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Preserve Brinckerhoff: Neighbors

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Residents and elected officials gathered Monday on 182nd Street in Fresh Meadows in hopes of getting some peace of mind about the derelict Brinckerhoff Cemetery.

The cemetery has been a point of contention since the city sold the land to real estate investor Joseph DeDomenico in 1957, City Councilman James Gennaro's (D-Fresh Meadows) office said.

Because New York state law forbids building on a cemetery, the owner has not been able to construct the two houses he had planned and the Brinckerhoff plot has languished for more than 50 years.

Hank Gottlieb moved into the brick house opposite the cemetery 40 years ago and became its unofficial caretaker of the weed- and ivy-choked site.

"I'm a garbage collector," he joked. "I would look out my window and see garbage and I would pick it up."

The City Landmarks Preservation Council voted in 2000 to consider landmarking the site, but a legal dispute between DeDomenico and the city over what can be done with the land has derailed the process.

Gennaro has gathered state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Queens Historical Society President James Driscoll and residents of 182nd Street to protest any development at the site and ask the LPC to expedite the cemetery's application.

"We have to pay attention to our cultural history, and landmarking is the way to do that," Stavisky said.

"We're standing on what used to be the Brinkerhoff home," Driscoll said, with his feet planted in front of the gate in the new wooden fence around the property. "There's nobody famous buried here, but these are the people who built Queens."

Gennaro said his hope is that the DeDomenico family would sell the land back to the city.

"Once the developer sees the city's not going to budge, we would think the owner would transfer [the land] to the city for a nominal sum. The city owes it to our colonial forebears to respect this sacred ground."

The councilman's office recently persuaded the owner to remove the weeds and trash, and to put up a fence at the site.

"Till a month ago, you couldn't see in here," said Ray Moscardina, whose house is next to Gottlieb's. "They brought in Dumpsters, worked four, five hours a day to clean up the stuff that came out of here!"

A 1919 survey of the property showed 77 graves on the site on 182nd Street near 73rd Avenue. The state Secretary of State's Cemetery Division said that in order to develop the land, the bodies must be removed, and to do that requires permission from a local court, Gennaro said.

"What the owners want is for the city to give them the right to build on it. They say the bones have been there so long, the bodies aren't here anymore," Gennaro said.

Vallone scoffed at the idea.

"The owner of the property says it's no longer a cemetery. Cemeteries don't have expiration dates," he said.

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