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Queens Chronicle

Quaker cemetery dispute put to rest

Developer agrees to pay $50,225 for building over the property line

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:40 am, Thu Aug 8, 2013.

More than a year after developer Jeff Huang built a retaining wall and stuck a utility pole more than three feet over a property line in a historic Quaker cemetery, the two parties signed a boundary agreement on Feb. 26, and negotiated a settlement.

The company that owns the construction site, 136-33 37th Avenue Realty, LLC, signed a judgment by confession on March 1 to pay $50,000 plus $225 in costs and fees to the Flushing Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

The Quakers have owned the land since 1694, when the meetinghouse at 136-16 Northern Blvd. was built. It is the oldest continuously used house of worship in New York State. The cemetery behind the house contains the remains of John Bowne, who fought for religious freedom for the Quakers, and early Quakers.

In April 2012, Huang’s construction compancy, Pinnacle Engineering, knocked down the chain-link fence surrounding the cemetery and stuck a utility pole on the cemetery grounds, only a few feet from a headstone.

Then they built a retaining wall for the foundation of the planned 13-story apartment building, three feet over the property line. The wall is 28 feet deep and about 80 feet long.

Linda Shirley, a meetinghouse trustee, said that there is also an 11-inch wedge protruding into the cemetery.

The boundary agreement states that in 100 years, when Huang’s lease is up, the Quakers will get the land back.

“It’s really, really sad,” Shirley said. “Everything fell through the cracks.”

Pinnacle Engineering’s plans were filed with the city Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but no one saw the retaining wall on the blueprints.

“Pinnacle was downright criminal,” Shirley said. “They filed the plans and hoped that no one would notice. That’s exactly what happened. We could’ve made a big stink before it happened if we noticed.”

Once the infringement was apparent, on April 9, 2012, the city issued a stop-work order to Pinnacle, preventing them from building within 10 feet of the property line. The order mysteriously disappeared at some point, according to Shirley.

Then the Landmarks Preservation Commission conducted archeological radar tests that May to see if any graves were impacted.

The reports indicated that none were, according to Lisi DeBourbon, a spokeswoman for the LPC.

Shirley said the digs were frustrating and time-consuming.

“No graves were found, but it’s very iffy, since it’s so old and there are so many trees,” Shirley said.

Huang paid for all of the archeological testing and removed the 8-foot utility pole and 10 I-beams from the cemetery.

Then it took several months to negotiate a settlement.

“We really wanted the retaining wall moved, but that’s not going to happen,” Shirley said. “We’re not too happy with the money, or the situation, but it’s what we ended up with.”

Now that the issue is resolved, the Friends want legislation enacted that would prevent any developer from building within three feet of a cemetery.

“Hopefully something like this won’t happen in the future,” said Brian Doherty, the Friends’ lawyer. “People make mistakes when they build that close to a line.”

Welcome to the discussion.