Tag Archives: Aravella Simotas

Op-ed: The western Queens renaissance: A burgeoning community on the rise


| oped@queenscourier.com

ASSEMBLYMEMBER ARAVELLA SIMOTAS

At its core, western Queens is a community built by small businesses. From the time the Steinway brothers built their first factory in the U.S. in 1853 to the television and film production and high-tech enterprises we see flourishing today, this part of New York City is firmly grounded in innovation and civic leadership. As a lifelong resident of Astoria and a New York State elected representative, I have been dedicated to ensuring that this wonderful community continues to thrive.

As we continue to recover from the economic downturn, western Queens has been a powerhouse of new ventures and a center for job creation. As the most diverse county in the United States, our borough is uniquely positioned to cultivate a dynamic hub of economic and cultural activity. The area is growing fast, with an influx of new families and workers eager to contribute and establish themselves in the neighborhood.

As the home to three film production studios, western Queens is also a driving force behind the continued strength of the New York City film industry. These studios and the movies and television they produce contribute thousands of jobs and untold indirect revenue and economic activity that benefit community residents. Located adjacent to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the new home of the Queens Council on the Arts,  this part of the borough has become a veritable epicenter of arts and culture.

In addition to the hundreds of restaurants, boutiques, hardware stores and every imaginable variety of mom-and-pop stores, western Queens is a model for responsible innovation. The hard work of so many ensures that growth benefits all members of our community. Recently, construction began on the $125 million expansion and modernization project at Mt. Sinai Hospital. This new state of the art facility will be much better equipped to serve the growing population of new residents who will now enjoy expanded first-rate medical care in the heart of Astoria.

Our local seniors have also benefited from the construction and opening of the brand-new HANAC/PCA Residence, a 90-unit facility which will make affordable housing more accessible, especially important in a city with scarce land resources and a high demand for real estate.

Together with other local leaders, I have worked to ensure that our community welcomes these new waves of growth. I have made it a priority to keep our streets free of trash and our centers of commerce clean and welcoming for consumers. Working with concerned residents, I have also striven to preserve the family-oriented character of local neighborhoods so that our children can always feel safe and our small businesses can thrive.

I will always pledge to work both in the community and through my role in Albany to encourage and promote an environment conducive to the continued growth of western Queens. Working together with businesses, residents, and local institutions, we can ensure that our world-class neighborhood remains a beacon of economic and cultural development for decades to come.

Aravella Simotas represents parts of western Queens, including Astoria and parts of Long Island City in the New York State Assembly.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

No booze for Queens bikini bar


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

If Racks, a new restaurant and bar, wants to open up, waitresses will likely have to cover up.

Community Board 1 (CB 1) voted not to recommend a liquor license for Racks on grounds its female servers will be wearing bikinis as uniforms.

At the April 16 meeting, board members voted 17 to 15 against the recommendation, even though the Community Board’s Consumer Affairs Committee supported the restaurant’s bid.

In a letter written to CB 1, Assemblymember Aravella Simotas urged the body to vote against the license because the bar is close to residences and a school playground.

“Our children do not need to learn what a ‘bikini bar’ is on their way to little league,” Simotas wrote.
Community members and local elected officials voiced their opposition along with the assemblymember.

During the board meeting, Racks’ lawyer Kerry Katsorhis said the bar, at 19-26 Steinway Street, is on an almost completely commercial block. She argued that children will not have to pass by Racks to reach the playground.

“Though personally, I feel morally that this kind of entertainment is demeaning to women, this is not the forum for a lifestyle discussion. This is the forum for a small-business discussion,” said board member Frances Luhmann-McDonald, who voted in favor of the recommending the liquor license.

Although CB 1 did not give its recommendation, the State Liquor Authority will ultimately decide whether to grant the license or not.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Pol hopes new legislation will make it tricky for bikini bars to get liquor licenses


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

The Courier/Photo by Alexa Altman

The top has come off for one Astoria bikini bar.

Slinking under the guise of a regular lounge, Queen of Hearts’ thinly-veiled attempt to renew its liquor license, without alerting the State Liquor Authority (SLA) that it’s gone nearly-naked, has local leaders drafting legislation to expose them and similarly shady businesses.

Initiated by Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, the Community Full Disclosure Act calls the SLA to improve its application process for obtaining and renewing liquor licenses by demanding businesses remain transparent regarding the exact activities inside the establishment – particularly adult entertainment.

