MidVil cemetery in grass spat

Michael DiMambro walks his German shepard Alaska along a disputed stretch of grass that was recently cleaned by volunteers but has already begun accumulating fresh deposits of garbage. Photo by Joe Anuta
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The city and the head of a Middle Village cemetery are engaged in a not-my-turf war.

The two sides disagree over who is responsible for maintaining an unkempt grassy swath along 73rd Place, but residents who live nearby do not care which side wins the debate. They just want it cleaned up.

“It’s a horror,” said Caroline Tesseyman, who lives across the street from the overgrown strip on 69th Avenue. “Garbage is being dumped over there constantly.”

The strip of land runs between 68th and 70th avenues along western edge of 73rd Place and creates a no-man’s-land between All Faiths Cemetery and the road.

Empty beer bottles, syringes, used condoms, dog feces and bags of garbage are constantly being discarded in the brush, according to residents.

And the foliage makes a convenient home for vermin like raccoons, skunks, rodents and mosquitoes that cause problems in the neighborhood, according to Tesseyman.

“It’s an easy place for them to hide,” she said.

She said the sorry state of the area is like a magnet for more dumping, and that a clean, well-maintained plot would solve many of the problems the neighborhood faces.

“I would like to see it cleaned up and stay clean,” she said. “When you see a place like that is not kept up, it is an easy target for dumping.”

Dan Austin, president of the cemetery, said he has never owned the property, but as a courtesy used to clean it up. The economy and complications with having unionized workers led him to discontinue his maintenance several years ago.

He added that when his crews have previously cleaned the area they found household garbage dumped by neighbors, who left discarded mail bearing their addresses in the refuse.

Several lawmakers in the area are working with the city to definitively settle the dispute. Austin said if the land is his, he will ensure it is clean.

“If you tell me that is my property, I would immediately put up a chain link fence. That way no one would be dumping garbage,” he said. “Of course, they are not going to tell me it’s my property.”

Austin has a proposal from the city Department of Transportation showing the city’s plans to build along the property, which he said proves his case.

“Do you think that the city of New York is going to do a capital improvement project on private property?” he asked.

A DOT spokeswoman confirmed that the department is planning a capital project to reconstruct the road, but as of press time was still looking into whether the department had plans for the strip of land.

But another spokeswoman from the city Sanitation Department said that since the property abuts the cemetery, it is Austin’s responsibility.

Regardless of who owns the property, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) hosted cleanup sessions Sept. 24 and Saturday.

During the first session, students from St. John’s University removed the refuse and cleared away some of the brush, much to the delight of homeowners.

“They did a very good job,” Tesseyman said. “A lot of neighbors were out there, too.”

Addabbo’s office is working with the city and pouring over property maps to help end the feud.

“It’s partially city property and partially cemetery property. Where is that actual property line?” Addabbo asked. “We’re not going to point a finger at anybody until we have proof.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 2:08 pm, October 6, 2011
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