The Klein Farm Fiasco And A Tarnished Image
Klein Farm is boarded up and waiting for its next surprise. Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I read the Queens Tribune – not surprising, it’s my paper.
By way of explanation, I read something a month ago in the Trib and it has been bugging me ever since. I’ve started on numerous occasions to vent or rant about it. I just haven’t – until now.
A bit of background: I like David Weprin. I hope he doesn’t view this as an attack on him – because it is not. It is a strong statement of advocacy that if elected officials want to take credit for things that happen on their watch, they also must accept responsibility for the bad things that happen. If you run in front of the camera whenever a photo op exists, don’t hide when the camera is looking for those who were around and didn’t prevent the problems, and certainly don’t deny responsibility. If you do, you’ll find guys like me calling you on it.
A little more background: I know Tommy Huang. I haven’t seen him in more than a decade and certainly wrote him off as a friend to the community when he mistreated the RKO Keith’s property in Flushing.
More background: I’ve known and enjoyed Klein Farm for perhaps 40 years. I’m not a produce shopper – or much of a shopper of any kind – but members of my family have been buying corn, tomatoes and other veggies at Klein’s little farm stand on 73rd at 195th since the 60’s. What a wonderful addition to any community.
The final piece of background: I believe a businessman has a right to a fair return on his investment. Progress and development (as well as social services) are an inherent part of the maturation process of a community and must be embraced with caution and guided with consideration of all parties.
Some thoughts: If Klein farm is not going to be a farm, I really don’t see why it deserves any special treatment. I’d support preserving it as a farm; I’d love to get corn and tomatoes there. The farmhouse sure doesn’t impress me. The concept of a farm does. So if the agricultural endeavor is over, I don’t see why the property deserves any greater restrictions than any other piece of dirt. I believe that the only restriction that should be placed on the next thing built on that property – if it’s not a farm – should be the same zoning laws as the rest of the community.
Whatever comes should be in character with the neighborhood. Certainly density and over-development are always hot button issues, but since we are losing the farm, property owners are entitled to a fair return on their investment. And it really doesn’t matter if that property owner is from a family of longtime farmers like Mr. Klein, or a less than scrupulous developer like Tommy Huang.
The community deserves a seat at the table so that it has information and its particular concerns can be addressed. The rest is left to the zoning law enforcement of an archaic code that is in dreadful need of revision. The community board is the rightful representative of the community in the process. Community Board 8 is as good as any and could have been relied on to monitor the process.
Now nothing suggests that monitoring the process – by anyone – will produce the desired result for community preservationists. It merely provides the community the proverbial seat at the table. Us guys (and gals) in the press also do our best to help by providing a window through which the process can be watched.
That process was short circuited as it relates to Klein Farm. Huang, a developer of questionable character, had an option on the property that he indicated would expire if the community board did not support certain zoning variances. The local Councilman, David Weprin, believing Huang was out, leapt to the forefront, taking over the negotiations in secret to bring a responsible outcome to the development of the property. Weprin told this paper, Community Board members and the public at large that he was at the table constructing a solution for the good of the community. He sat at that table – alone. The press was denied a place. The community board was denied a place.
Weprin in typical style attempted to orchestrate a headline grabbing photo opportunity to announce that he saved the day and found a responsible developer to provide for the best interests of the community.
Now, nothing is to say that the outcome would be any different had Weprin not usurped the process and denied the press and the public access. However, the Councilman on numerous occasions informed this paper that it was all under control and he would let us know when he was ready to make an announcement.
Boshwabble, Mr. Weprin.
Tommy Huang got the best of you. He retained the property through a corporation controlled by his son in spite of what you told this paper and the public. Your imaginary developer never had a chance. Tommy Huang was in control of Klein Farm. And you merely provided the cover for him to operate without pressure or observation. Shame on you David Weprin.
But the biggest shame, David, is not that a smart and cunning developer proved too smart for you. The biggest shame is when, as Queens urban planning guru Paul Graziano put it, “You were caught with your pants down,” you denied any responsibility.
“It wasn’t my job to monitor it,” “I was just being a good Samaritan,” you cried. After usurping the process, building up hope, denying the press access, we not only get nothing from you, but now a bad situation is worse.
The latest information is that not only has Tommy Huang always been in control but the most recent plans under consideration by his newly designated developer or purchaser will increase the density that he originally proposed by 50 percent.
At the end of the day, the property will be developed. At the end of the day, Tommy Huang will have made millions on that development. And I know, and so do you David, that if it was prevented, you would have knocked over anyone between you and the camera lens to be up front at the announcement.
And David, now that you have failed, and the construction equipment is ready to roll on to Klein Farm, you are nowhere to be found. But David, you can be assured that your continually photographed image has tarnished.
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: