By Karen Frantz
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission ended a 12-year battle over the fate of Brinckerhoff Cemetery, a colonial-era burial ground in Fresh Meadows where some of Queens’ earliest settlers are buried, by voting Tuesday to make it a landmark.
The designation will protect the cemetery from changes that would be contrary to its archeological significance, calming fears of many preservation activists and elected officials that the owner of the property would develop the land.
“There is enormous interest and community support for this designation, for the preservation of this site,” said Landmarks Preservation Chairman Robert Tierney before the commission voted unanimously to make it a landmark.
The resounding vote evoked praise from those who have been long calling for the site to be landmarked. Historic Districts Council Deputy Director Frampton Tolbert said he was “thrilled” and Queens County Farm Museum President James Trent said it was “great news.”
Elected officials also cheered the vote, with City Councilman Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) saying, “As colonial-era Queens settlers were known to exclaim upon hearing great news, it is apropos that we should huzzah on this day.”
Brinckerhoff Cemetery, on 182nd Street between 69th and 73rd avenues, dates back to the 1730s and is the burial ground of nearly 80 people from the Brinckerhoff, Adriance, Snedecker and other families.
It has become overgrown over the years, with brush covering the site and the headstones having long been stolen or swallowed by the ground.
The landmark designation brings the cemetery wider recognition as a historic site and makes it eligible for additional funding for its upkeep.
“This is definitely a very positive first step,” said Marisa Berman, executive director of the Queens Historical Society.
She said she hopes in the future the cemetery could be made a destination that is open to visitors.
The next step for community preservationists is to find a nonprofit group that can acquire, develop and maintain the cemetery. The Queens County Farm Museum is currently considering whether it will step into that role and has formed a committee to analyze the benefits and costs.
The organization will vote on the issue at its next board meeting in September.
The cemetery became the subject of controversy when the family that owned the land indicated they wanted to build houses there. The Queens Historical Society sued to prevent development on the property and the LPC put the cemetery on its calendar for landmark consideration in 2000.
Pressure intensified on the commission to make a decision two years ago when the cemetery was sold again to Linda’s Cai Trading Inc. Representatives of the owner argued the land should be allowed to be developed because it was unlikely human remains still exist on the property.
Landmarks rejected that argument, saying research staff concluded there was no reason to believe the burials are not still there.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.