The Philadelphia Housing Authority’s plans to replace the Queen Lane Apartments with new housing in Germantown got the go-ahead from the city zoning board on Monday.
But, as officials involved in the ongoing historic review of the site and of a planned excavation have pointed out, that doesn’t mean the plan is moving ahead in its current form.
The Section 106 historic review, required when federal money — in this case, Department of Housing and Urban Development housing funding — is used on projects that could affect areas of historic significance.
Concerns, timetable from neighbors
Lisa Hopkins, of Northwest Neighbors of Germantown, has also expressed concerns to HUD about possible environmental effects that disturbing the ground and demolishing the building could have on soil and groundwater.
While there has been no official HUD meeting on the Potter’s Field issue since October, Hopkins’ group planned to give an update on the issue at its community meeting Monday night.
Work to begin removing asphalt, so archaeologists can get to the soil beneath, should begin in December, Hopkins said. Excavation and examination, or “ground truthing,” will be done one three sites near Penn Street, though HUD project officials said no remains would be removed or disturbed.
The back story
In September, attorney Walter Toliver argued before the Zoning Board of Adjustment that the plan should be approved even though the final determination hasn’t been made of the exact dimensions of the burial ground and what, if anything, remains there.
Toliver, who could not be reached for comment Monday, said the plans could be amended later on if needed.
The now-empty PHA apartment tower was built in the 1950s atop an 18th century burial ground for African-Americans, indigents and “strangers.”
While there are neighborhood accounts of bones being excavated along with dirt during construction back then, and plenty of historical evidence exists to confirm that there was a Potter’s Field at the site, it’s unclear what its exact boundaries are, or if any remains still lay there.
HUD officials have said the burial ground could turn out to be much larger than the roughly two-acre site believed to be the Potter’s Field.
Until those questions are answered, the apartment tower can’t be demolished or anything else built, HUD officials have said.
Current plans call for 55 housing units in a collection of lower-profile two- and three-story buildings.
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