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Queens Chronicle

It would cost so little to save Brinckerhoff Cemetery

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Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2012 10:30 am

A hundred grand. That’s a lot of money, but not in the big picture of the budget of New York City. There it’s pennies on the dollar — fractions of pennies, even.

Using the digits makes just how relatively little money it is more clear. Here’s what a hundred grand looks like, compared to what the city’s $68.7 billion proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 looks like:

$100,000.

$68,700,000,000.

And that $100,000 is just about all it would take for the city to honor the memory of some of Queens’ earliest residents, and serve the interests of some of its current ones, by buying the parcel of land in Fresh Meadows known as Brinckerhoff Cemetery.

Brinckerhoff doesn’t look like the big cemeteries that cover much of Queens. It’s a small, wooded piece of land on a residential block, about an eighth of an acre. But it contains the remains of at least 77 people who lived in the area in the 1700s and 1800s, and possibly many more than that. Now it’s in danger of being developed (As we asked in some editions last week, has the owner never seen “Poltergeist”? Who would ever want to live in a house built on an old graveyard?)

On Tuesday the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on saving the parcel, at the owner’s request, because it’s been on the LPC’s agenda for 12 years — without any action having been taken. It would be great if the commission could declare it a landmark, but there’s a problem. Whether just through the passage of time, or the willful manipulations of prior owners, as some neighbors claim, there’s nothing visible left to preserve. No headstones, no monuments of any kind. They used to be there, and some say they’re buried beneath layers of soil purposely dumped there to avoid the possibility of preservation, but it’s impossible to say without disturbing the ground.

If preservation through LPC action isn’t feasible, the city should simply buy the site at the fair market rate, whether the owner is willing to sell or not. The last time it was sold, in 2010, the price was $105,000.

Compare that to the $3 million going toward saving a schoolyard in Jackson Heights. Or the $14 million being spent on an unnecessary expansion of Borough Hall. Or the $180,000 per station the MTA shells out for its Arts for Transit and Urban Design Program.

Our office receives announcements of much larger spending initiatives from the proud politicians who secured the funding just about every day. Just this week the mayor announced that the city will be spending $9 million to encourage parents to make sure their kids attend school, largely through advertising and education about the importance of avoiding truancy.

Let’s say for the moment that parents really do need to see ads on buses to know their children should go to class. Could the city maybe get away with spending $8.9 million and put the remaining $100,000 into preserving Brinckerhoff?

Whatever the source of the money, it can and should be found. Let’s see our elected officials who are voicing support for preservation put their money where their mouth is. Yes, you’re right, our money, not theirs — but we all know they often treat it like their own. If the 14-member Queens City Council delegation split the cost evenly, using their so-called member item funding, it would be a little more than $7,000 apiece. There’s no reason whatsoever that could not be done.

Will the City of New York make a one-time payout of a measly hundred grand to let dozens of the people who first settled the place we call home rest in peace? You’d think so. We hope so. We’ll see.

Welcome to the discussion.