The motion came after Queen of Hearts, at 26-12 Hoyt Avenue South, failed to disclose its status as a bikini bar, masquerading as an ordinary lounge.

“These businesses receive their license to sell alcohol by claiming that they operate as bars and lounges, but behind closed doors they have their employees strip down to their underwear and offer lap or poll dances to their patrons for money,” said Simotas.

Queen of Hearts filed to renew its liquor license with the SLA in September of 2012 under the name Wild Rose.

According to Simotas, institutions are required to disclose name changes and alterations to the style of venue upon reapplication, both of which the owner of the establishment, Steve Hatzilazaridis, failed to do. While forms have a category indicating “topless entertainment,” there is no selection that specifies whether a business plans to feature scantily-clad performers. To the assemblymember, two-inches of fabric do not make a difference.

“We shouldn’t be required to investigate every business that applies for a liquor license,” said Simotas. “The State liquor authority should be obtaining this information, basic information, whether or not they intend to have adult entertainment in their establishment.”

Liquor licenses are reviewed by the local community board, which gives a recommendation to the SLA. Community Board 1 District Manager Lucille Hartmann said she believes the application should not only ask more in depth questions concerning the establishment’s intentions but the SLA should also consider the recommendation of the local community board more seriously.

“It would be very beneficial to all communities if the board and our recommendation had a little more punch and had more of an impact,” said Hartmann.

According to the bar’s lawyer, Peter Stern, Hatzilazaridis failed to disclose to him that they would be adding adult entertainment.

“I didn’t know that they were refiling as a go-go bar. I didn’t know what they were doing in there,” said Stern.
The befuddled attorney, who filed the request to renew but not the original application in July of 2010, said he understood why residents in a neighborhood like Astoria would oppose the installation of an “adult establishment with any kind of erotic behavior.”

Several months ago, a similar skin-centric business, Racks at 19-26 Steinway Street, submitted an application for a liquor license. Simotas said she was perplexed as to why controversial establishments continued to pop up in a residential neighborhood.

“The only rationale is the Community Board isn’t getting the information it needs to properly scrutinize each application,” said Simotas. “The Community Board should not have to go investigate. They shouldn’t have to go knock down the door and find the owner. That information should be right up front.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

 

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

TODAY’S FORECAST

Thursday: Overcast. High of 43. Winds from the WNW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 20%. Thursday Night: Overcast with a chance of snow and a chance of rain. Low of 27 with a windchill as low as 19. Winds from the NNW at 5 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 30%.

EVENT OF THE DAY: After the Fall

Veteran production company Variations Theatre Group has found a new home at the former US Chain Factory site in Long Island City, which once housed a photo development facility and a plant for industrial syringes. Variations launches with After the Fall, one of Arthur Miller’s most autobiographical works, intimately exploring his failed marriage to Marilyn Monroe and her subsequent suicide. January 17 to February 2, 7 p.m. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Astoria lawmaker to propose bill to make it harder for bikini bars and strip clubs to get liquor licenses

A seedy Astoria bikini bar called Queen of Hearts has failed to capture the hearts of local leaders fed up with the number of adult establishments seeking to open in the area. Read more: New York Daily News

New York City school bus driver strike enters 2nd day

A standoff between striking school bus drivers and aides looking for job protections and a city administration that says they just can’t have it has the potential to go on for some time, observers said, as parents scrambled for a second day to figure out alternatives for tens of thousands of students who need to get to school. Read more: ABC New York

Deadline imminent for city teacher evaluation system

Today is the deadline for the city to figure out how to rate its school teachers, but as of last night there is still no deal in place between the city Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers. Read more: NY1

Rockway parish that helped victims of Sandy now needs help itself

When Superstorm Sandy slammed the Rockaways, St. Francis de Sales in Belle Harbor served as a haven for its flood and fire-ravaged community. Read more: New York Daily News

Feds round up 30 in massive metro-area mob sweep

Thirty-two people were charged today in connection with a long-running federal investigation into continued Mafia control of the private garbage-hauling industry. Read more: New York Post

NRA chief says group accepts background checks

The head of the National Rifle Association says the organization has no problem with tighter background checks of gun purchasers. Read more: AP

Study: 20K ER visits linked to energy drinks in 2011

A new government study is calling popular energy drinks “a rising public health problem” that is sending more and more people to the emergency rooms. Read more: ABC News

 

 

Pols rally against extremist Greek group, Golden Dawn


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

PHOTO COURTESY OF ASSEMBLYMEMBER ARAVELLA SIMOTAS

An extremist Greek political party’s plans to open a branch in Astoria have met opposition from local politicians.

