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Queens Chronicle

Bad fences make for bad neighbors

Historic house’s spat with developer includes intrusive retaining wall

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Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:50 am, Thu Dec 27, 2012.

Problems at the Quaker Meeting House range beyond the below-ground utility pole base, reported by the Chronicle last week.

Ongoing issues with a neighboring construction site include shifting borders caused by a 28-foot-deep retaining wall supported by 10 large steel I-beams. The wood and cement barrier has effectively moved 80 feet of the Meeting House’s property line back 3 feet.

The planned apartment building at 136-33 37 Ave. has been in limbo after a stop-work order was issued following the invasion into the Quaker house’s property.

The incursion also included the destruction of a previous retaining wall, with the extent of the damage at the property’s western corner still unknown.

“They didn’t tell us about their plans to put this retaining wall on our property and get our permission, as they are required to do,” said Linda Shirley, member of a committee designed to address ongoing problems with the adjacent construction site. She added the retaining wall provided extra real estate to the project — on the cheap.

“This was unquestionably a planned intrusion, and it’s also undeniable that they purposefully ignored our property rights and their moral responsibility to respect the cemetery and the National Historic Landmark,” she said in an email exchange.

The Meeting House and its bothersome neighbor, Jeff Huang of Pinnacle Engineering, have been in settlement talks to rectify the problems.

“We are in negotiations with the attorney for the Meeting House in terms of these issues,” said Jeffrey Sharkey, an attorney representing Huang. “It’s active, it’s ongoing and we’re very much aware the situation.”

The Chronicle first reported in April the work was being carried out by Pinnacle Engineering without meeting house members’ knowledge, or necessary archeological testing and permits from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which oversees all work involving landmarked historic sites and cemeteries.

Construction may resume after the stop-work order is lifted, a process that would be made easier with a nod of approval from the Meeting House’s board.

Shirley said Huang’s recent cooperation is an acknowledgement he needs to play nice with the Meeting House to get the project done.

“It has been late in coming — this happened a year ago — and is only now being resolved because their construction needs to proceed on our side and they need our help,” she said.

The retaining wall is just one in a list of several headaches. There are also remnants of an intrusive utility pole’s concrete base still buried on cemetery land 8 feet below the surface.

Workers at the construction site also tore down the Meeting House’s chain link fence and erected a makeshift plywood barrier about 4 feet onto the historic property.

The two parties’ settlement will have to be approved by the LPC, Sharkey said.

The commission must approve any construction work at or near a historic graveyard, a process which typically includes archeological testing to see if any remains are below ground.

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