Save Queens Plaza millstones from onslaught of city development

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A fitting home must be found for the historic millstones that have languished for decades among the traffic and pollution at Queens Plaza. These millstones are connected to the grist mill of the first European community in Queens, in what was and is today Dutch Kills.

Penny Lee of the Department of City Planning, working with the Dutch Kills Civic Association and without the advice of an archeologist, decided to make this a battle of wills, insisting the stones remain on pedestals at Queens Plaza. To treat these historic artifacts as pawns and exclude our community from any say on their future goes against everything this nation stands for and against 350 years of local tradition and pride.

As a result of poor planning by the city, these millstones and Dutch Kills have suffered abusive neglect. Despite the heritage of these artifacts, various city officials have allowed these millstones to be eroded and cracked and even permitted hot asphalt to be poured on them.

It is hardly surprising that the value of these millstones has been disregarded by the city, since the Dutch Kills community itself has been totally rolled over by the city planning apparatus. To the current administration, these historic artifacts are just as invisible as we apparently are.

Back in 2005, City Planning offered to rezone Dutch Kills in a way that would encourage new residential buildings in order to maintain and protect the character and quality of life of our community. All the residents embraced the city’s plan because we wanted to protect the quiet, light and safe and friendly atmosphere we cherish in Dutch Kills as well as to encourage new residential building.

In 2007, the city made the announcement that there was a new zoning plan for Dutch Kills and that once the new zoning was voted into law by the City Council, no longer could high-rise commercial buildings be built. City Planning then delayed the start its own environmental impact study for more than six months and then added four months more of unnecessary delays to the ULURP process.

In nearly a year of delays, 14 permits were given to hotel developers to build high-rise hotels anywhere in our community. Most chose to plant these out-of-character monstrosities in the middle of quiet, tree-lined streets of two- to three-story houses blocks from any public transportation.

It is hardly surprising that City Planning is bullying the community into agreeing to leave these artifacts in the middle of traffic at Queens Plaza at the risk of being damaged by vehicles and pollution.

It is time someone draws the line. We have nothing to lose — for like those stones, we in Dutch Kills have been marginalized, disenfranchised, ignored and tricked. How ironic, for from our back windows now screened by hotel towers, we used to see the United Nations. This institution, whose existence was designed to banish mistreatment of the common man, is itself now invisible, blocked by the same forces that are toying with the symbols of our heritage: the millstones.

A nexus of multiple traffic lanes and underground and over-ground trains is not a safe place for these artifacts. They should be removed to the Greater Astoria Historical Society, where they can be protected and studied.

George Stamatiades, a Queens Library board member, has suggested installing the millstones in a local branch of the library, but a local library is not a museum. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the city Historic Districts Council, suggested the millstones be relocated to the GAHS.

William Henry Payntar Sr., a descendant of the Payntar-Skillman family that once owned most of the land on which these millstones once turned, said last month in a letter that the millstones should be moved to an exhibit space within the GAHS building.

As a resident of Dutch Kills and vice president of the Dutch Kills Advocacy League, I urge that the good of our community prevail and that the millstones be protected in the GAHS as soon as possible.

Megan Dees Friedman

Vice President

Dutch Kills Advocacy League

Dutch Kills

Updated 6:10 pm, October 10, 2011
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