A New Round of Votes from CB5’s Cannabis Committee

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

Community Board 5’s Liquor License and Cannabis Committee heard again from cannabis vendor-hopefuls last week, each applying for a dispensary license at a specific location. The Committee discussed six different proposed locations and voted on a series of recommendations for the full board.

Three locations received unanimous votes of objection. 64-40 Myrtle Avenue in Glendale was deemed too close to Saint’s Church—state guidelines require dispensaries to be located at least 200 feet away from houses of worship. 66-74 Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood garnered concern about its location approximately 500 feet from Benninger Playground. The committee also emphasized that the merchant hoping to open up shop was a no-show, which didn’t help his case. 55-14 Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood was voted down on grounds that it lies within 200 feet of a Synagogue. 

CB5’s Liquor License and Cannabis Committee

78-10 Cypress Avenue in Glendale received a rare unanimous vote of no objection from the committee due to its location in a manufacturing district. 

Votes were split on two locations. 66-33 Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood pulled three no-objection votes and two objection votes, making the Committee’s official recommendation one of non-objection. 71-05 Myrtle Avenue in Glendale brought in two no-objection votes and three votes to object, making the verdict an objection. Members objected on the grounds that the location sits not far from Forte Prep charter high school. Apple Maps records the distance between the two as 600 feet, 100 feet over the mandated distance between dispensaries and schools. 

A location from the previous round of voting, 70-24 Myrtle Avenue, was just down the block from 71-05 Myrtle Avenue but sat closer to Forte Prep—it was shot down by the Board for its under-500-feet proximity to the school. Multiple community voices had also expressed concern about it neighboring a McDonalds where local students often hang out. The new 71-05 location is just 150 feet away from 70-24, according to Apple Maps.

Elizabeth De La Cruz, a Glendale resident and grandmother who voiced opposition to cannabis dispensaries in previous meetings, brought up concerns about 71-05 Myrtle Avenue during the public comment period before the vote. 

“The last time I spoke, at that time it was the facility by McDonald’s where the bank used to be,” De la Cruz said, referring to 70-24 Myrtle. “So I was surprised to find out today that this meeting was on and it was again, instead of by the bank, the facility was across the street [at] the Mobile station. We still have the same problem. We have children from [P.S.] 119 walking, they walk 78th Avenue, right into Cooper, down Cooper, right down the street where the facility is supposed to be opening up. McDonald’s is there, McDonald’s is not moving. I take my grandson to McDonald’s a lot.”

Diego McCleary, a member of the Board, offered a different perspective when he took to the mic—one rarely expressed at CB5’s meetings. 

“Nobody really speaks up for cannabis at these things, so I have long hair and a beard, I’ll do it,” he joked. 

“Cannabis doesn’t kill anybody. And I get all this is new. But the level of scrutiny being given to cannabis is way out of proportion to the social harm of legal cannabis,” McCleary said, emphasizing the far higher death rate from alcohol. 

“I think we should consider every legal cannabis application and approve it,” McCleary continued. “This is about cannabis for adults. It’s about making it safe, taxed, regulated, and repercussions in case there’s anybody selling it to kids or anything like that. Now, there’s liquor stores within how many feet of a school and stuff like that—nobody’s making a big fuss. There’s bars that sponsor kids’ sports teams. Nobody’s making a fuss, right?”

The board is set to vote on whether to adopt the committee’s recommendations during their December 13th meeting. The board will send their ultimate recommendations to the state, which makes the final decision in granting or not granting licenses.

Borough Hall and Activists Commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

LGBTQ flags, string lights, electric candles, and snacks welcomed attendees at Queens Borough Hall’s Transgender Day of Remembrance gathering. 

Held on a blustery evening on Nov. 21, the event drew about two dozen people. Borough President Donovan Richards and multiple Queens-based LGBTQ activists spoke to the crowd, reflecting on the tidal wave of anti-transgender policy and rhetoric that the year had brought. 

“Transgender community, as I say every year, we see you, we love you, and we will forever fight alongside you,” Richards said to the crowd. “And we don’t do that simply in words here. That’s why we open the doors here at Borough Hall. Not everybody was doing this, but we do it because we truly value you.”

BP Richards speaks to the crowd.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, observed annually on Nov. 20, was started in 1999 by activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith. The day is meant to commemorate transgender people who lost their lives to anti-transgender violence. Transgender individuals, and especially Black transgender women, face disproportionately high rates of violence and abuse.

South Ozone Park resident Olivia Valawaa, a Community Advocate with the southeastern-Queens-based Caribbean Equality Project, also took to the podium. 

“I am an Indo-Caribbean transgender woman from Guyana,” Valawaa said to the crowd. “I migrated to New York City in 2018 due to discrimination, lack of access to employment protection, and family abandonment.”

Valawaa continued, recounting her story. “I first experienced homophobia because of my queerness and femininity growing up in Guyana. I’ve escaped a toxic relationship and survived intimate partner violence from the one person who I thought would’ve kept me safe,” she said. “Due to a lack of human rights laws and protection for LGBTQ+ people in Guyana, I knew I wasn’t safe in my beautiful country. And if I wanted to live, I had to leave my state.”