Golden Dawn, a right-wing, nationalistic group that garnered 18 seats in the Greek parliament during the last election, announced its desire to set up a New York City office on the group’s website. While Golden Dawn’s website has since been shut down, locals have reported seeing literature produced by the party.

The group, whose main platform is anti-immigration, has been known to terrorize Greek markets, searching for people residing without proper documentation.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas rallied at a press conference on Friday, October 5 to protest the installation of a branch of Golden Dawn in the middle of the melting pot neighborhood.

“[Golden Dawn is] not welcome in this community, this city, or this country,” said de Blasio. “[Golden Dawn’s] hatred and bigotry will fall on deaf ears in Queens, the most diverse county in America, where people of every race, creed and nationality live side by side in harmony.”

De Blasio is among many who decry the group’s neo-Nazi affiliation. Its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, has been a long-standing denier of the Holocaust.

Simotas, who emigrated from Greece to the United States with her parents as an infant, was angered that Golden Dawn felt the community that had welcomed her family with open arms was a suitable location for such an organization.

“I’m very angry,” she said. “The reason I’m angry is because they do not reflect the sentiment in this community. Astoria is a community that was built by immigrants: This is a country and a community of opportunity. The fact that a group like this thinks Astoria is an appropriate venue to display intolerance and hate is wrong.”

Chris Vournas, first vice president of the Federation of Hellenic Societies, said representatives from Golden Dawn visited his non-profit group’s 29th Street office several weeks ago, requesting clothing to send to Greece. Vournas said many charitable organizations have dedicated efforts to assisting Greece since the beginning of the country’s recent economic downturn. However, the spokespeople lied about their intentions and did not disclose that they were members of Golden Dawn, Vournas said.

“We never invited them, we never accepted them because our organization is not political,” said Vournas. “Our organization has nothing to do with politics. We don’t accept [Golden Dawn] in the Federation, we don’t help them and we don’t recognize them.”

Vournas said the representatives photographed the outside of the Federation’s office and posted the picture on their website, stating that the office belonged to Golden Dawn. Vournas believes the extremist group has no place in such a culturally diverse neighborhood.

“How can we be anti-immigrants?” said Vournas. “We couldn’t be here!”

A reporter was unable to get in touch with members of Golden Dawn.

Bikini bar gets fierce opposition from leaders, locals


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Aravella Simotas

Residents are worried that an uncovered bid for an Astoria bikini bar may be a scantily-clad plan to wiggle a strip club into their neighborhood.

Racks, the club located at 19-26 Steinway Street, was recently leased to a company called 8G Inc. Formerly a billiard parlor, the establishment sits just half a block from homes, several hundred feet from a park and two blocks away from a school.

8G Inc. sought to obtain a liquor license, which was voted against unanimously by Community Board 1 in early September. District Manager Lucille Hartmann attributed the board’s decision to the establishment’s inability to benefit the community. Racks’ fate will be decided by the New York State Liquor Authority, advised by recommendations made by the community.

Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who lives three blocks from Racks, said the neighborhood is an absolutely inappropriate place for a skin-based business.

“People who live in Upper Ditmars are very unhappy and are concerned that it’s going to have a negative effect on the community,” said Simotas. “Who is going to want to move in when there’s a bikini bar half a block away?”

Simotas, whose campaign against Racks garnered support from Congressmember Joe Crowley and Senator Michael Gianaris, said she remains confident the State Liquor Authority will consider their side and heed their warning.

According to Simotas, 8G Inc. executives refused to promise that the bar would not morph into a full-blown strip club.

8G Inc. attorney Kerry Katsorhis claimed Racks would not become an adult entertainment establishment and that women would be dressed no differently than if they were at the beach.

“It’s zoned for it. It’s in a commercial area. Its neighbors consist of a truck depot and warehouses. It seems to be in a remote area. It’s not surrounded by houses. There are no houses of worship or schools. Where else can you think of,” Katsorhis asked.

Katsorhis believes many people in the community would enjoy the bikini bar.

