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City mediates grave damage

Tom English, of the Quaker Meeting House (l.-r.); project manager Arnold Matthew; and a member of the development team discuss the logistics of the gaping excavation behind them and how it affected the historic cemetery behind the wall.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Members of a Flushing house of worship met with a developer and the city Monday morning to answer lingering questions about how much of a historically marked cemetery was disturbed by construction crews last month.

“A lot of the next steps that were discussed could be very useful and very helpful,” said Cheshire Frager, a parishioner at the church who is on a committee to investigate. “Everyone’s good intent seemed to be apparent at this meeting.”

In March, congregants at the Flushing Quaker Meeting House, near the corner of Northern Boulevard and Bowne Street, noticed that a construction fence had been erected at the back of the lot and a utility pole driven into the ground. Both structures encroached upon a historic cemetery containing many unmarked graves in the back of the meeting house.

“It was just so disrespectful of a cemetery,” Frager said. “We still don’t understand how they thought they had the right to go onto our property and the right to start doing things like that in a historic graveyard.”

Once the city realized a historic cemetery had possibly been violated, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission urged another agency, the city Department of Buildings, to halt work on the site.

The developer, Pinnacle Engineering, has since moved the construction fence back to the edge of the foundation and removed the pole, although it is still unclear exactly how much soil was disturbed.

Pinnacle agreed to hire an archeologist to prove that a fresh layer of dirt about 2 feet into the church’s property is just topsoil and does not signify that the workmen excavated deep down into the cemetery, then filled it back up before moving the fence.

The developer, who repeatedly apologized at the meeting, also agreed to hire the archeologist to conduct a radar survey to identify any unmarked remains in the cemetery to mitigate any conflicts in the future.

His 10-story medical office building, at 136-33 37th Ave., is built right up against the property line abutting the cemetery, so if any work needs to be done to repair the structure once it is built, construction crews will need access to the cemetery to perform work.

But before any of the surveying can begin, the two sides must hash out the exact property line. As of now, both sides believe that part of the temporary construction structure encroaches about 6 inches onto the church’s property.

John Weiss, from Landmarks, also broached the topic of how the developer will compensate the meeting house for the original fence that was lost and large tree limbs that were chopped off.

Weiss also discussed getting a stop-work order rescinded at the Monday morning meeting, but last week Landmarks had already sent a message to Buildings to lift the stop-work order after the fence was moved, according to a spokeswoman.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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