The vote by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on whether or not to landmark the historic 1700s-era Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows has been once again delayed, according to James Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, who made the announcement last week at the group’s monthly meeting.
Gallagher told the members, who have fought a more than 12-year battle to get the Brinckerhoff site landmarked, that he received an email from the LPC just before the meeting that the vote, previously scheduled for June 26, was being postponed until sometime in July, although no exact date was given.
“I know it sounds like bad news that they’ve put off the actual vote,” said Nadezdha Willams, director of preservation and research at the Historic Districts Council, “but I think it’s really a good thing … It’s on the radar, they know you’re there and they want to do this, but they have to be careful with the present owners just to make sure everything is okay,” said Williams, who had also testified in favor of landmarking at the LPC hearing in Manhattan on May 15.
Williams, along with Brinckerhoff descendant William Manger Jr., was a guest speaker at the civic meeting to further discuss the landmarking process. Matthew Brinckerhoff, another descendant, was also invited to speak but cancelled due to illness.
Both Brinckerhoff and Manger are related through a common ancestor buried at the cemetery, Aeltie Brinckerhoff, Manger’s grandmother eight times removed.
Williams speculated that one thing the LPC may be considering is the reality that the site’s owner could, following a landmark designation, turn around and ask for what is called a “financial hardship,” claiming that they are unable to get a sufficient return on their investment.
“If the hardship is granted, the owner is allowed to do what they want with the property and then, in effect, it would reverse the landmark designation.”
Previously, the new owner of the site, located on 182nd Street near 73rd Avenue in Fresh Meadows, has said, based on the previous owners’claim that there are no remains left at the cemetery and that they should be allowed to build two houses on the site.
Williams also added that it’s very possible that the question of a possible “hardship” is one of the issues that may have played a part in this latest delay in the vote.
In a separate interview, Simeon Bankoff, executive director of HDC, said that although he’d like to see Brinckerhoff landmarked sooner than later, he appreciates the LPC being cautious.
“It’s a good thing,” Bankoff said about the delay in the vote. “Landmarks is really trying to figure out how to deal with this thing … They’re trying to do their due diligence.”
Speaking generally about the landmarking process in New York, Williams reported that there are 107 historic districts in the city with only 10 in Queens.
Although there are more than 1,400 individual landmarks in the NYC, only 70 are in Queens. “As Queens is the largest borough, we’re underrepresented when it comes to landmarks, and that’s yet another reason why Brinckerhoff Cemetery is so important,” she said.
Manger spoke briefly and reaffirmed his commitment to restoring and ultimately landmarking the historic burial ground that holds the remains of his deceased family members.
He said that he wants to go back to the cemetery and restore to honor and respect the 77 souls buried there.
Pledging to do “whatever he can to help get the landmarking done,” Manger said, “We should preserve the cemetery not just for my family but for NYC history … There is not much left from the time of the Dutch settlers.”
He also pointed out that other cemeteries have been preserved in the city, adding that one of the most notable is the African American burial ground just three blocks from the LPC building on Centre Street.
“It was discovered when they started doing the excavations for the Federal Building in lower Manhattan,” Manger explained. “When that was discovered, work was stopped, it was cleaned up, preserved, and now there is a memorial on the site.”
He said that “we should do something similar with the cemetery that’s in the backyard right here and preserve that for posterity as well, it only seems to make sense.”
In other neighborhood news, Gallagher reported that Michael’s Arts and Crafts, a national chain, is moving into the space formerly occupied by Filene’s Basement at 187-04 Horace Harding Expresway in Fresh Meadows.
Gallagher said Michael’s will be taking over the entire store although he is uncertain when they will be opening. A spokesperson for the company could not confirm the date as of press time.