City should be tougher when punishing urban developers

By Bob Harris

A few weeks ago, Administrative Law Judge Michelle Manzione, after a city Environmental Control Board hearing, found the tenant of Klein Farm guilty of having several trees cut down and the 100-year-old circular driveway paved over.

This was in violation of the special planned community Klein Farm and the Fresh Meadows Development are designated a part of.

The tenant is Ziming Shen, who owns the Red Apple Child Development chain of nursery schools and uses the Klein Farm Manor House as a nursery school. He excused the cutting down of the trees, saying they were diseased and one tree had a raccoon in it and that the driveway was too rough for the children.

He also said no agency would give him an answer about the right to cut down the trees. The judge fined the defendant $1,600 for cutting down the trees and paving over the driveway.

It is sad this is the highest fine stipulated by law. It is sadder there is no provision to make the defendant replace the damage to the environment. City laws are not protecting us enough.

The law reads that the special planned preservation district of Fresh Meadows has to have a special permit from the city Planning Commission to substantially modify the existing topography or landscape. It is disgusting that the tenant did the same thing in 2005 on similar property he owned in Staten Island and also received a city Department of Buildings violation and a small fine.

This was not brought up at the hearing.

Klein Farm was the last family-owned working farm in Queens and was purchased in 2003 by developer Tommy Huang. The farm is owned by Audrey Realty, now run by his son, Henry Huang. They had wanted to build 22 two-family houses on the 2-acre farm, but the special planned preservation designation prevented the demolition of the farm without permission.

It seems they are destroying the farm tree by tree and stone by stone.

This type of destruction of a community is what developers usually do. They buy land, then tear down the property and build illegally, adding walls or making the new building too large for the zoning permitted. When they are caught, they are fined only a few thousand dollars, which is nothing to a developer who is spending millions of dollars on a development.

The laws should be changed to make the fines larger so developers really have to pay for destroying a community’s quality of life.

In 2003, Huang paid $2.2 million for the farm with the stipulation that he would give the former owner another $2 million when houses were built on the land.

Well, Queens civic associations, co-ops and tenant associations are watching and will fight with their legislators to maintain their bucolic quality of life. People buy houses or rent in a community with certain types of buildings, topography and quality of life. The city should fight harder to protect what we have.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: After one of our big snowstorms, two officers from the 109th Precinct passed by two senior citizens, who were working to shovel out their car on Willets Point Boulevard in Whitestone.

The officers turned around, took the shovels from the couple and dug out the car. The two officers were Adrianne Galvani and Cory Smith.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: It seems that some charter school operators are fearful of losing all that money they are making.

One operator closed her schools so parents and children could go to Albany to lobby to keep getting all the money they obtain from our government. Parents in the regular schools are unhappy because the last mayor put charter schools inside public schools, causing problems.

While it is true students in some charter schools do well, supporters conveniently forget that they do not have many special needs, English as a Second Language or dysfunctional students.

This operator earns more than $450,000 a year.