New QBG head looks to take garden to next level

By Jessica Meditz
[email protected]

Evie Hantzopoulos is the new executive director of the Queens Botanical Garen. (Photo: Eryn Hatzithomas)

Evie Hantzopoulos began her role as the executive director of the Queens Botanical Garden in late January, just in time to see her favorite plant, the red dogwood, in its prime.
In the same way the dogwood’s stems turn a beautiful bright red in the winter, Hantzopoulos brings a bright new perspective to the 39-acre oasis in Flushing.
She fills the shoes of Susan Lacerte, who held the position for 27 years and brought the garden back to life during a time of crisis.
“I’m super grateful for the work Susan has done, like helping to make the new Visitor and Administration Building happen and expanding the collections,” said Hantzopoulos. “Now I think about how I can build on her incredible work and honor the work that she did, and then really work with the staff and the community to take the garden to the next level.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Hantzopoulos lives in Astoria with her husband and three children, and has called Queens her home for nearly 24 years.
Although her background is not in environmental horticulture, Hantzopoulos feels passionately about gardening and environmental causes.
“My parents were both farmers when they lived in Greece, and they brought a lot of that knowledge with them when they came here,” she said. “I garden in my backyard, and when my kids were younger I helped bring gardens to their schools.
“I know a bit as an amateur, but I’m going to be learning a lot in terms of horticulture and working in the garden,” she added. “I’m very grateful we have experts here who really know their stuff.”
Hantzopoulos has extensive experience managing nonprofits. She served has worked at Global Kids for the last 25 years, the final 11 years serving as executive director.
Global Kids is a nonprofit organization that works with kids in all five boroughs, focusing on youth development, civic engagement and global education in underserved communities.
In addition to developing the organization’s programs and expanding its outreach to different cities, Hantzopoulos spent time mentoring educators and teaching workshops.
“Children add a perspective to the conversation that is really meaningful and critical,” she said. “Everyone questions how much they know, but children have thoughts, ideas, experiences and viewpoints that should be listened to, because a lot of times it’s their future we’re talking about.”
Hantzopoulos is excited to continue her journey as an educator through her new role at the Queens Botanical Garden, especially with a $34 million state-of-the-art Education Center on the horizon.
The building, which is expected to break ground in the fall, will allow staff to serve more than double the amount of people through expanded programming.
“Right now, our education building is not serving our needs,” said Hantzopoulos. “It’s very limited.
“Also during COVID, there’s limitations on how many people we can have in the building,” she added. “This new building is going to be designed to be adaptable, with indoor and outdoor classrooms.”
Hantzopoulos has been a member of Community Board 1 since 2010, and also co-founded Frontline Foods Queens, which distributes meals to frontline workers, NYCHA residents and food pantries.
She is a founding member of Astoria Mutual Aid Network, Astoria Urban Ecology Alliance, and 31st Avenue Open Street.
She recently ran in the Democratic Primary for City Council in Astoria.
“The experience was certainly different than anything I’ve ever done before, and I learned a lot,” Hantzopoulos said of the campaign. “Now I’m figuring out how to serve the city and community in a different capacity.”
Hantzopoulos acknowledged that although the garden looks a bit different during the colder months, it is still a serene escape from the chaos of Flushing’s busy streets.
She feels optimistic about the warmer months to come, as indicated by the 2,500 people who attended the recent Lunar New Year celebration at the garden.

Evie Hantzopoulos speaks at the garden’s recent Lunar New Year celebration. (Photo: Josh Feinberg)


But most of all, Hantzopoulos is grateful to be able to wake up every morning and go to work at such a beautiful place.
“I wanted to pick a place where I could fully get behind its mission and potential, as well as somewhere that I could marry my different interests,” she said.
“I found a great group of people and a beautiful space that so many people love,” she added. “Now, it’s about working with the team to figure out how to build upon the foundation and really showcase just how special of a place it is.”

Street will honor Bangladeshi community in Queens

The intersection of Homelawn Avenue and Hillside Avenue was co-named “Little Bangladesh Avenue.”

The intersection of Homelawn Avenue and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica will forever be known as “Little Bangladesh Avenue.” The co-naming ceremony took place on International Mother Language Day.

