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Queens Chronicle

Unearthed graves cause problems

Construction work remains halted; city agencies to discuss Elmhurst site

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 10:59 am, Thu Jan 16, 2014.

A burial ground discovered during the construction of a new apartment complex in Elmhurst has entered its fourth year of causing frustration and uncertainty among city agencies and the building’s owner.

In 2011, graves containing human remains were unearthed during the excavation process for a 32-unit apartment complex at 90-05 through 90-19 Corona Ave. in Elmhurst.

A partial stop-work order was issued by the Department of Buildings on Oct. 14, 2011, but last October, 15 more grave sites were discovered, halting construction completely, according to DOB spokeswoman Kelly Magee.

“The work order is a partial one because it allows for the removal of the remains,” Magee said. “So we’ve stopped construction as of now.”

The complex is owned by a Manhattan-based real estate group headed by Bo Jing Zhu, and Tan Architects is listed on the DOB applications as the building’s architects.

Yi Han, the complex’s construction manager, said they never knew the burial ground existed prior to the excavation process and that all work is suspended at this time.

“We were not aware of it at all,” Han said. “We are very angry about it.”

Han also noted that an independent archaeologist has been hired to investigate the site.

It is unknown how old the human remains are and exactly how many have been discovered in total.

The graves discovered in October are undergoing medical testing to determine if they are human.

Before the stop-work order can be lifted, Magee said that both the Health Department and the Landmarks Preservation Commission would have to sign off on removing it, only after a thorough archaeological investigation of the site has been completed.

LPC Director of Communications Lisi de Bourbon said that much has to be done before any order can be lifted.

“LPC oversees the entire archaeological excavation process,” de Bourbon said. “New York State law stipulates that a licensed funeral director must apply for disinterment permits from DOH before any burials may be disinterred and only the funeral director can remove the burials from the site.”

DOH Deputy Press Secretary Levi Fishman said that no decision about removing any remains has been made as of yet.

“When a decision is made regarding disinterment,” he said, “the contracted funeral director will contact the DOH.”

According to the DOB and the LPC, an interagency meeting between all three parties and the building’s owner regarding the site was to take place on Thursday, but Zhu canceled and the meeting is in the process of being rescheduled.

However, Fishman denied the DOH was taking part in such a meeting.

While different city agencies attempt to gather to discuss the issue, the future apartment complex will remain unfinished for the time being, and there is nothing Han can do about it.

“We have no idea how long this is going to take,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon.”

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