Photo by Christina Santucci
By Alex Robinson

The rental tenants on the historic Klein Farm in Fresh Meadows were issued fines Wednesday for cutting down trees and altering the property without the necessary permission.

Judge Michelle Manzione, of the Environmental Control Board, issued two fines of $800 to Ziming Shen for the violations.

Shen took responsibility for the violations at an ECB hearing Feb. 4 after tickets had been issued to the property’s owner, Audrey Realty, which is headed by Henry Huang, son of notorious Queens developer Thomas Huang. Shen owns the Preschool of America, which rents the house on the farm, at 194-15 73rd Ave.

Shen’s attorney said he could not comment as he had not yet seen the judge’s decision.

The trees’ removal in the fall sparked outrage among nearby residents and community board members.

Florence Fisher, a CB 8 member and president of the Mid-Queens Community Council, said the ECB fines were not enough.

“A $1,600 fine is a drop in the bucket. They should be fined much more so they know they can’t keep breaking the law. If they were fined $30,000 and made to replant the trees, maybe they’d think twice about breaking the rules and regulations of the city,” Fisher said. “It’s a spit in the face as far as I’m concerned. They should have come down much heavier on them.”

An ECB spokeswoman said the board only hands out monetary fines, which are determined by the city Department of Buildings.

The farm was the borough’s last family-owned working farm before it was sold to Audrey Realty in 2003. The property is in the Fresh Meadows Special Planned Community Preservation District, meaning no substantial changes can be made to the property without the consent of the City Planning Commission.

Shen contended at the hearing that the work done on the driveway was simply a necessary repair and that the trees had been removed because they were rotted out, infested with raccoons and a health hazard for the schoolchildren.

“After comparing old photos of the property submitted by Petitioner with the photos taken on the date of occurrence, I find there was substantial modification made to the existing landscaping,” Manzione said in her decision. “I find Respondent failed to raise a meritorious defense to the violations.”

“I find that more than one rotted tree was removed from the property. Mr. Shen admitted that at least one additional tree was removed from the center yard. In addition, no evidence was submitted to show that permission was ever sought from the City Planning Commission,” she added.

Shen is no stranger to these kinds of proceedings s in 2005 he was issued a DOB violation for failing to comply with a “special purpose district” and removing trees at a property he owned in Staten Island, according to DOB records. He was forced to pay a $350 penalty.

In April 2012, Shen and his wife were convicted of embezzling more than $3 million in federal funds meant for children’s lunches at the couple’s Red Apple Child Development Center chain, which operates around the city, according to court documents filed by the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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