Dozens of Bangladeshi businesses line Hillside Street, from the savory sweets at Dhaka Sweets to the authentic Bangladeshi cuisine spots Ghoroa and Sagar.

Councilman Jim Gennaro said that the Bangladeshi community is an example of people who live in peace and love their faith and families.

“Today is a great day for the country of Bangladesh and for all the citizens of the world,” said Gennaro. “They are a model community that I really embrace and want to thank in a very special way for what they do for New York City.”

With both American and Bangladeshi flags waving in the backdrop, the new street sign was revealed to a chorus of cheers.

“We’re gonna remember this day,” said Gennaro. “We’ll be able to tell our kids and our grandchildren and our grandkids.”

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, the first South Asian woman elected to statewide office, said the event hit close to home.

“In the 1970s, my parents immigrated and they settled on Hillside Avenue,” she said. “It’s special that I get to stand here today at the naming of Little Bangladesh Avenue. We have so many leaders in this community who are here today. I stand on your shoulders.

“The sky’s the limit for our community because I want to see a Bangladeshi-American as mayor,” Rajkumar added. “I want to see a Bangladeshi-American as senator and a Bangladeshi-American as president. We have just begun, and with all of the Bangladeshi youth in my office right now that we’re bringing up, it’s going to happen very soon.”

104th Precinct Police Blotter (2/7/2022-2/13/2022)

Monday, Feb. 7
Zamiqua Miller was arrested at 329 Wyckoff Avenue for petit larceny by Detective Wright.
Zamiqua Miller was arrested at 64-02 Catalpa Avenue for burglary by Detective Gerardi.
Lychena E. Solomon was arrested at 690 Onderdonk Avenue for misdemeanor assault by Officer Arfeen.

Tuesday, Feb. 8
Janneth Guaman was arrested at 57-66 79th Street for possession of a forged instrument by Detective Wright.
Andy Morla was arrested at Fresh Pond Road and Eliot Avenue for possession of a forged instrument by Officer Shariff.

Wednesday, Feb. 9
Fernando Rodriguez was arrested at 65-04 Hull Avenue for criminal mischief by Detective Lodato.
Roman A. Vera Delgado was arrested at Tonsor Street and Metropolitan Avenue for aggravated unlicensed operator by Officer Arfeen.
Kelius Casete was arrested at Catala Avenue and Fresh Pond Road for aggravated unlicensed operator by Officer Martinez.

Thursday, Feb. 10
Derrick Randall was arrested at 78-16 Cooper Avenue for felony assault by Detective Bublin.
Gary Montague was arrested at 57-44 80th Street for grand larceny by Detective Moon.

Friday, Feb. 11
James McRory was arrested at 84-45 Fleet Court for strangulation by Office malik.
Segunda Sisa Pilamunga was arrested at Decatur Street and Cypress Avenue for driving while intoxicated by Officer Cedenopilier.
Luis Vargas was arrested at Wyckoff Avenue and Myrtle Avenue for suspended registration by Officer Nicacci.
Keily Araceli-Otero was arrested at 71-30 73rd Street for burglary by Officer Lyle.

Saturday, Feb. 12
Craig L. Capers was arrested at Forest Avenue and Myrtle Avenue for aggravated unlicensed operator by Officer Armond.
Hugo Reyes Cardenas was arrested at 65-09 Metropolitan Avenue for criminal mischief by Officer Bawa.
Victor Espirito was arrested at 62nd Street and Cooper Avenue for possession of a forged instrument by Detective Wright.
Jairo Paguay was arrested at 281 Saint Nicholas for third-degree assault by Officer Claybrooks.
Jeffrey Tavarez Florentino was arrested at Vermont Place and Jackie Robinson Parkway for aggravated unlicensed operator by Officer Bistany.
Rose Estrella was arrested at 281 Saint Nicholas for criminal mischief by Officer Claybrooks.

Sunday, Feb. 13
Jeremiah Banks was arrested at 903 Wyckoff Avenue for criminal contempt by Detective Rochford.
Jonathan Tyson was arrested at Grandview Avenue and Grove Street for possession of a forged instrument by Officer Griffin.
Josee De Jesus was arrested at Stephen Street and Cypress Avenue for possession of a forged instrument by Officer Pickett.
Diego Nunez was arrested at 68-17 Forest Avenue for criminal contempt by Officer Christoldoulo.
Angie Aguirre was arrested at 68-17 Forest Avenue for criminal mischief by Officer Christoldoulo.

