The Canarsie Cemetery is about to be sold — for about $10 a headstone.
The deal to hand the keys of the city-owned 167-year-old boneyard over to the owners of Cypress Hills Cemetery was approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee last Thursday, paving the way for the $50,000 sale.
Once the council rubber stamps the decision, Cypress Hills Cemetery promises to begin fixing up the fence protecting the 4,900 graves bounded by Remsen Avenue, Avenue K, Church Lane and E. 86th Street as well as the roads inside. They will also begin building above ground crypts and mausoleums over parts of the 13-acre final resting spot.
The Canarsie Cemetery has a lot of open land, but a fair amount of it is riddled with rocks and construction debris, making it almost impossible for plots to be mined, former Assemblyman Frank Seddio explained.
“There’s four-and-a-half acres in the back that were nothing but a swamp in the 1960s,” said Seddio, who has seven family members interred at the cemetery. “They put building debris in there to fix the problem and now its unusable.”
Seddio said he’s quite optimistic about Cypress Hills’s plans — and thinks the fix-up could help him stay in Brooklyn for eternity, instead of looking for greener pastures someplace else.
“[Cypress Hills] wants to make the cemetery look like a park,” Seddio said. “I never wanted to go to Long Island when was alive, so why would I want to go there when I’m dead?”
But Cypress Hills isn’t just going to beautify the place.
In addition to the purchase price, Cypress Hills will buck-up an additional $1 million — $500,000 at closing and an additional $500,000 over the next 10 years — for a permanent maintenance fund that will guarantee the cemetery’s perpetual care. Cypress Hills also agreed to keep Canarsie Cemetery’s name — which other parties interested in purchasing the graveyard refused to do — and work with a community advisory board on any future changes.
Cypress Hills’ plans to take over the Canarsie Cemetery were announced this year, but the proposal had to go through a number of hurdles before any contracts could be signed: several state agencies, including the state Division of Cemeteries and the New York Cemetery Board, had to make sure a perpetuity fund was in place and approve the sale before the council could vote. The state Supreme Court also had to weigh in to make sure everything was kosher.
The deal will save the city the $250,000 per year in maintenance costs.
Local council members hailed the sale.
“This is a win-win for everyone,” said Lew Fidler (D–Canarsie) said. “The city of New York had no business being in the cemetery business. It just wasn’t good at it and it was losing money. At the same time the community benefits because [Cypress Hills] is going to spruce up and maintain the cemetery.”
Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie), who sits on the Land Use Committee agreed.
“This was a positive vote,” he said. “This deal will keep the Canarsie Cemetery in perpetuity and under better care.”