Last Friday, the Friends of Brinckerhoff and State Senator Tony Avella announced that the private owner of the cemetery, Le Dan Cai, has signed a contract to sell the property to the nonprofit group.
The organization will have 90 days to arrange the financing and close the deal.
Cai agreed to sell the property for $180,000, which Friends of Brinckerhoff will pay for using a state grant that Avella obtained several years ago.
“This is a huge step forward,” Avella said. “Not only does it take this from private hands into the group that has worked to save it from the very beginning, but if it does go through, it will save the city the effort and taxpayer money.”
The cemetery is the final resting place for about 70 members of Dutch families that first settled in Queens, including the Brinckerhoff family. The property was used as a burial ground from the 1730s until after the Civil War.
The land was transferred from the city to the DeDomenico family in the 1960s. That family then sold it to its current owner, Cai, in 2010, for $105,000.
Cai intended to make improvements on the property and eventually develop it, but residents, including advocates from Friends of Brinckerhoff, fought against it. The site received landmark status in 2012, preventing the developer from building on it.
But the property soon fell into disrepair. On Friday, when the group made the announcement, the sidewalk and fence along the cemetery were cracked and broken. People illegally dumped trash on the site as well.
After the site was landmarked, the nonprofit group wanted to acquire the property and eventually give it back to the city. Yolanda Gallagher, the president of Friends of Brinckerhoff Cemetery, said the group had been “chasing owners one after another” for years.
According to Gallagher, Cai reached out to the organization three times, intending to sell the property.
“We had to grab the opportunity,” she said. “We will shorten the process and make it convenient for the city to own this property eventually.”
Though the owner wanted to sell, even that process got complicated. After Avella obtained the state grant for $180,000, the lawmaker said they were in negotiations with Cai when other elected officials allocated money for the city to purchase the property.
Councilman Rory Lancman and Borough President Melinda Katz allocated funds to the Parks Department to make the purchase for a higher price. Avella said that “complicated the matter” and “hampered negotiations” because the owner stopped dealing with the group.
“Unfortunately, the situation got complicated, not on our end,” Avella said. “It did delay negotiations.”
Parks Department spokeswoman Meghan Lalor confirmed that the city is continuing with the ULURP process to negotiate the purchase of the property.
Joan Hausmann, a member of the Friends of Brinckerhoff, said the group’s intention all along was to purchase the land and turn it over to the Parks Department.
James Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Civic Association, said the local community board approved the application for the city to purchase the property. The proposal is now being considered by the borough president’s office.
It will ultimately be up for a vote in the City Council.
“It’s a long process, but we’re working on it,” he said.
Avella said the nonprofit group purchasing the land was the “best case scenario.” It saves the city money, allows the owner to cover for expenses and resolves a long-standing issue for the Fresh Meadows community.
The state senator said he will reach out to Cai and ask if she will allow a hired crew to go onto the property to clean up the lot.
Ashook Ramsaran, vice president of the Queens Civic Congress and a Fresh Meadows civic leader, said it was a lengthy journey from the time the property was landmarked to the sale of the site.
“Finally, these graves will be resting in peace,” he said.