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Fresh Meadows civics claim lot as cemetery

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The Queens Historical Society and the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic...

By Brendan Browne

The owners of a Fresh Meadows lot that may be the site of an historic cemetery are being asked to provide proof of ownership since the rightful owner died about 18 months ago.

The Queens Historical Society and the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association contend that the property on 182nd Street near 73rd Avenue that Joseph DeDomenico bought from the city in a public land auction in 1957 is actually a cemetery for 77 members of the Brinkerhoff family, the original Dutch settlers of Queens, Queens Historical Society President Stanley Cogan said.

The two groups filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Queens in 1999 against DeDomenico to have the parcel of land turned over to the public.

The legal process came to a halt when DeDomenico died. It is unclear which member of his family is the rightful owner of the Brinkerhoff cemetery, said Paul Kerson, an attorney representing the QHS and Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association. In order to get the court proceedings moving again, Kerson recently filed a motion asking a judge to force the DeDomenico family to identify the executor of the plot, he said.

Gerald Chiariello, a lawyer representing the DeDomenico family, said the family is in the process of determining to whom DeDomenico willed the property.

Regardless, the DeDomenico family owns the land legally, Chiariello argued. The Queens Historical Society and Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association “have no right to do anything. My client bought it at a city sale in 1957 and they have a hell of a nerve to bring a (suit),” Chiariello said, noting that if the family is forced to part with the property, they expect to be paid fair market value.

Cogan contends that the city acted improperly when it sold the land. He said the land, which is overgrown, should be deemed a city landmark in tribute to the Dutch family and their descendants who helped establish Queens.

Chiariello said activists had centuries to turn the plot into a landmark and did nothing until decades after the land was sold to a private family.

Before DeDomenico died, he was hesitant to hand over the land because he believed he could sell the plot for several thousand dollars, Chiariello said, adding that the DeDomenico family has received offers up to $400,000 for the plot.

In 2000, a settlement was almost reached when a judge said the QHS and Fresh Meadows Historical Society could pay the DeDomenico family $100,000 if they wanted the land. The groups could not raise the money so the settlement was rejected and the legal proceedings continued, Kerson said.

Kerson believes that the city should never have sold a historical plot to a private homeowner and it is worthless because, according to state law, a cemetery cannot be developed.

“The city shouldn’t have sold it because you can’t really auction off a cemetery,” said James Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association. The Brinkerhoffs “were the first settlers in 1640. That’s why we want to preserve that.”

Gallagher said he hopes the cemetery is turned into a memorial park with landmark status and the city pays the DeDomenico family.

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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