Efforts to buy back Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery in limbo

By Madina Toure

The future of the Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery in Fresh Meadows appears to be uncertain as elected officials square off on how much funding is needed to buy back the property.

At a news conference Dec. 29 at his district office, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) announced a $180,000 grant for Friends of Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery, a non-profit. Of that amount, $150,000 would be used to purchase back the site from its current owner, Le Dan Cai of Linda’s Cai Trading. The remaining funds would cover maintenance of the cemetery on 182nd Street and 73rd Avenue.

“We’re not going to go beyond that because this is taxpayer dollars and the owner only paid $105,000 for this property,” Avella said.

But City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) has also allocated $300,000 from his capital budget to buy back and maintain the cemetery and for the Parks Department to acquire the property. $150,000, for the Parks Department to acquire the property.

Avella said that when he first met with Friends of Brinckerhoff, the group spoke about the city acquiring the property, but that Parks “flatly refused” to purchase it, only agreeing to do so after a request from Katz.

“Rory then contacts the press and lets the press know that there’s all this money, which I believe is the reason why the attorney and the owner stopped negotiating with us,” he said.

Lancman said Avella is misinforming residents and playing politics, noting that the funds he and Katz allocated are necessary to cover the cost of not only purchasing the property but also for regular maintenance, he said.

“Tony holding up a cardboard check for a sum that cannot possibly accomplish those things doesn’t do anything except get Tony in the newspapers,” Lancman said.

Sharon Lee, a spokeswoman for Katz, said the borough president allocated $150,000 that will remain in the budget “as a contingency to be utilized as needed.”

“Borough President Katz is supportive of the efforts to ensure that the Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery is cared for and preserved for the community,” Lee said in a statement.

The cemetery, home to prominent Dutch families such as the Brinckerhoffs, Adriances, Hooglands and Ryersons, was used from 1730 to 1872, according to a 1919 survey that identified 77 gravestones and markers. The property received landmark status in 2012.

When Cai bought the property, she planned on making improvements to the cemetery so she could resell it at a higher price, Avella said.

But the landmarked status of the property prohibits development and the owner was unable to maintain or increase the value of the land, he added. The property has overgrown weeds and grass taking root over sidewalks.

Yolanda Delacruz Gallagher, the non-profit’s president, said the cemetery is a key part of Fresh Meadows’ history.

“It is not us, it is the community,” Gallagher said. “It is the community’s heritage, community legacy that is involved in here and we ask the lawyers and the owner to please sit down with us and give this a rest.”

Parks plans to meet with elected officials early this year to discuss the next steps for acquisition.

“NYC Parks is very grateful to have received funding allocations from the Queens Borough President Katz and Council member Lancman to pursue the acquisition of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery site for preservation as open space,” a Parks spokeswoman said in a statement.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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