The city may soon be in possession of the long-neglected Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery in Fresh Meadows.
A spokesperson for the Queens Borough President’s Office told the Chronicle that the private owner of the landmarked graveyard has agreed to sell the 69-65 182 St. property to the city.
“I’ll be happy when I see [written proof] and it’s done,” Yolanda dela Cruz Gallagher, president of the Friends of Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery, told the Chronicle, expressing her doubt that the deal will follow through. “How many meetings have we done? Until I see the signature and see it arranged ... We will talk when it’s there.”
The owner of the property had agreed to sell the cemetery to the city in 2016, but the process had never been finalized. In the years since, the graveyard has sat idle and the overgrowth became severe.
The Friends of Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery’s advocacy continued, however. The most recent agreement comes almost two months after the Friends of Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery submitted a letter to Mayor de Blasio requesting that he take control of the privately owned, but city-landmarked property.
The mayor didn’t respond to the activists, but Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) and Borough President Donovan Richards heeded their calls.
At Rozic’s request, the city Department of Sanitation cleared off the sidewalk Sept. 10, which had become overgrown and completely covered by shrubs. Dela Cruz Gallagher said the DSNY has stepped in to clean the sidewalk in the past, though it has been some time since it was last addressed.
Richards’ spokesperson said that his administration is dipping back into the previous city funding to buy the land. At least $150,000 from former Borough President Melinda Katz’s administration will be used for the transaction, as well as an unspecified amount from the City Council.
The colonial cemetery houses 77 Brinckerhoff headstones, though none are visible through the shrubbery. Neighbors speculate that the stones had been buried below ground decades ago in an attempt to hide the fact that it’s a burial ground and then develop the property, but the rumor has never been confirmed to be true.
“I know where they are. In that lot,” dela Cruz Gallagher said.
That speculation led the Friends of Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery to create the activist group in 2000 and begin lobbying to get the cemetery landmarked for its own protection. The group became successful in its efforts in 2012, but its advocacy has continued, especially since the landmarking has done little to preserve the historical graveyard.
If the deal goes through, dela Cruz Gallagher hopes the city will convert the cemetery into a historical and memorial garden that will be open to the public. She hopes the massive trees that have grown in the middle of the lot will be taken down because she believes they pose a danger of falling.
Dela Cruz Gallagher also hopes that the tombstones won’t be erected in the garden and that the city would allow them to remain in the ground, where Fresh Meadows residents believe they’ve been stowed for decades.