Weprin promises to protect Klein Farm from developer

By Ayala Ben-Yehuda

With the boarded-up Klein Farm buildings standing forlornly behind him, Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) vowed Friday to protect the site of the city’s last working farm from development by notorious Flushing builder Thomas Huang.

Weprin met last week with Steven Judelson, president of SW Development in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., and Manhattan attorney Richard Marans, who said they planned to buy the Fresh Meadows property from Audrey Realty Corp., the current owner.

According to the Department of Finance Web site, Audrey Realty Corp. at 36-09 Main St. purchased the Klein Farm properties at 194-15 and 194-23 73rd Ave. for $4.3 million on Nov. 4. Audrey Realty Corp. has the same address in Flushing as Tommy Huang’s development group.

Huang, a former Douglaston resident, owns a large lot on 223rd Street in Bayside that he subdivided into four lots in November. The Buildings Department rejected his plans to build four houses on the property in December, but has since approved plans for at least one 4,093-square-foot house on the lot.

“Tommy Huang is a convicted felon,” Weprin said. “We (thought) we had him backed out of the deal.”

The Klein Farm was the last family-owned working farm in the city until the summer of 2001, when the Kleins stopped operating the 2.2-acre farm because it was no longer profitable to grow and sell the produce. The farm’s main house, another smaller house and a rear garage-like structure still sit on the property, but their windows have been boarded up.

In 2001, Huang offered to purchase the Klein Farm but he rescinded his offer in March 2002 after his plan to convert the land into a housing complex with 22 two-family homes was vehemently opposed by the community.

The legal documents for the purchase of the farm in November 2003 were signed by John Huang, the vice president of Audrey Realty. He is believed to be the son of Thomas Huang, but this could not be verified .

Thomas Huang was convicted in 1999 of spilling oil and ignoring asbestos contamination in the basement of Flushing’s historic RKO Keith’s Theater.

Weprin said Friday that Audrey Realty was controlled by Thomas Huang based on what the attorney for the new prospective developer had told him.

“They made it very clear that Tommy Huang was involved in the discussions,” Weprin said. Huang could not be reached for comment.

The councilman said SW Development presented a plan to develop the farm with 22 two- or three-family homes, an idea similar to one proposed by Huang.

Weprin called the $4.3 million purchase price “well above market value” and questioned why a new developer would pay even more when it was not certain that 22 homes could be built on the site.

“The community is ready to fight this proposed development,” said Weprin, citing Huang’s involvement and the neighborhood’s already crowded school and streets.

Judelson said Friday that he had “no ability to make any comment about who Audrey Realty is. I don’t have any connection with Tommy Huang.”

Judelson said he had not made a proposal for 22 houses to Weprin but merely “used that as a sounding point to see what were the issues” raised by Audrey Realty’s plan.

“As soon as I have something on the table, I’ll be presenting it to the community leaders,” said Judelson, specifying only that he had residential development in mind.

The developer also countered that “this area of Queens has experienced a tremendous increase in values. I think the prices are appropriate,” but he would not say how much he had offered Audrey Realty.

As many as 100 people attended a meeting last week with Weprin and the Klein Farm Task Force, a group of civic leaders formed to preserve the historic site. The community was “opposed to any form of development on this property at this time,” Weprin said.

The councilman, who chairs the Council’s Finance Committee, said he would request $2 million to $3 million in the capital budget for the city to acquire the land. But he acknowledged that the community’s best chance to take over the privately held lot would be to frustrate unacceptable development plans until the owner was ready to sell.

Martha Taylor, second vice chairwoman of Community Board 8, said the developer’s plan would violate Fresh Meadows’ open space requirements for a special preservation district in which Klein Farm now sits.

The developer could change the land’s use via the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which would require community board, borough president and City Council approval, but “in this case, it isn’t likely,” Taylor said.

Judelson said, “I have confidence that the ULURP process will be a fair (one) and that everyone will come into the process with the hope of a fair and just outcome.”

Jim Trent, president of the Queens County Farm Museum, said Friday that his organization would like to continue the tradition of fresh produce sales at Klein Farm and allow John Bowne High School students to bring their agricultural curriculum to the land.

“The farm museum is anxious to take possession and restore this property.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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