Ardila to make bid for vacant Assembly seat

Nolan retiring after serving for the last 38 years

BY EVAN TRIANTAFILIDIS

Juan Ardila is running for State Assembly.

The Maspeth native will enter the June 28th Democratic Primary to replace Cathy Nolan, who is retiring after 38 years of service. The 37th District includes the neighborhoods of Long Island City, Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Sunnyside

“Queens residents deserve affordable housing, improved public transit, and a plan to combat climate change,” said Ardila. “Growing up in an immigrant family, I have experienced how important it is to have representation that understands how government can impact our lives.

“In Albany, I will be a champion for our seniors, our workers, and our tenants,” he added. “I am excited for a better future for all New Yorkers.”

Ardila is a first-generation American, the son of a Columbian father and Honduran-Cuban mother. After seeing his mother nearly deported and watching other family members face persecution from gang violence in Honduras, Ardila began his journey to public service.

He earned a B.A. in Political Science from Fordham University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from NYU. He attended St. Adalbert Catholic Academy in Elmhurst before going to high school in Briarwood at Archbishop Molloy High School.

Ardila previously served as a staffer in the office of Brad Lander when he was in the City Council. He also worked at the International Rescue Committee in Manhattan and as a consultant at the city’s Department of Education.

He currently works at the Legal Aid Society.

Last year, Ardila challenged Councilman Robert Holden in the Democratic Primary. He fell 926 votes short of defeating the incumbent, garnering 45 percent of the vote.

Ardila’s Assembly bid has already earned the endorsements of State Senator Jessica Ramos, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, and Councilwoman Jennifer Gutierrez.

“Juan draws on his experience in providing legal representation for all New Yorkers, and will bring his unwavering dedication to listen to working families,” said Ramos, “to organize his community around key priorities such as housing infrastructure, increased access to public transportation, and a more inclusive public education system.”

Ardila’s also has the backing of Make the Road Action and Churches United for Fair Housing Action.

“Juan Ardila is a fighter for his community who has stood with immigrant, LatinX, Black, and working-class members of his community in the fight for respect and dignity,” said Theo Oshiro, co-executive director of Make the Road Action. “We were proud to support him before, and we’re proud to support him again.”

Pressure to make ‘to go’ drinks permanent

Restaurant owners say temporary move was COVID lifeline

BY DANIEL OFFNER

Local restaurant owners are putting pressure on state lawmakers to make alcoholic beverages “to go” a permanent fixture in their establishments.

“We suffered a 90 percent decline in revenue when the first shutdown went into effect… and it has been a rollercoaster ride ever since,” Loycent Gordon, the owner of Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven said.

The policy was put into effect as part of the New York State emergency order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to try and help struggling restaurants stay afloat.

When the emergency order expired last summer, so too did restaurants and bars serving “to go” cocktails and wine.

Historic Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven, Queens, N.Y.

“This has been one of the lifelines that we needed that unfortunately expired,” Gordon said. “Alcohol to go is going to be one of those things that can help to add an additional revenue stream in a time where we have gone through so much and actually incurred so much debt.”

The New York State Restaurant Association held simultaneous press conferences with bar and restaurant owners all across the state to try and persuade legislators to adopt Gov. Hochul’s Executive Budget proposal, which they said includes a provision that would allow the sale of “to go” drink orders permanently.

Last June, state lawmakers attempted to pass a similar measure allowing “to go” drinks to be a permanent fixture, but according to The New York Times, it was thwarted by lobbyists with the liquor store industry, which had directed tens of thousands of dollars in political donations.

Dan Connor, the owner of Donovan’s Pub in Woodside, said he didn’t know why the liquor industry was fighting restaurant and bar owners over the sale of cocktails and wine to go after experiencing record sales numbers during the pandemic.

“I’m not sure why the liquor industry is fighting us on this,” Connor said. “We’re not selling bottles.”

