Construction continues on apartments planned atop oldest African American graveyard in West Philadelphia

There are no plans to halt construction on an apartment building under development in University City, despite the discovery of a 192-year-old African American cemetery on the site. Vaughan Buckley, the builder contracted by the site’s New York-based owner, tells West Philly Local that “his crews will treat any remains they might discover with care and respect,” but work on the site, formerly home to a Wash N’ Lube car wash will proceed. “‘Consultants and other professionals in this field are being contacted and interviewed by my team and I, to help us throughout this process,’” Buckley wrote in a formal statement published by the neighborhood news site. The owner of 4125 Chestnut St.  learned about the graveyard earlier this month when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on research by archeologists indicating that the land “was used regularly for most of the rest of the 19th century as a resting place for African Americans.”  The burial ground, associated with Monumental Baptist, a church that stands today at 50th and Locust Streets, went undetected through several cycles of land transfer and redevelopment. Monumental Baptist’s pastor Rev. J. Wendell Mapson Jr. told The Inquirer that the cemetery was news to him, and that he found the information “alarming.” The development has already received all the permits it needs to move forward. Karen Guss, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, told the newspaper that agency Commissioner David Perri reached out to the developer after receiving word of the graveyard’s existence from the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum and told them that the city expected that  “‘human remains, if any [are found], will be treated with respect and dignity.’” The spokeswoman told West Philly Local that the agency doesn’t have the jurisdiction to take any further action. 

The city of Wilmington marked the launch of a new land bank on Monday with the demolition of two vacant rowhomes and a promise that the cleared land will become six new affordable units designated for first-time homebuyers, WHYY First’s Zoë Read reports. A collaboration between the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank and Habitat for Humanity, the development will be a test of a “new way of doing business,” said Kevin Smith, CEO of the New Castle County Habitat for Humanity. Habitat owns the northeast Wilmington lots and will build the new homes, while the land bank, which acquired the vacant homes and transferred them to Habitat, is leading the demolition. Like Philadelphia’s incipient land bank, the Wilmington organization was created by the city to facilitate the redevelopment of abandoned and tax-delinquent property. Rev.  Sandra Ben is the Pastor of nearby Praying Ground Community Church. She told WHYY that cleaning up the eyesores will make a difference in her community. “I think it will give this community hope things are being done, the mayor is doing what he said, and things are happening and making us feel better about living in this area,” she said.

Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of deficient bridges according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s latest analysis based on the DOT’s 2017 National Bridge Inventory database, the Pittsburgh Business Times reports. PennDOT and its development partner announced in December that it had improved and opened about 218 bridges as part of the 25-year, $899 million Rapid Bridge Replacement project. PA bridges have gotten repeatedly poor marks from the American Society of Civil Engineers annual infrastructure report card (to be fair, the U.S. got a D+).

Professional Service Announcement: Green Building United, AIA Philadelphia, and ULI Philadelphia are jointly hosting a training session Tuesday for architects and engineers on the commercial energy code changes in 2015/2018 International Energy Conservation Code. Register here.

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