Administrative Law Judge Michelle Manzione has fined Ziming Shen, who runs a preschool on the historic Klein farm property in Fresh Meadows, $1,600 for destroying trees and illegally building a driveway.
Shen testified earlier this month at an Environmental Control Board hearing in Jamaica that he was responsible for illegally cutting down large shade trees on the property at 194-15 73 Ave. He indicated the trees were rotten and that the existing driveway posed a hazard to the children and needed to be repaired.
He said that one of his associates, Siwen Zhu, checked with the Department of Buildings to see if any special permits were needed for removing trees, but did not note that the property is located in a special planned community preservation district, which does not permit modifications to the landscape.
In her decision, Manzione said that she found the testimony and documentation offered by the DOB to be “detailed and credible.” Though Shen testified to removing just a couple of trees, the judge noted there were several mature ones cut down and “substantial modification” made to the existing landscape.
Manzione also noted that the new driveway was installed without the required work permit and that it amounted to more than just repairs.
Jim Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, said he was satisfied with the outcome. “I think it was the maximum fine they could give and I don’t think Shen will do it again,” Gallagher said.
He believes the community is happy with the decision, adding it would be nice if Shen replaced the felled trees.
But Tammy Osherov, a member of Community Board 8, was not satisfied with the outcome: “The cost to cut down and grind up a bunch of trees is more than the slap on the wrist penalty. It should have been a bigger fine and he should be made to plant large trees, not saplings, to replace the ones he destroyed.”
However, Melissa Seningo, spokeswoman for the ECB, said the judges do not have the discretion to increase or decrease a fine; all fine amounts are set by law. “If the judge finds that a violation was present, the judge must impose the penalty amount that is associated with the charge that was filed and heard,” Seningo added.
The 2.5-acre former farm has had a jaded history since 2003, when convicted felon Thomas Huang bought it as part of his now-defunct Audrey Realty. Huang wanted to develop the site into 22 two-family houses or 18 dwellings, but both plans failed.
Besides the strong community opposition, the projects could not be implemented because of the special preservation district the site is in. So the house there was rented to Preschool of America under a six-year lease.
Henry Huang, Tommy Huang’s son who ran Audrey Realty, told the Chronicle in December that he knew nothing about the tree removal and did not order them.
The site had been owned by the Klein family since the late 1890s and dates back as a farm to the early 1800s. It was the city’s last privately owned working farm. The Kleins sold it to Huang after moving their operation to Long Island.