Archaeological dig at Germantown Potter's Field site will not start before March
January 25, 2013By Amy Z. Quinn for NewsWorks
"We're going to force the city of Philadelphia to sell this piece of property back to the Recreation Department. We expect it to be filed any day."
-- Greg Paulmier, former city council candidate and PHA-plan critic, on potential lawsuit related to Queen Lane Apartments site
An archaeological dig to see if human remains lie beneath the Queen Lane Apartments site won't begin until at least March, as a months-long historic review of the 18th-century Potter's Field continues.
With the ground beginning to freeze as winter settles in, and the historic review still ongoing, any "ground truthing" won't be complete until at least mid-April. And, it's still unclear what will become of the 16-story apartment tower.
Under the latest timeline, released Thursday at the latest in a series of project meetings called by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, background research and information-gathering on the Potter's Field will be done by Feb. 22.
Ground borings and excavations at the site of several underground anomalies would begin, targeted for completion by about April 15. From there, a final report would likely be complete by about May 17, officials said.
At the last such meeting, in October, officials said digging was nearly set to begin, but no work has been done on the site.
Meetings have continued among community members and PHA representatives, and historians and state preservation officials continue to gather information.
"It's just been a matter of process," said Michael Johns, PHA's acting director of housing operations, when asked about the delay.
At the same time, Johns has been critical of some in the community who have opposed various aspects of PHA's plans, saying continued delays and issues could result the plans for new housing scrapped and the tower remodeled.
So far, the historic review process has cost PHA an estimated $200,000, and about $500,000 has gone into the overall planning of the Queen Lane project, Johns said.
PHA wants to replace the apartment high-rise with 55 low-rise units, located around an open green-space area within the traditional boundaries of the Potter's Field, which appears on city maps as early as 1755.
Some community activists are also challenging the property transfer through which PHA gained possession of part of the land, the parcel which had formerly been the Wissahickon Playground and under the control of the city Recreation Department.
Lisa Hopkins, of Northwest Neighbors of Germantown, and Yvonne Haskins, a local lawyer representing the group, pointed out correspondence between the state Bureau for Historic Preservation and city's Historical Commission that expressed concerns about the property transfer as early as March 2011.
Greg Paulmier, who has been a vocal critic of every aspect of PHA's plans over the year-plus long series of monthly community gatherings and periodic HUD project team briefing meetings, now threatens to file a lawsuit challenging the property transfer.
"We're going to force the city of Philadelphia to sell this piece of property back to the Recreation Department," Paulmier said. "We expect it to be filed any day."