Alternate Potter’s Field development proposals presented at NW Neighbors meeting

Balancing government guidelines and community interests, an alternate design plan is being formulated by residents for the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Queen Lane site.

Three alternatives are currently under consideration, each one incorporating the PHA’s desire for 55 residential units, while offering various public amenities and preserving the integrity of the historic burial ground upon which the site exists.

At the Northwest Neighbors of Germantown’s Monday night meeting, architect Peter DiCarlo said that his alternative proposals — three were presented — would have mixture of one and two-bedroom units in addition to single-family dwellings, with four-story buildings on Pulaski Avenue.

All three would preserve the integrity of Potter’s Field, and include a playground and a community center at the site bounded by West Queen Lane, Pulaski Avenue and West Penn and Priscilla streets.

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The plans presented

Alternative One, which DiCarlo said was most closely related to an existing PHA plan, would have a four-story walkups along Pulaski Avenue, row houses on West Penn Street and an open space on Priscilla Street.

Alternative Two places the playground on the corner of W. Penn St. and Pulaski Ave.

Alternative Three, a variant on the first proposal which was given primary consideration, breaks up the various dwellings to look, as DiCarlo said, “less like a project.”

In addition to preserving the Potter’s Field open space, this plan features four-story row homes along Pulaski Avenue plus the adjacent three-story walk-ups. A playground would be located on the Priscilla Street side.

This alternative also includes a 15-foot wide alley on the back side of the Potter’s Field, which would require an easement but allows for on-site parking. Moreover, the plan could allow for additional units for possible sale.

DiCarlo, a Germantown-based architect and former board member of the Germantown Historical Society, said that the proposal was his own, with no solicitations or payment for his designs.

He insisted that his presentation was not a finished architectural proposal, serving instead as a visual aid.

“There are definitely problems with this,” he said, “but it does show that it’s possible to have alternatives if [PHA is] willing to work with us on it.

Ongoing discussions, delays and community concern

DiCarlo’s proposals were shared just days after the announcement that no human remains were found during an archaeological dig at the site, where the 18th-century Potter’s Field burial ground once existed.

Instead, a variety of debris was unearthed, along with the foundations of homes that stood on the grounds until the tower’s construction in the 1950’s.

None of these findings necessarily present an impediment to PHA’s plans to demolish the 16-story high rise and replace it with a $35 million, 55-unit development.

PHA’s plans have already been altered once to relocate the planned new buildings around the historic footprint of the burial ground.

That space would be preserved, with a marker commemorating the burial ground.

The housing agency, citing more than a year of delays so far and a 140,000-person waiting list for public-housing assistance, has said before that it could be forced to rehabilitate and re-occupy the tower.

PHA reaction

PHA spokesperson Nichole Tillman said the agency plans to move forward with its current proposal, which preserves the Potter’s field boundaries and has zoning approval.

“As part of PHA’s community design charette process, PHA solicited ideas on the overall design of the redeveloped site, some of which have been incorporated into the project’s design,” Tillman said via email.

“In addition, various scenarios for the use and memorialization of the Potter’s Field area were suggested by community members,” she continued. “However, the ultimate decision on how the Potters Field will be memorialized will be informed by the input of the various consulting parties participating in the Section 106 Historic review process which HUD is leading.”

Community reaction

While PHA seems resolved to move forward, reaction at the meeting from residents was favorable, citing the less imposing structures and the potential for both off-street parking and home ownership.

Lisa Hopkins, a community organizer and leader of NW Neighbors, noted that the alternative proposals included the wishes of all vested parties, but that political support would be needed to begin realizing the designs.

Thomas Neilson, chief of staff at state Rep. Rosita Youngblood’s local office, where the meeting was held, told attendees that Youngblood was aware of the existence of the alternative proposals and was ready to look at the plans.

Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass was not immediately available for comment.

While political support still need to be obtained, DiCarlo observed that many uncertainties remain for his proposal.

“We can’t talk about the demolition of the tower. We can’t really talk about how to investigate what’s under the Potter’s Field until we take down the tower. And, we can’t talk about either one of those two things until we can agree upon what might be built there,” he said.

“Let’s say we decide on a plan,” he continued. “There’s still the demolition, the environmental impact and what to do with the archaeological investigation. All those other questions need to be answered.”

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