State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) have strong disagreements over the future of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows.
On Dec. 1, Avella held a press conference with the “Friends of Brinckerhoff,” an organization assembled by community leaders who are hoping to purchase and maintain the landmarked property, which belonged to several prominent Dutch families, including the Brinckerhoffs, and dates back to the 18th century.
According to Avella, the state provided the Friends of Brinckerhoff with a $180,000 grant to purchase the property from the current owner, Linda’s Cai Trading, and restore and maintain it. But before any deal to sell the property was finalized, Avella alleges, Lancman allotted a higher sum of money for the city’s Parks Department to purchase and maintain the property in the capital budget—around $300,000. Now, Avella accuses Lancman of “political meddling,” undercutting his grant with an unnecessarily higher portion of taxpayer money that tempted the owner to pull out of negotiations with the Friends of Brinckerhoff.
“I’m furious at the city because, meanwhile, the property is in disrepair, overgrown, it’s a health hazard, it’s a safety hazard,” Avella said.
Requests to city agencies to clean up the property have been rebuffed since the city is in negotiations for the site. Avella added that if Lancman wants to use additional taxpayer money in a political move, then the money “should come out of his own damn wallet.”
Yolanda dela Cruz Gallagher, president of the Friends of Brinckerhoff, said that when the group approached the Parks Department about purchasing the property before Avella’s grant, the department appeared uninterested.
Lancman responded to the claims by accusing Avella of living in “a fantasy world.”
“There’s nothing the city could have done or could do to interfere with the state purchasing the Brinckerhoff property, but Tony’s plan is just complete fantasy,” he said. “Friends of Brinckerhoff doesn’t have the capacity to own or maintain the cemetery. We’ve worked out a deal where the city is going to purchase the property, the Parks Department is going to maintain it and it is going to be like every other city-owned historical cemetery in the five boroughs.”
He suggested that the press conference was Avella’s means of trying to justify his alliance with Republicans in the state Senate as a member of the Independent Democratic Conference. The Parks Department became interested in purchasing the property only after Lancman stepped in since, as Lancman noted, “Tony doesn’t deliver.”
“His office is not viewed as serious within city or state government, and once an adult stepped in, the process started moving forward,” Lancman said.
Meanwhile, at a recent town hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Lancman, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski announced the city’s intention to purchase the property, and said that an application for the ULURP process was “just about to go in.”