By Karen Frantz
A committee formed to preserve Brinckerhoff Cemetery, a colonial cemetery in Fresh Meadows that was recently named a landmark by the city, is hoping the City Council will buy the burial ground from its private owner.
“The city made an error when it sold the land several decades ago,” said James Trent, member of the Brinckerhoff Memorial Committee, referring to when the city sold Brinckerhoff in a series of moves starting with a public auction in the 1950s to pay off tax debts. “The city should reverse the wrong decision it made.”
Trent is also the president of the Queens County Farm Museum, an organization that has been on the forefront of advocating for Brinckerhoff’s designation as a landmark.
City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said he would be willing to use his discretionary funds in order to buy the cemetery.
“My role is to put up the money and hope that City Hall can talk to various parties and make this happen,” he said.
But he said there are potentially many roadblocks to making the plan a reality. The city Office of Management and Budget would have to approve using Gennero’s descretionary funds to buy the cemetery, and even if approval is granted, it is not clear whether the cemetery’s owner, Linda’s Cai Trading, will want to part with it.
“There is the overarching reality that the city cannot force the property owner to sell,” Gennaro said.
Linda’s Cai Trading could not be reached for comment.
Moreover, Gennaro said that although the city has an interest in buying Brinckerhoff, it does not want to be responsible for maintaining it. Thus, any deal would rest on finding a preservationist non-profit group to take on those costs.
“I think that’s going to be a sticky subject,” he said, saying any group that would take on maintaining Brinckerhoff would need to consider things like having yearly funds allocated to the cemetery and purchasing insurance for the property.
But Trent said the Brinckerhoff Memorial Committee may agree to do just that.
The committee was formed last year as the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Council moved to make Brinckerhoff a landmark. It is made up of members from the Queens County Farm Museum, the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, the Saint Nicholas Society and Historic Districts Council, all organizations that fought for landmarking the cemetery, according to Ashook Ramsaran, a board member of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association.
Trent said if the city does acquire Brinckerhoff, the committee would raise funds for its maintenance, which would include putting in a new curb and sidewalk, removing debris and putting up a plaque with information about the cemetery.
“Very, very minimal intervention,” Trent said of the types of maintenance proposed.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.