The elegant, old shade trees around the historic Klein farm in Fresh Meadows have been cut down and area residents want to know why.
The 2.5-acre former farm, at 194-15 73 Ave., was bought by convicted felon Thomas Huang in 2003 as part of his Audrey Realty. Huang wanted to develop the site into 22 two-family houses or 18 dwellings, but both plans failed.
Aside from strong community resistance, the projects could not be implemented because the property is in the Fresh Meadows Special Planned Community Preservation District.
No changes can be made in the district without approval from the city Planning Commission. Then, the developer must also go through a lengthy and expensive Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
Located on the site is a brick house, now used by Preschool of America, which has a six-year lease.
The trees that were destroyed were situated on both sides of the two driveways, which extend to the rear of the property and are not heavily used. Neighbors say tree removal continues in the rear.
Jim Trent, founder of the city-owned Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park, was a proponent of the city purchasing the Klein farm, which would have been restored by the museum and run by the Parks Department. But then-Councilman David Weprin was not able to come up with the funding.
Trent said Tuesday he was enraged by the destruction of the trees: “It’s a violation of the law, which is enforced by City Planning, but they brushed it off.”
A spokesman for the CPC deferred to the Department of Buildings, which enforces illegal changes made in a special district.
According to the DOB website there are three complaints that have not yet been resolved. They deal with illegal removal of the trees and expansion of the driveway with permits. A DOB spokeswoman said in an email that the department is investigating the complaints about illegal tree removal.
But Florence Fisher, president of the Mid Queens Community Council and a member of Community Board 8, said she was informed that no action has been taken because the DOB and CPC are arguing over the meaning of “substantial changes” to the property. “Trees give off oxygen and we need them,” Fisher said, adding that it’s time for the city to make an amendment to the law and include trees.
Tammy Osherov, another CB 8 member, said she was there the first day the trees were cut down. “I couldn’t stop it,” Osherov said. “We want a community dialogue about the farm over this and the fact that the driveway is in horrible condition.”
She believes Huang should be fined since it is “a substantial alteration of the landscape.”
Jim Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, called the arborcide “a serious concern.”
In 2009, then-Assemblyman Mark Weprin warned that any attempt to alter the site “will not be tolerated.” At the time, Huang wanted to sell the property to a religious organization.
Weprin, now a city councilman representing the area, said he is pressuring the DOB to act quickly, find out why the trees came down and issue fines.
Henry Huang, Tommy Huang’s son who runs their firm Audrey Realty, said Wednesday he didn’t know anything about the tree removals 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 family sold it to Huang after moving its operation to Long Island.