Worried that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission could move to decalendar, or remove from further consideration, landmark status for the Colonial-era Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows, a group of area residents and preservationists converged on the panel’s Manhattan headquarters Tuesday for a hearing to urge officials to finally declare the site a landmark.
Led by the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association and holding placards that read “We Care” and “Landmark Brinckerhoff,” more than two dozen supporters of preserving the burial ground, located on 182nd Street just north of 73rd Avenue, delivered testimony before the LPC.
A similar landmarks hearing in 2000, attended also by a small group of Brinckerhoff advocates, culminated with the commission not voting, but “calendaring” the site, meaning it could not be sold for development.
Historical documents from the Queens Library show that the “Brinckerhoff family were the first settlers in Flushing and particularly in Fresh Meadows.”
But the long history of the site, which includes a tombstone that dates back to 1730 and a 1919 survey by the Queens Topographical Bureau that revealed 77 gravestones with exact locations, is once again being threatened with development as a new owner is seeking to build houses there.
The site had been sold in 1961 after being illegally condemned by the city for nonpayment of taxes.
The Brinckerhoff site’s new owner, Linda’s Cai Trading Co. of Brooklyn, is contending that there are no longer any remains at the cemetery and that the site should now be removed from the LPC’s calendar to allow for future development.
Fang Zou, a representative of Linda’s Cai Trading, told the commission “We all pay taxes.” He said the owners deserve the right to develop the land.
State law prohibits building on a cemetery without properly relocating any remains and tombstones first.
The Historic Districts Council, one of a handful of preservation groups seeking landmark status for the site, offered testimony that challenged Zou’s assertion.
“While LPC material states that ‘it is not known whether the site still contains human remains,’ there is no reason to think that it does not,” said Nadezhda Williams, director of preservation and research for the HDC.
In addition, Williams said that there are no official records of disinterment that have been produced and also that archaeologists and cemetery experts whom the HDC consulted agree that bones and teeth would remain in addition to other items such as shoes, jewelry and other things buried with their owners. “The complete decomposition of more than six dozen bodies is unlikely.”
Fresh Meadows resident Benny Wong urged the commission to landmark Brinckerhoff now. “Twelve years is much too long,” said Wong, referring to the 2000 hearing. “There has been too much delay. People are buried there and they’re still looking for peace.”
“It is extremely important to preserve the remains of Dutch heritage in New York,” said William Manger Jr., a direct descendant of Joris Dircksen Brinckerhoff through his mother. “We can’t forget where we came from. We need to save all this New York City history for future generations.”
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) also appealed to the commission to save the Brinckerhoff site. “The site dates back to the 17th century and the very first Dutch settlers in New York,” Crowley said. “Please preserve this site and make it a priority for future generations.”
Ashook Ramsaran, a board member of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association who lives two blocks south of the cemetery, told the commission that “nothing has changed at the site” and it is still a cemetery.
“We have the support of the entire community wanting to retain this as a vital part of New York with due consideration of its historical significance … when those people were buried it was with ‘rest in peace’ — let us respect that and let them be!” Ramsaran said.
Lisi deBourbon, the spokeswoman for the LPC, said that a date for a vote has not yet been set. “There was a lot to digest today,” deBourbon said. “The commission will need some time to review all the testimony and then do some additional research before it sets a date for a vote.”