A little over a year since the dramatic implosion of the deteriorating, 16-story Queen Lane Apartments, a $22 million development of rental homes is close to completion on the site.
Applications from those who’d like to live were accepted by the Philadelphia Housing Authority last week, and a ribbon-cutting for the development of townhouses is scheduled for Dec. 15 at 11 a.m.
Just about everyone is very satisfied with the change on the site bordered by Queen Lane, Pulaski Avenue, and Penn and Priscilla streets.
Lisa Hopkins, a founder of Northwest Neighbors, said the new homes will “allow the quality of life to be restored back to this area,” with a much needed increase in the assets and property values of the surrounding neighborhood. “Any new type of development is a plus in this part of Germantown,” Hopkins said.
PHA president and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah visited on Sept. 30 to check on progress at the site. “I’m amazed how the construction is redefining the location,” and the project is having ripple effects throughout the neighborhood, he said.
Leveling the landscape
The Sept. 13, 2014 demolition of the Queen Lane Apartments was one in a series of actions taken by PHA to replace the aging affordable housing structures built in the 1950s and ’60s. The agency has taken down 22 towers at seven sites over the years in order to build more contemporary, livable structures that reflect the scale and design of neighboring homes.
The 55 new apartments will be two- and three-story, energy-efficient townhouses with one, two or three bedrooms.
When the PHA first proposed taking down the Queen Lane high-rise in 2010 to replace it with new rental units, the neighbors opposed the idea of new apartments “because of all the violence that occurred there,” Hopkins said.
What the neighbors wanted to see was the construction of a new playground at the site. The Wissahickon Playground that had stood on the corner of Pulaski Avenue and Penn Street had been dismantled in the years leading up to the demolition of the apartment building.
Hopkins said the playground land had been transferred to PHA without the community’s input. A lawsuit was filed in March arguing that the transfer violated the Public Trust Doctrine, and a hearing is scheduled for Oct. 14 in the Court of Common Pleas. A group of neighbors has been meeting with Councilwoman Cindy Bass every week since May, Hopkins said, to find a place for a new community playground.
Jeremiah said the “petitioners are looking for sanctions that could imperil the development” at the site. The claim that the land was not appropriately conveyed to the PHA “does not have any merit, and we will vigorously fight it,” he said.
PHA is working with the residents to identify the best spot for a recreational space, and has committed $500,000 for a new basketball court and tot lot, Jeremiah said.
Clearing off the dust
All sides agree that the razing of the old apartment building was welcome.
The 2014 implosion did cause cracked and shattered windows in some surrounding homes, which were quickly replaced by the Dale Corporation, which is constructing the new apartments. “Dale and the PHA had agreed to rectify all the damage,” Hopkins said.
Since then, neighbors have complained about the dust rising from the site, she said, “but that comes with any construction. And they were all happy to see the old building go.”
The Northwest Neighbors and other civic groups worked closely with the PHA in the protection and preservation of the potter’s field, where former slaves and their descendants were buried, in the center of the construction area.
“We’ve been very mindful of the historic nature of the potter’s field and very respectful of the site,” Jeremiah said. Archaeologists were present during excavation of the land, and “we didn’t encounter anything that would have raised concerns. Ultimately, it will be something that we can be proud of — a green space with a marker, surrounded by a beautiful new development.”
Jeremiah said that the new construction already has sparked other activity throughout the neighborhood.
“There are other folks doing rehabs on private homes down the street and across the street,” he said.
PHA gutted and rehabilitated the Queen’s Row building on the 500 block of Queen Lane, and the 29-unit development opened in August, almost fully occupied.
The new Queen Lane Apartments, Jeremiah said, is a “really spectacular development.” He expects residents to be celebrating the holidays in the new homes. “They will be good neighbors, and this will pay dividends for Queen Lane residents and the broader community.”
Hopkins, too, is looking forward to the completion of the new apartments in December. “The neighborhood hopes to go back to normal,” she said. “And we hope to continue an agreeable partnership with PHA, and restore Germantown back to its original greatness.”