By Adam Kramer
When the Klein Farm closed up shop at the end of its summer season Nov. 20, residents of Queens could have been witnessing the end of an era. The owners of the last family-owned working farm in the city has been sold to developers.
But a task force of community residents have banded together to form the Klein Family Farm Task Force to stop the sale or prevent developers from building two-family homes on the two-acre Fresh Meadows farm.
“We probably cannot stop the sale, but we can make it uncomfortable for the developer,” said Councilman-elect David Weprin (D-Hollis). “If the developer gets discouraged enough, he might sell it or just hold on to it.”
He said the Trust for Public Land — an organization that buys land to preserve it — contacted the family, but they did not want to talk. Weprin said he was not aware of any support in the community for the development of the property.
John Klein, owner of the farm, said the reason he decided to sell the farm was because it was not making any money. For the past couple of years the farm had been losing money, in fact, and he asked “who sits on a losing business?”
Klein, who has been a farmer all his life, said he sold the property to a developer from Flushing and the sale should go through sometime in March.
“I heard nothing from the community. No one tried to contact me,” he said when asked about not wanting to talk to the Trust for Public Land. “No one in the community did anything and it was time to sell.”
Klein Farm is recessed off 73rd Avenue and 195th Street. A large, two-story red brick house sits toward the rear of the two-acre property. Crop fields are on its right, adjacent to a school playground and behind a rear shed.
The farm is just at the line in the community where single-family homes end and multiple dwelling structures begin.
The task force is pushing to have a private trust purchase the farm and let the Queens County Farm Museum run the property and continue to sell fruits and vegetables to the community. The farm, which was bought by the Klein family in 1898, grew to 98 acres in 1930 when it began selling its wares from a stand near the sidewalk. The land was then gradually sold off after World War II, leaving the present two acres.
“If some one came up with the money to buy the property, we would run it as it is now,” said Jim Trent, the president of the Queens County Farm Museum. “We would keep it operating so the neighborhood would not be disturbed in any way.”
Weprin said the area designated by the city as Klein Block 7117, Lot 730 is zoned R-4. He said the designation means that eventually a cluster of apartment buildings could be built on the lot, which he suggested would destabilize the neighborhood of small homes surrounding the property.
The neighboring Fresh Meadows apartment complex was declared a Special Planned Community Preservation District in 1974, but the Klein farm cannot be sold or its property changed without full public review from the community board to the City Council.
Weprin warned that the open spaces within the Fresh Meadows apartment complex could be turned over to developers if not protected by the City Planning Department and the Landmarks Commission.
“I will be on the Council when it gets there,” said Weprin. “If it does get there, I will fight it. If the local councilman opposes the change, it hold a lot of weight. The Council usually pays deference to the area council member.”
Many community members are concerned that the addition of 22 two-family homes to their quiet tree-lined neighborhood would affect the already overtaxed schools, cause traffic problems and set a precedent to allow development on the other open spaces in Fresh Meadows apartment development.
“This farm, even though it is a little thing, has defined the area,” said Tami Hirsh, president of the Utopia Estates Civic Association. “If the family succeeds in selling the farm, it will open the door to develop other Fresh Meadows open spaces,”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.