Melissa Fleishut, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association said that the same relief that was once needed at the height of the pandemic is still necessary now.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, struggling restaurants were able to boost sales and keep doors open through the ability of selling alcoholic beverages with their orders,” Fleischut said. “The restaurant industry needs stability now more than ever, and by making ‘alcohol-to-go’ permanent we can encourage a strong recovery. It’s popular with operators and customers alike. The numbers don’t lie.”

According to a study conducted by the association, out of the 700 New Yorkers polled, approximately 78 percent were in favor of such a law.

“It makes no sense whatsoever,” Arelia Taveras, president of the New York State Latino Restaurant Association, said. “We need to have equality and fairness in this industry.”

Taveras said that before the pandemic there were close to 26,000 restaurants in New York and now more than half are gone, many of which were in underserved communities.

“It’s increasing crime. There’s no employment. I mean, what are we doing here,” Taveras added. “Let’s let restaurants breathe. If anything they should be advocating for loosening the laws on restaurants so that everybody can come back.”

Monir Zamel, the owner of Andrew’s Coffee Shop in Midtown, has been in business since the 60s and 70s. During that time his business weathered several catastrophes including multiple recessions, 9/11, and Superstorm Sandy.

“I’ve never seen anything that impacted my business the same way that COVID-19 has,” Zamel said. “It was like living in a nightmare.”

Calls for response from the New York State Liquor Store Association were not returned as of press time.

Plans for a policy to enable restaurants and bar owners to serve cocktails and wine “to go” will be decided on by state lawmakers as part of the state budget.

Hochul’s budget proposal also includes a Restaurant Resiliency Program, aimed at providing $25 million in grant funding to restaurants providing meals to distressed and underrepresented communities, and a Restaurant “Return-To-Work” tax credit for small independently owned restaurants.

NYCHA residents say they are still suffering from Ida

Residents of Woodside Houses are still grappling with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida as tenants have gone weeks with inadequate heat and hot water in their apartments.

Last year’s storm brought record-breaking rainfall to New York City, flooding the heating plant of the 20-building housing project that is home to nearly 2,900 New Yorkers. The main boiler was submerged in over five feet of water, according to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Elected officials recently took a tour of Woodside Houses, which has since installed three mobile boilers. Still, residents say the heat has been sporadic this winter, including when they went the day before Christmas Eve with no heat or hot water.

NYCHA says the mobile boilers will be taken offline in stages after a $1.4 million repair job to the heating plant is complete in February.

Before she was ever sworn in, Councilwoman Julie Won was receiving reports of no heat in Woodside Houses. Since she’s taken office, she has fielded over 20 similar complaints.

Following her tour of the public housing complex with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Senator Jessica Ramos, Won called for a permanent fix to the heating issues at Woodside Houses.

“Since September 2021 when Hurricane Ida hit, NYCHA had months to prepare in advance to repair the heating plant at Woodside Houses,” she said. “NYCHA should release a long-term solution instead of unreliable mobile boilers. FEMA and HUD must make funding the repair of the heating plant a top priority for the health and safety of everyone at Woodside Houses.”

Yen Castro, whose mother lives in Woodside Houses, said he had only just started to feel reliable heat, coincidentally, on the same day as the elected officials came to tour the facility. He says for the past few years the heat quality has been poor.

This year, however, he says has been particularly bad.

“My mother had to buy portable heaters and they were in use for at least a month,” said Castro, who has been living off and on at Woodside Houses for 20 years. “My friend says it’s the same with his mother at 50-50 on Broadway.”

Another resident, Evelyn, said that she had to sometimes boil water in order to take a shower and also uses a portable heater to keep warm. She said the city could have prevented the long-term problem by being ready for the flooding the storm brought.

“They should have been prepared,” she said. “You know we have hurricanes, why don’t you do something about the basements because those basements are always getting flooded when it rains a lot.”

Ramos and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell have proposed legislation that would create a searchable database of all maintenance request tickets at NYCHA properties.

The NYCHA Accountability Act aims to increase transparency after residents say they have had their complaints closed without them being resolved or fixed.

“For years, we have had constituent complaints from NYCHA residents regarding no heat, no hot water, issues with mold, and other horrible conditions,” said Barnwell. “Time and time again, the ticket complaint numbers generated would be closed by NYCHA without any explanation and without the condition being resolved.”

