church on Gay Street recently closed its doors and has sold its space to developers, as well as St. Lucy’s Church and a lot located at 155 Levering St. All three of these locations are, at most, just a few blocks away from Gay Street.
“The lot itself holds 31 cars and Gay Street holds about 30 cars from end to end,” said William Tschantz, a resident of Gay Street for 26 years. “So basically, when they are talking of getting rid of the lot they are talking about getting rid of a whole street’s worth of parking.”
Tschantz, along with several other members of the community, have begun to rally those in the neighborhood in support of their cause.
“People will come up to me all the time and say ‘Hey Billy, how is it going?’ Or, ‘How is the lot situation coming along?’” Tschantz said. “Everyone has been really supportive of trying to keep this lot the way it is.”
Opponents to the lot sale claimed it isn’t a matter of resisting change.
“I work later hours so when I get home all the street spots are normally taken,” said Lisa Weissbord, a newer resident of Gay Street. “So the lot for me can be my only chance at parking near my house.”
“It becomes a safety issue,” said Debbie Kless, resident of the area. “I know I wouldn’t want to walk four or five blocks in the dark to my house every night.”
In addition to safety concerns expressed by the public, the loss of the lot could have detrimental effects to the property value in the area.
“I just moved [to Gay Street] in October,” Weissbord said. “I naturally looked for a place with a garage or its own parking, but as you can see, that is maybe one in every 40 houses? I know that some of the places around here even put in their listing that the location includes a free adjacent lot to park in.”
Fortunately for those who have fought to keep the lot the way it is, they have support from others outside the community as well.
“If the lot were to close that would send 30 more cars on to the street for parking where there isn’t much to begin with,” said Kevin Smith, president of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council. “Ideally we would want people to take advantage of public transit and programs like Philly Car Share. However, we also need to be salvaging whatever parking we have available at the moment, so we don’t make the problems worse.”
The bill is currently being held up in council’s office until it makes its way to the proper committees to be voted on. Until that time, residents have shown the will to continue to build support for their cause.
“I know that the city has tried this before and each time has met resistance from the public,” Tschantz said. “That is the way I kind of see it too. We are the last resistance to them taking away what we have used and maintained ourselves for 30 years.”
-Photos, video and text by Matt Snider and La’Rene Cassells.