Preservationists fear that the Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows is in danger of being kicked off a list of protected properties and put yet again at risk for development.
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission has scheduled a May 15 public hearing to determine whether or not to make the site a landmark, according to spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon.
But community activists believe the purpose of the meeting is actually to take the plot off the committee’s list of potential historical places at the behest of new owners.
Two years ago, the cemetery was placed on a list of properties the commission would consider for historical status. No development was permitted on the site while Landmarks made up its mind.
But if the commission takes the property off its calendar, owner Ledan Cai could have the opportunity to put up two houses where previous efforts have failed.
“We are very concerned about the prospects, fearing the LPC would renege on its ‘calendar’ status with the likelihood of subsequent approval for the developer to build on the cemetery,” James Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, said in a flier released to the community.
Cai could not be reached for comment and plans for the plot were unclear.
When Landmarks was asked if Cai was seeking to take the plot off the calendar, de Bourbon said the commission does not make owners’ claims public prior to a hearing.
The plot was originally part of a farm owned by the Brinckerhoff family, a Dutch clan who were the first settlers in the area, according to Gallagher. Before all of the headstones were removed, maps indicated the plot held 77 graves dating from 1730 to 1898.
In 1957, the cemetery was sold to the DeDomenico family and Joseph DeDomenico sought to develop the property, until he died in 1999, when his son Ralph took the helm.
A year later, descendants of the Brinckerhoff family sued to try and reclaim the property, citing city error in the original sale. But the suit was unsuccessful and later that year the DeDomenico family sold the property to Ledan Cai for $105,000.
Even if the cemetery is taken off Landmarks’ calendar list, the city would not allow development until all of the bodies are removed, and that would either require a stamp of approval from the Brinckerhoff family or a court.
In 2010, lawmakers were outraged that the DeDomenico family wanted to build on the property, with City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) calling the family’s claim that the bones had disintegrated absurd.
“The owner of the property says it’s no longer a cemetery. Cemeteries don’t have expiration dates,” he said.
But a lawyer who represented the DeDomenico family said no one in elected office nor the community has put any money into upkeep at the property, yet they still bash the owners for wanting to build on it.
“The people in that neighborhood are a bunch of nuts,” he said, calling lawmaker outrage a case of playing politics. “Nobody wanted to take care of it and it was abandoned.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community News Group
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