Hurricane Ida was the second-most damaging hurricane to make landfall in the nation behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Three of the 13 New Yorkers who died due to the storm were a Woodside family — including a 19-month old — living in a basement apartment.

With the heat just starting to come back to normal in his mother’s apartment, Castro says the feeling of warmth has been overdue. He said people may assume that New Yorkers know how to overcome hardships with an inflated sense of resiliency.

“They think we’re supposed to be good at all times,” he said.

Five arrested in Middle Village mayhem

Five people were arrested after a large group of protestors marched through Middle Village on Friday, damaging property along the way.

The group was observed by officers at about 8:30 p.m. marching and throwing garbage cans in the path of police vehicles attempting to follow them.

Police also say the group attempted to break mailboxes, damage parked vehicles and tore down several flags.

Social media posts by the NYPD and Councilman Robert Holden on Friday night and Saturday morning show vehicles damaged and one car spray-painted with the words “F— You.” Its “Thin Blue Line” flag decal was spray-painted over.

“The NYPD takes its responsibility to protect the 1st amendment rights of peaceful demonstrators seriously,” the NYPD posted to Twitter. “Just as important is the safety of NYers & the protection of property from people breaking the law in the name of protest. As seen tonight in Queens, they will be arrested.”

None of the five people arrested were from Queens, They face charges of rioting, unlawful assembly and obstructing governmental administration, among others. A hatchet, axe and spray paint were also recovered by police.

Kyrk Freeman, a 22-year-old from Brooklyn; Charles Edmonds, a 37-year-old from Freehold, New Jersey; Jonathan Lefkowitz, a 38-year-old from Brooklyn; Daniel Wattley, a 28-year-old from Brooklyn; and Alexander Davis, a 33-year-old from Brooklyn were takeninto custody.

Demonstrators hit the streets just hours after the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict was announced on Friday afternoon. Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges, including first-degree intentional homicide in connection with the August 2020. Rittenhouse fatally shot two protestors and injured a third in the riots that occured in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Holden renewed his call for peaceful protests during a press conference with mayor-elect Eric Adams the following day.

Speaking to this paper, Holden said the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case was an excuse for what he calls “anarchists” and “spoiled brats” to cause damage.

“They’re totally misguided,” said Holden. “These idiots were looking for anything to destroy.”

The councilman said the neighborhood could have been targeted because it is a “pro-police” neighborhood.

“They could’ve targeted us because we were white, if they’re doing that it’s racism,” said Holden.

Elsewhere on social media, videos show police following protestors and threatening them with arrest. The footage shows a group yelling, “Good night, alt-right! No Nazis in our town tonight!”

Adams released a statement following the Rittenhouse verdict focused on reforming the country’s gun laws.

“The Rittenhouse ruling should be the last horrifying piece of evidence we need to reverse dangerous gun laws in America and reject the culture of hate and bias that leads to violence,” it read. “Whether it’s in Southern Wisconsin or East New York, guns sold in one state are used to create death and mayhem on the streets of another day.”

State of development

Dear Editor,

A proposed accessory dwelling units (ADU) bill in the State Legislature would allow at least one extra housing unit on a property already containing a home, regardless of current zoning.

This would effectively end the existence of one-family and other low-density districts in our state and city. It would encourage multifamily housing in all areas, again regardless of current zoning.

The aim is to create more affordable housing. However, there is no reason why these units would not go for market-rate prices, out of the range of most people seeking truly affordable housing.

And forget infrastructure issues in our already crowded communities. These factors are not considered.

Another state proposal is looming on the horizon is transit-oriented development. It would allow increased development within a half-mile of railroad stations along Amtrak, Metro North and the LIRR.

That would include a large swath of Northeast Queens around the Broadway, Auburndale, Bayside, Douglaston, and Little Neck stations. Current zoning laws would be ignored to encourage residential development, including multi-family housing.

Any plan for transit-oriented development must be developed and approved by local officials, community boards, and the public, not bureaucrats and others who are unfamiliar with the area or the wishes of local residents.

Please contact your state legislators and other elected officials to express your opinions on these proposals. If they pass, our communities would change forever, and not in a positive way or for the benefit of those seeking real affordable housing.

Sincerely,

Henry Euler

First Vice President

Auburndale Improvement Association

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