After 12 years, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission may soon be forced to render a decision on the fate of the old Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows.
The cemetery, located on 182nd Street between 69th and 73rd avenues, was a private plot used by the Brinckerhoff family — considered some of the earliest settlers of Queens — between the 1730s and the 1870s.
More than 70 bodies are believed to have been buried there over more than a century. History and preservation advocates have been trying to secure landmark protection for the property for more than a dozen years, ever since former owner, Ralph DeDomenico of Florida, first began looking to develop the property for two houses.
His father, Joseph, purchased the property from the city in the 1950s after it had been seized for tax debts.
The Queens Historical Society has attempted to acquire the land over the years, and had gone to court to block development.
A deal with the DeDomenico family fell through in 2000 when the QHS and other backers could not raise the $100,000 purchase price before a short deadline.
Those seeking preservation say the land is a part of Queens history, while attorneys for the owners contend that there are few if any markers left, and that 18th-century burial techniques — wooden caskets, no embalming — likely would result in no human remains left in the soil.
Landmark status granted by the commission would preserve the property. Lisi de Bourbon, spokeswoman for the LPC, said a hearing will be held regarding the property on Tuesday, May 15 at the commission’s office at 1 Center St. in Manhattan. A time for the hearing will be set on Friday, May 11.
Officials at the Queens Historical Society could not be reached for comment by press time, and the Chronicle was unable to identify the new owners of the property through online city records.
But Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), a staunch advocate for reserving the property, is concerned.
Gennaro said to his understanding, the hearing was called for by the new owner, who wants a decision.
“The property has been in limbo for 12 years,” Gennaro said. “He wants to develop it, so he wants the commission to declare it a landmark or have the property decalendared.”
Nearby neighbor Dennis Cutler said he has an old plan that plots where 74 burials took place. He said “it was shameful” that the land could be, as he sees it, desecrated.
Gennaro said his concerns are numerous. First, he believes there may no longer be any headstones, or other kinds of tangible things that usually are necessary for the commission to convey landmark status.
“There are no physical objects, things of landmark value like headstones that could potentially meet the commission members’ criteria,” he said. “You may need something to landmark. And they are largely bound by their own regulations.”
Gennaro believes that if the owner loses, he will pursue legal appeals. But the councilman said preservationists would as well.
He said agencies like the state Parks Department, unlike its New York City counterpart, has the latitude to pursue preservation from a historic preservation angle.
Steve Fisher contributed to this story.