Olivia Valawaa second from left. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

Valawaa explained that she dealt with suicidal thoughts while struggling through the visa process, but held on to the knowledge that her life was worth living. She was finally given a visitor’s visa, allowing her to relocate and begin a new life. She expressed appreciation for the Caribbean Equality Project for being a particularly valuable resource for LGBTQ members of the Caribbean immigrant communities that call southeastern Queens home. 

Another speaker was James Austin, a Program Assistant at Queens Center for Gay Seniors in Jackson Heights and alum of Generation Q Youth Center in Forest Hills (both centers are run through the nonprofit Queens Community House). 

“As I stand here, consumed by anger and unknowing, my thoughts turn to those we’ve lost,” Austin said at the podium. “To our beautiful siblings, you fought relentlessly to be your true selves; to know a life full of joy and pride in spite of a world unprepared for such power. The void you’ve left behind is immeasurable, and the ache of your absence reverberates in our shared silence. May you rest in power and pride. As a community, we will remember your names. We will not let your deaths erase you.”

Speaking to the Queens Ledger after the event, Austin explained the challenges that older LGBT Queens residents face. 

“Queens is a very disconnected borough,” Austin said, citing a lack of intra-borough public transportation. “It really needs to have more community outreach: people in the streets, small communities with people in their neighborhoods, starting up space for their LGBTQ community around them and then getting connected in some way.” 

BP Richards and attendees from the night.

Austin mentioned that the Queens Center for Gay Seniors, the only center of its kind in the borough, had to pay for one elder’s taxi rides because there was no other way for him to get to Jackson Heights. This disconnect across distance in the borough compounds already-existing issues of loneliness among older LGBT adults, Austin said. “Isolation is a huge issue that all older adults are dealing with—especially LGBT older adults, because our support systems aren’t, like, family or kids. A lot of people’s support systems are their friends, the people around them—that means that as you get older, your support system tends to dwindle.”

After several other speakers addressed the crowd, an emotional drag performance to Christina Aguliera’s “Beautiful” by Queens native Eiby Leandra closed out the night. 

“Tonight was great. Tonight was very significant. It was so amazing, especially for me to get to tell my story for the very first time,” Valawaa said, reflecting on the event. “Although it’s an event to remember transgender people who lost their lives, it’s also a great time to really celebrate the people we have lost within our community. So it’s a bittersweet moment.” 


Christmas Tree Sparkles at Atlas Park

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

Hundreds of Glendale residents and visitors filled the square in the Shops at Atlas Park on Saturday evening for a Christmas tree lighting and holiday festivities. 

The night began with a crowd-wide countdown to the official tree lighting—after a few seconds of technical faltering, the large evergreen was lit up from top to bottom with brilliant lights and ornaments.

Kids pose for a picture in front of the tree. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

Multiple local youth dance groups performed for the crowd, including the Queens Dance Academy and KTB Dance Studio. Also featured was a bubble show, a DJ, and a visit from Santa. 

KTB dancers of all ages perform for the crowd. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

Lavinia Bopp, a 44-year-old Glendale resident and mother to a KTB dancer, said her daughter has danced at this Christmas event annually for years. 

“I come here every year because my daughter dances every year,” she explained. “I think they’ve been preparing since October.” Bopp said that a local recital like this one was a good opportunity for the dancers to perform for their local friends when they might usually only perform at competitions. 

Bopp said she loved the tree lighting. “It’s not quite like Rockefeller, but us being in a small area, it’s very nice to not go into the city to do something like this. It’s a smaller thing,” she said. “It’s a nice occasion.”

Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt



O’Neill’s celebrates 90 years serving Maspeth

A banner commemorating 90 years of O’Neill’s. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

by Charlie Finnerty

O’Neill’s of Maspeth opened their doors the day prohibition ended in December 1933. They have been a staple of the community ever since, serving up drinks and pub fare to uncountable birthday parties, anniversaries, retirement parties, happy hours, funeral receptions and famously the New York Mets after their 1986 World Series win. The restaurant has been a family-owned establishment the whole way through with Tara O’Neill, granddaughter of the restaurant’s founder George O’Neill Sr. and daughter of long-time owner George Jr., as the current owner alongside her husband Danny Pyle. O’Neill’s celebrated 90 years in business Friday evening with a packed house of long-time patrons, live music, food and warm atmosphere offering refuge from the cold rainy December night outside.

Glenn Gallignano, one of the many Maspeth locals who have been regulars at O’Neill’s for decades, said O’Neill’s is a crucial part of the community.

“O’Neill’s is Maspeth, it’s a staple of the neighborhood. I’m 64 years old. This is the first place I drank — illegally and legally — back in the ‘70s,” Gallignano said. “90 years is a lot of years. It’s always a good time here and they treat you like home. It’s a neighborhood staple, they keep us all together.”

Gallignano with his wife and other patrons. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Pyle said the night saw a great turnout with long-time patrons of O’Neill’s across its generations of ownership coming out to celebrate the Maspeth institution.

