Queen Village: How We Became Who We Are Now
We are so fortunate to live in Queen Village. We have beautiful streets and lovely homes, gardens and parks; our schools are solid, our neighbors are friendly, our restaurants and shops are tops. It doesn’t just happen. Over the years, many neighbors have stepped up and taken on City Hall, Harrisburg, developers, and a host of issues that unchecked would have made for a very different neighborhood.
What were the definitive issues back in the 1990’s? QVNA Magazine sought out past QVNA president Colleen Puckett and spent a fascinating hour learning about the battles waged on three fronts during her tenure.
First, and one that required not just QVNA, but many neighborhoods banding together, was to stop riverboat gambling. Riverboat gambling was viewed by then-Mayor Rendell as a great way to fill the city’s coffers. Not everyone agreed. There was widespread, river-to-river discontent about Rendell’s plans. Colleen was passionate in her opposition to riverboat gambling, as were many in Queen Village. She stepped up, both as a QVNA board member for four years and as president for six years. Realizing that Queen Village alone would have a tough time winning this fight, Colleen reached out to other neighborhood associations and founded the Coalition of Philadelphia Neighborhood Associations (CPNA). The strength and strategy found in numbers eventually won the day, and the threat of riverboat gambling evaporated. Here are some interesting facts from the time:
A statewide survey found 48 percent of Pennsylvania residents supported legalized riverboat gambling and just 38 percent were opposed. However, then-Governor Robert P. Casey claimed to be opposed to gambling and threatened to veto any gambling legislation passed in the state.
Under then-Governor Tom Ridge, the State Legislature came close to legalizing riverboat casinos. The state’s anti-gambling movement began to grow and Gov. Ridge said he would veto any gambling bill not approved by referendum. Eventually the entire idea was scrapped. So why did two successive governors oppose riverboat gambling? Rendell was a very popular and charismatic mayor, and yet, “... the entire idea was scrapped.” You can thank Colleen and Queen Village Neighbors Association for contributing significantly to its demise. The success of CPNA against riverboat gambling inspired QVNA and the other member groups to stay together and work to keep their quality of life intact by working on zoning issues. CPNA organized workshops with local zoning committees to meet with Licenses & Inspections and Zoning Board of Adjustment members.
Communities felt empowered to have a say in how their areas would develop. The QVNA zoning committee has maintained its reputation for fairness and knowledge of zoning issues. Other important issues at the time were more local - the creation of a neighbors parking lot under I-95 and the constant issue of how to manage development. Interestingly, the parking lot was probably a hotter issue in the neighborhood than riverboat gambling. Over the years, one of the most pressing issues in Queen Village has been and continues to be, parking. The neighborhood gentrified rapidly; more homes were renovated, more homes were built and condos were created from old schools. Queen Village had become desirable.
Equally frustrating at the time was the fact that QVNA had no money to implement improvements in the neighborhood. The empty lot under I-95 that stretches from Christian St. to Washington Ave. was a tantalizing prize to be coveted. But getting it would cost dollars that QVNA didn’t have. How to get past this Catch-22? Again, QVNA under Colleen’s leadership and the hard work of many other residents went to work. There were endless meetings with elected officials; meetings with ILMC (Interstate Land Management Corporation) the entity that manages land adjacent to federal highways, meetings with neighbors. Eventually, funding through a grant was found for the parking lot. Elected officials at the time recognized the need for a parking lot and for an on-going source of funding for the neighborhood. The opening of the entire area under I-95 for parking a few years ago is what enables QVNA to clean our streets, better our schools, and maintain our parks.
This put us in a very fortunate position. We are one of a few neighborhood associations with the resources to implement programs that work for the entire community, all while providing much-needed parking. This fight for parking took about two-years, with many ups and downs. But as Colleen said, “We finally got the damn lot!” Thanks to Colleen for all her hard work over the years and for taking the time to talk to us about this slice of QVNA history.