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Fresh Meadows residents fight to preserve cemetery

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Community members and other proponents of the site presented arguments in favor of granting the cemetery landmark status.

"These brave men and their descendants were the farmers and merchants, millers and other tradesmen who laid the foundation for the pre-eminent city that New York has become," Mitchell Grubler, executive director of the Queens Historical Society told commissioners at the hearing in Manhattan.

He asked the commission to "recognize the historical significance to our city of this plot of hallowed ground and designate the Brinckerhoff Cemetery so that it can rightfully join the ranks of the five already designated family cemeteries of Queens."

After the meeting, two LPC commissioners who spoke separately with cemetery supporters expressed optimism about the cemetery's chances.

After the commission reviews the arguments, it will hold another public meeting to announce its decision.

The remains of 77 Brinckerhoffs lie in two overgrown and neglected lots between two houses in Fresh Meadows, north of 73 Avenue. The earliest tombstone is dated 1730.

The city sold the property in 1962 to a private citizen, Joseph DeDomenico, whose son, Joseph Jr., now owns it. DeDomenico wants to sell the property for at least $100,000. However, the city, aware that the cemetery exists, forbids any building or development on the site.

In a court case brought by the Queens Historical Society and the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, an agreement worked out by State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Polizzi originally gave the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association until March 28 to buy the property. The deadline was later extended to May 9 after the association could not raise the $100,000 by March.

Stanley Cogan, president of the Queens Historical Society, said DeDomenico's lawyer, Gerald Chiariello, who was present at the hearing, did not object to the cemetery being declared a landmark.

"We don't know what's happening with the whole court thing," Cogan said, "because it is still in the judge's hands. We haven't raised the $100,000 and the judge was supposed to make a decision by July 30th, but we haven't heard from him at all."

About 20 people were present at the hearing, including two Brinckerhoff descendants, Bill Snedeker and George Brinkerhoff, whose family dropped the "c" from the name.

"It's never been built on in 350 years," said Brinkerhoff, a Long Island real estate agent. "Obviously, people have hallowed this out, and they should be allowed to rest in peace. It's a fascinating period, the early Dutch, and we see very little of it."

Queens Historical Society Vice President Jim Driscoll said everyone who testified at the hearing "supported the landmarking."

He added, "You don't know what the Landmarks Commission is going to do, but I think they liked what they heard. I think if they can resolve some of these legal issues - the status of the land, ownership and what can't be built on it, hopefully they'll go along with it."

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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