PRESS RELEASE FROM THE DUTCH KILLS ADVOCACY LEAGUE
The Historic Millstones of Dutch Kills.
A fitting home must be found for historic Millstones which have languished at their peril for decades among the traffic and pollution on Queens Plaza. These millstones are connected to the Grist Mill in the first European community in Queens, in what was and is today, Dutch Kills.
Penny Lee of the Department of City Planning, working with powerful figures at the Dutch Kills Civic Association, without the advice of an archeologist, have decided to make this a battle of wills, insisting they remain on pedestals on Queens Plaza. To treat these historic artifacts as pawns, to exclude our community from any meaningful say on their future, goes against everything this nation stands for and against 350 years of local tradition and pride. As a result of very poor planning by the City, these millstones and Dutch Kills, our community, have suffered abusive neglect. Despite the heritage of these artifacts, various City officials have allowed these millstones to be eroded, cracked, even permitted hot asphalt to be poured on them.
It is hardly surprising that the value of these Millstones has been disregarded by the City since the Dutch Kills Community itself has been totally “rolled over” by the planning apparatus of the City of New York. To the current administration, these historic artifacts are just as invisible as we apparently are.
Back in 2005, the Department of City Planning offered to rezone Dutch Kills in a way that would encourage new residential builds in order to maintain and protect “the character and quality of life” of our community. All residents embraced the City’s plan because we wanted to protect the quiet, the light and the safe and friendly atmosphere that we cherish in Dutch Kills as well as to encourage new residential building. In 2007 the City made a huge announcement that there was a new zoning plan for Dutch Kills and that once the new zoning was voted into law by the City Council no longer could high-rise commercial buildings be built. (By the way, there never has been one high-rise commercial building built in the 50 years of the old zoning). The Department of City Planning then delayed the start its own Environmental Impact Study for over 6 months and then added 4 months more of unnecessary delays to the ULURP process. In nearly a year of delays, 14 permits were given to hotel developers to build high-rise hotels anywhere in our community. Most chose to plant these out of character monstrosities in the middle of quiet, tree lined streets of 2-3 story houses, blocks from any public transport.
It is hardly surprising that The Department of City Planning is bullying the community into agreeing to leave these artifacts in the middle of traffic on Queens Plaza at risk of being damaged by vehicles and pollution.
It is time that someone draws a line in the sand. It might as well be now in Dutch Kills and today in 2010. We have nothing to lose. For like those stones, we, in Dutch Kills have been marginalized, disenfranchised, ignored, and tricked. How ironic, indeed, for from our back windows, now screened by hotel towers, we used to see the United Nations. This institution, whose very existence was designed to banish mistreatment of the common man, is itself now invisible, blocked by the same forces that are toying with the symbols of our heritage, the Millstones. It’s important to note that not one new residence has been built since the new zoning was implemented.
A nexus of multiple traffic lanes, underground and over ground trains is not a safe place for these artifacts. They should be removed to the Greater Astoria Historical Society where they can be protected and studied. George Stamatiades, a board member of the Queens Library, has also suggested installing the Millstones in a local branch of the library, but a local library is not a museum. Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of Historic Districts Council suggests that the millstones be relocated to the GAHS. William Henry Payntar, Sr., a direct descendant of the Payntar/Skillman family which once owned most of the land in what is now Queens Plaza, including the old mill where these millstones once turned, stated last month in a letter that the millstones should be moved to an exhibit space within the Greater Astoria Historical Society building.
As a resident of Dutch Kills and the Vice-President of the Dutch Kills Advocacy League, I urge that the good of our community prevail and that these historic artifacts, the Millstones, be protected in our near-by museum, the Greater Astoria Historical Society as soon as possible.
Megan Dees Friedman