Poor conditions haunt Canarsie Cemetery

If those interred in the Canarsie Cemetery stepped out of their graves and looked at the deplorable condition the historic boneyard’s been left in, they’d keel over and die all over again.

So said members of Community Board 18, who once again tried — in vain — to get the city to step up to the plate and repair the streets andfences around the Canarsie Cemetery on Remsen Avenue, which is slowly becoming the coldest “hot property” the city is trying to sell off.

Whispers that the city is trying to sell the property are so low and infrequent that some city officials didn’t even know that they owned the huge tract of land, explained Community Board 18 District Manager Dottie Turano.

As they finalized their capital budget priorities and requests for fiscal year 2011, the board asked the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to “reconstruct sidewalks and replacement fencing adjoining the historic Canarsie Cemetery on Remsen Avenue between Church Lane and Avenue K.”

“The sidewalks and fencing are old and deteriorated and in disrepair,” board members wrote. “Serious buckling and hazardous pedestrian walking conditions exist.”

Board members said that neither the sidewalks or the fence surrounding the cemetery has been replaced in some time. Things got worse late last year when a drunk driver rammed into the fence on one side the cemetery, damaging it.

The city didn’t respond to the request, directing her to “discuss” it with the Brooklyn DOT Borough Commissioner.

When she contacted the Borough Commissioner’s office, she was told that they had no money to repair the sidewalks, but offered to “ticket the property owner” and use the money collected to repair the streets.

“You know I think you should,” Turano responded, knowing something that the borough commissioner apparently didn’t — the city owned the land.

Once the borough commissioner learned who owned the cemetery, he quickly changed his tune.

Turano said that the city has been trying to divest themselves of the property for more than ten years.

“It is in such bad disrepair,” she said. “There’s even construction debris on the back end of it on Avenue K, it’s unsightly.”

She explained that both State Senators John Sampson (D, Canarsie) and Carl Kruger (D, Mill Basin) have offered to fund some of the reconstruction, but the city seems resistant to put any work into its much needed rehabilitation.

“When you go to Green-Wood Cemetery, it has a sense of dignity. I would like to see Canarsie Cemetery have that same sense of dignity,” Turano said.

The Town of Flatlands acquired the cemetery in 1888 from the estate of John Remsen. The town later merged with Brooklyn — then a city — and ultimately, New York City. The Canarsie Cemetery is the last burial ground owned by the city.

A spokesman for the city’s Department of City Administration Services (DCAS) told this paper that at least three request for proposals (RFPs) have been put out for potential buyers willing to take over the property and the operation. The RFPs stretch back to the Giuliani administration; the most recent of which was submitted last May.

Representatives of Green-Wood, Rockville and Washington cemeteries have reportedly showed an interest in taking over the operation last year. A DCAS spokesman said that they were still in the process of reviewing those proposals.

“The Canarsie Cemetery is the last cemetery the city has control over,” a DCAS spokesman explained in an earlier interview with this paper. “It’s an exception to the rule, an odd leftover in the city’s history.”

If the city hands over control of the cemetery, the DCAS is expected to save $153,000 in maintenance expenses as well as an additional $370,000 a year. The cemetery consists of 13 acres, of which four and a half are without grave sites, according to the RFP.

When contacted this week, the DOT said they were sending out inspectors to the cemetery to examine the sidewalk and see what repairs were needed.

— with Gary Buiso