By Alexander Dworkowitz
Tommy Huang, the Douglaston developer convicted of despoiling a landmarked Flushing theater, is seeking a compromise in his bid to purchase the Klein Farm in Fresh Meadows, City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) said Tuesday.
Weprin, civic leaders, neighbors and Queens County Farm Museum President Jim Trent toured the 2.2-acre Klein Farm at 73rd Avenue and 194th Street Tuesday. As the city’s last family-owned working farm, the Klein estate has made headlines since its owner, John Klein, announced his plans to sell the farm in July 2001.
“We’re not going to see multi-family housing,” promised Weprin.
Weprin and civic leaders are trying to do everything possible to make sure the Klein Farm is not sold to Huang. Instead, they said they hope the Trust for Public Land, a national preservation organization, will purchase the property and allow the Queens Farm Museum to operate the land.
Although Huang initially sought to knock down both the large red farm house built in 1930 and the smaller home constructed later on the property, he is considering leaving at least the older home standing and building housing around it, according to Weprin.
Weprin said he had met with Huang’s zoning lawyer, Sheldon Lobel, to discuss the issue.
“[Lobel] wants to get a better handle about the chances of getting approval,” said Weprin.
Lobel could not be reached for comment about the farm.
In 1999, Huang was convicted of ignoring asbestos contamination and spilling hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in the basement of Flushing’s historic RKO Keith’s Theater, which he wanted to develop. The lobby was designated as a landmark shortly before Huang purchased the theater in 1986, 60 years after it opened.
Huang was sentenced to five years’ probation for the felony and ordered to pay $5,000 in fines.
The developer’s change of plans comes as a Landmarks Preservation designation is being considered for the farm. Such a designation would prevent Huang from knocking down the farm’s structures.
Weprin also questioned the feasibility of Huang developing the property if the farm building remained.
The councilman referred to a 1974 amendment to zoning laws that created a community preservation district in Fresh Meadows. The amendment allows development on only 20 percent of any property in the area and calls for City Council approval to build on the land.
“I can’t imagine how he would achieve family housing on 20 percent of the land,” said Weprin.
Weprin said he thought the only way Huang could develop housing on the land, keep the farm building and meet the 20 percent qualification would be to build apartment towers.
Civic leaders and neighbors joined Weprin in decrying any form of development on the land.
Constance Clausten of the Fresh Meadows Tenants Association said she feared that allowing Huang to build on the farm would set the precedent for further development in the area.
Bill Buzzone, who lives a block from the farm, said his son learned the basics of agriculture in classes at the farm. “I think it is essential that the farm remains in the community,” he said.
According to neighbors, the Kleins moved off the property in early February.
Signs of the family’s abandonment of the property were apparent during the tour. A beer bottle, plastic bags and a child’s plastic cart littered the field, which lay fallow for the winter. The only produce was a score of onions, lying on the ground besides an empty basket.
Weprin said that with Huang trying to acquire the property, he was confident it would remain a farm.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.