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Queens Chronicle

Pole still buried at Quaker cemetery

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Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:39 am, Thu Dec 20, 2012.

There is some unfinished business at Flushing’s Quaker Meeting House.

The concrete base of a misplaced utility pole buried on the house’s property stands as the sole remnant of flawed construction work next to the house.

The concrete support is 8 feet below the surface, at the southern end of the house’s historic cemetery. Members of a committee designed to address ongoing problems with the adjacent construction site want it gone, but lack the means to remove it.

“We’ve been waiting a year and they only cut it off,” said Linda Shirley, a committee member.

Work at the planned apartment building at 136-33 37 Ave. has been suspended by a stop-work order issued as a result of its incursion into the Quaker house’s property. The Chronicle first reported in April the work was being carried out by Pinnacle Engineering without Meeting House members’ knowledge, necessary archeological testing and permits from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Workers on the construction site tore down the Quaker Meeting House’s chain-link fence and erected a makeshift plywood barrier about 4 feet onto the historic property. They also slapped a utility pole into an old graveyard dating back centuries.

The LPC 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.

The apartment project’s owner, Jeff Huang, quickly responded after the LPC informed him he could face substantial fines for the work, with the utility pole’s above-ground portion taken down and the fence moved back.

He then paid for the cost of an archeological assessment of the disturbed area in May, a process that involves sifting and sonar to search for any remains. Remains were not found in the area, though the site’s age could be a reason.

“There’s no evidence of any graves being desecrated,” Shirley said. “But it was so old it’s hard to tell.”

Huang did not respond to a request for comment.

The LPC does not require the pole’s base be removed, a process that has the potential to further disturb the cemetery. The Meeting House committee plans otherwise, Shirley said, and is working on an alternative plan that would see it taken out.

“It involves bringing in a big piece of equipment with 10 enormous beams on our property,” she said.

“I really want to get this done quickly,” she added.

The pole and overall incursion were particularly problematic, as Quakers did not use headstones during the cemetery’s early existence. That left the very real prospect of a utility pole disturbing the remains of John Bowne, known for introducing the “freedom of religion” concept via the Flushing Remonstrance.

The historic site’s very existence can be attributed to Bowne as well, after he sold the land to the Quakers, who erected the meeting house in 1694.

The hullabaloo reached the upper echelons of city government, with Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) joining city and state historic preservation agencies to quickly address the construction headache.

Koo is drafting legislation that would mandate a buffer area for any construction work adjacent to a historic site, according to his chief of staff, James McClelland, creating a “safety zone” barring plans that run up to the property lines of historic sites.

The Quaker Meeting House is a city and National Historic Landmark.

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