Jenice Davis stood by a row of brand new townhouses along Priscilla Street and smiled. Her nearly decade-long wait for a public housing unit was almost over.
“I’m so excited,” said Davis, nearly speechless. “It means everything to me. It means everything to me.”
Davis, 28, and her three children will be one of the first families to move into Queen Lane Apartments in west Germantown. For nearly 60 years, that name was attached to a 16-story high-rise near the corner of Queen Lane and Pulaski Avenue. It’s now home to a 55-unit, low-rise development that residents and elected officials hope will help improve the neighborhood.
“The revolution has started in Germantown,” said PHA President Kelvin Jeremiah during Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Is there any question than this is better than what was?”
Before being demolished in September 2014, the Queen Lane Apartments building was considered a major eyesore with a mixed history that included drug dealing and violence.
“I had to duck down many a day from shootings in the playground,” said Corliss Gray, who lived on Penn Street across the street from the property for decades.
The new $22 million development consists of two-story flats, walk-up apartments and three-story townhouses. It rings roughly two acres of green space that was once home to an 18th century potter’s field.
The burial ground – created in 1755 for “all strangers, Negroes, and Mulattoes [who] die in any part of Germantown forever” – sat at the heart of a three-year process to preserve a piece of neighborhood history that nearly resulted in PHA scrapping plans to demolish the high-rise.
The building was originally scheduled to come down in August 2012.
In the end, PHA agreed not to build on the cemetery and paid for a pair of archaeological surveys to determine its boundaries. The agency also executed a “programmatic agreement” with the U.S. Department of Urban Development, neighbors and other stakeholders.
The legal document spells out what actions will be taken going forward if any historic resources are found either during additional archaeological digs, demolition or construction.
To date, no human remains have been discovered at the site, and nothing has indicated that the burial ground extends beyond the roughly two-acre parameters found on a pair of historic site maps.A plaque will soon be erected to commemorate the potter’s field.
Residents are expected to start moving in by the end of the week.