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Queens Chronicle

Quakers contest Flushing site work

Developer illegally erects utility pole, fence on historic graveyard

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Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:30 pm, Thu Apr 5, 2012.

Quakers are known to be peaceful people, but a construction job gone awry has the Flushing contingent furious.

Construction workers for a planned apartment building at 136-33 37 Ave. behind the Quaker Meeting House and burial ground, erected a temporary fence and a utility pole onto the historic property.

Linda Shirley, a meeting house trustee, said work was carried out by Pinnacle Engineering without members’ knowledge or permission and without conducting the necessary archeological tests or obtaining the required permits from the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Workers tore back the Quakers’ chain-link fence and erected a plywood construction barrier about four feet onto the property. That is the location of the group’s graveyard that dates back more than 300 years.

“We don’t know if the people and fence are on top of graves because in the old days Quakers did not use headstones,” Shirley said. “John Bowne is buried back there.”

The meeting house was built in 1694 and is a city and National Historic Landmark. The building and burial ground — that dates back to 1676 — are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Bowne was an early settler who lived nearby and sold land to the Quakers for the meeting house. Bowne, whose wife was a Quaker, first allowed them to meet at his home, in defiance of Gov. Peter Stuyvesant’s decree, and was exiled to Europe until he proved his case in the Netherlands.

Thus began Flushing’s history as the cradle of religious freedom in the United States.

Any construction work at or near a historic graveyard in the city must be approved by the LPC. It usually involves archeological testings to ascertain that remains are there.

Shirley, and members of the Committee with a Concern for the Cemetery, James Cleary and Cheshire Frager, wrote to the LPC, the Department of Buildings and the developer for help.

After receiving photos of the site from the Queens Chronicle last week, the LPC instructed the contractor to take down the pole. It was supposed to have been taken down Friday, but was finally removed Monday afternoon.

Lisi de Bourbon, spokeswoman for the LPC, said the contractor responded immediately after her agency informed him that a failure to remove the pole could lead to a violation and fines. “We are very pleased we were able to help resolve this matter quickly given the historic importance of the site,” de Bourbon said.

The Chronicle also contacted the DOB. Spokeswoman Ryan FitzGibbon said an inspector was sent out and that the work is in compliance as far as the construction fence is concerned. But Shirley wonders if the inspector only checked from the 37th Avenue side, since the Quaker Meeting House property at 137-16 Northern Blvd. is closed during the week.

“You can see from our side that our fence, which they moved, is about four feet back from the temporary one,” she said. “They also cut off major tree limbs and one tree has been most certainly killed as all but one bough was lopped off.The other is about half gone and they’ve tied the electrical cables to it.”

In a letter to Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) the cemetery committee wrote: “It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could be so disrespectful to the property rights of their neighbors and to our priceless national heritage, but this is what has occurred.”

Despite the frustration over the illegal work, Shirley is satisfied by the LPC action, saying the pole was a major issue. Project Manager Arnold Matthew indicated that the pole and fence were necessary to provide security and safety during the building of the foundations and erecting the steel building. He promised removal of the fence by November.

But the Quakers are still pursuing getting rid of the plywood structure. “We want a reinspection by DOB and a follow-up about it. The contractors’ 2-by-4s are stuck into our graves,” Shirley said. “We are working with Councilman Koo on this.”

She added that if a safety fence is required, it should be erected on the other property line, not that of the Quakers.

Welcome to the discussion.