Carolyn Scarano, a life-long resident of Upper Ditmars, fears the installment of such an institution could devalue the neighborhood. Scarano, who frequently took her now-grown children to the park near Racks, believes it may draw questionable clientele to a family-oriented area.

“I really don’t think this neighborhood calls for an establishment like that,” said Scarano. “We encourage businesses — this is not the kind of establishment we’re looking for.”

Protecting ‘Good Samiritan’ businesses


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Businesses can now feel safe about being good Samaritans.

Senator Michael Gianaris announced on December 22 that he has introduced new legislation aimed at expanding upon New York’s “Good Samaritan” laws. If passed, the legislation would protect businesses and non-profits offering themselves as safe havens to citizens in distress from being held liable for damages or injuries they may incur in the process. Currently, “Good Samaritan” laws only protect individuals.

“Protecting small businesses that rush to aid someone in distress will increase the safe havens available to crime victims and make our streets safer,” said Gianaris. “By encouraging businesses to act in good faith in an emergency, this legislation creates a stronger safety net for individuals who may otherwise feel apprehensive about travelling alone or in unknown neighborhoods.”

Gianaris announced his plans to introduce the bill during an anti-crime rally in November, held to draw attention to and protest the increase in crime in western Queens. Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who attended the rally along with the senator, co-sponsored the bill.

“Promoting public safety is a community endeavor, and organizations that step in to help the victim of a crime need to know that they have the law on their side,” said Simotas. “I am proud to sponsor Senator Gianaris’ legislation in the assembly and support small businesses and non-profits who act as ‘Good Samaritans’ to those in need.”

Community tackles crime, rallies in Astoria


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Crime may never sleep, but the residents of Astoria are planning to put it to bed.

Following a wave of illegal activity that recently rolled through the neighborhood, members of the community and local elected officials united at an anti-crime rally on November 16.

A variety of crimes were discussed at the gathering, held at 21-77 31st Street, including numerous incidents of groping, the most recent of which occurred at Broadway and 31st Street; an attempted rape on 21st Street; the inappropriate touching of a young girl by an unidentified man in the Steinway Library; cases of car vandalism and robbery and three shootings.

“Astoria is one of the best neighborhoods in New York to raise a family, and we will not allow a few deplorable individuals – especially those who prey on women and children – to threaten that,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who announced that she is introducing legislation to increase sentences for certain sex crimes and close legal loopholes that allow sex offenders to avoid facing serious penalties. “It’s important that we use every resource at our disposal, including passing tougher laws, to send a message that we will not tolerate these types of acts in our community and criminals will be held accountable.”

In an effort to promote cooperation within the community, Senator Michael Gianaris is introducing legislation that expands upon “Good Samaritan” laws, allowing local businesses and non-profits to act as safe havens to individuals in danger without being liable for damages or injuries they incur while doing so.

“We must do everything in our power to combat the recent uncharacteristic crime wave in our community,” Gianaris said. “Protecting small businesses that rush to aid someone in distress will increase the safe havens available to crime victims and make our streets safer.”

New crime-fighting initiatives and techniques were also announced during the rally, including the proposed reinitiating of community patrol groups.

Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who chairs the Public Safety Committee, hosted a meeting on November 17 to organize a neighborhood watch program – the first of its kind in over 25 years.

The councilmember, who was joined at the meeting by several Astoria anti-crime experts, announced that he will work with the 114th Precinct, the New York Anti-Crime Agency and the 114th Civilian Observation Patrol in creating the watch program. As part of the group, block captains will be established and the districts will be divided into sections.

“Make no mistake our police officers are doing a great job of preventing and fighting crime – but precincts are operating at half strength and need help – that’s where we come in,” said Vallone. “Our neighborhood watch will act as an additional deterrent and crime fighting tool.”

Some residents of Astoria, outraged and saddened by the illegal activity plaguing their neighborhood, appeared confident the community’s involvement would cease the crimes.

“I’m appalled at all of this crime that has taken place recently,” said John Pellitteri, an Astoria resident for 68 years. “This is our community, not the criminals’ community. We have to work hand in hand with the police and assist them in any way we can. We have to show these criminals that they are not welcome in Astoria and their crimes will not be tolerated. I’m glad elected officials are taking the steps necessary to help the people of Astoria, and to discourage anyone from coming into our community with thoughts of hurting people. I definitely feel better now with a community watch, and most of the people I’ve spoken to are happy we are getting started with it.”