“We had a lot of neighborhood people come in. Even people who have moved out of Maspeth came back,” Pyle said. “Being family owned and operated for three generations, people’s parents have come here, their grandparents, so we had just a nice good mix of people.”

Reflecting on the establishment’s long line of family owners, Gallignano said the O’Neill family’s role in Maspeth goes far beyond the walls of the restaurant.

“The late George [Jr.], he was the mayor of Maspeth,” Gallignano said.

In May 2011, the legendary bar burned to the ground after an uncontrollable grease fire in the kitchen.

“I remember it was the night they got Bin Laden,” Pyle said.

For over two years, the Maspeth community mainstay was lost until being reopened in September 2013.

Patrons in the back room of O’Neill’s. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

“When this place burnt down, we were so sad,” Gallignano said. “We had no place to go because the whole neighborhood would gather in here.”

After a weekend of celebration, Pyle said the O’Neill’s team is looking forward to serving Maspeth for a long time to come.

“We’re looking forward to 90 more years of good times at O’Neill’s,” Pyle said.

Patrons make their way into O’Neill’s. Credit: Charlie Finnerty


Flushing and Central Queens Libraries Shuttered on Sundays

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

This past Sunday, doors were locked at Central and Flushing Queens Public Libraries. And they’ll stay that way every Sunday for the foreseeable future. 

It’s the first week of a new schedule for the library system, which is cutting Sunday service entirely at these two locations. The change follows citywide budget cuts for Fiscal Year 2024 announced in Mayor Adams’ November Financial Plan, which adds updates to the FY24 budget passed by City Council over the summer. Along with all other city agencies under the new budget, The Queens Library, Brooklyn Library and New York Public Library saw their funding slashed by 5%. Officials warn that the cuts could get deeper in January.

“Due to this significant loss of funding, the Library has made the extremely difficult decision to close our Central and Flushing libraries on Sundays, decrease spending on our digital and print materials, and delay needed maintenance and repairs in our buildings,” Queens Library wrote in a press release. “We know how much you rely on us and how disappointing this news is, and we remain as committed as ever to providing the best service possible despite the challenges we face.”

Books at Central Library. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

Kimberly Silva, a 47-year-old Hollis resident, said she enjoys visiting Central library. 

“Out of all the libraries, honestly, I would prefer to go to this one. Even though it’s a little bit far from where I live,” Silva said. “They have everything you want.”

“That’s horrible,” she said upon hearing about the new schedule. “No, I would prefer them to stay open. Because a lot of people can’t make it during the week. Sunday’s their off day, they want to come to the library.”

Out of 66 Queens Library locations, Central and Flushing were part of just four locations offering Sunday service before the budget cuts. Now, only Kew Gardens Hills and the Hunters Point Mobile Library remain.

Silva said that free internet and technology help at Central Library—which is equipped with a large room of desktop computers—will be particularly inconvenient for locals to lose access to on Sundays.

“I know a lot of people probably don’t have computers or access to the internet and they probably come here on their day off, which is Sunday,” Silva said. “A lot of people, you know, they’re struggling. Sometimes the internet access is too hard, sometimes it shuts down.”

Media Center at Central Library. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

Silva said she is worried the change in schedule might be difficult for her neighbor. “She has adopted kids and they don’t have internet, and she normally brings them here Sunday to do their homework.” 

City Council Member Sandra Ung, whose district includes Flushing Library, emphasized the importance of the location. “One of my top priorities upon taking office was reopening the Flushing branch of Queens Public Library, which had been closed since the start of the pandemic, because I know what an important resource this is for our largely immigrant community,” the Council Member said in a statement. “It’s where children improve their reading skills, parents learn English, and residents develop new skills they can use to advance their careers or transition to a new one.”

Ung said in the statement that the Adams administration made “difficult decisions to address a grim budget outlook,” but that she remains committed to looking for ways to bolster the library system’s resources. 


Paths of Rhythm Pop-Up Brings the History of Hip-Hop to King Manor Museum

By Athena Dawson | news@queensledger.com

Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) hosted an immersive hip-hop pop-up exhibit at King Manor museum. The exhibit, dubbed “Paths of Rhythm, features vintage collectibles from Queens-born curators and artists including Geechie Dan, Shenna Vaughn, Luc Stephen, Danny Simmons, Eric Black, Dj Diamond the Artist, and Carolyn “Candy” Johnson. The exhibit opened on November 27th, and welcomed visitors until December 6th.

“Paths of Rhythm” emphasizes the history of hip-hop in Queens. It includes vintage cassette tapes, boom-boxes, magazines and Lee jeans provided by Dan, as well as a graffiti wall and other collectibles that complete the 80’s hip pop aesthetic of the museum.

The Liberty Rock sits between hand painted murals and miniature busts of 80’s Hip Hop artists.

JCAL’s director of program operations and co-curator of the pop up, Wendy Berot, believes  the essence of the museum is 80’s hip-hop nostalgia from Queens. 

“Our plan was to recreate a party in the park like they did in the 80’s. Those of us who lived through the 80’s were actually there when hip-hop took another step from the Bronx and spilled out into the other boroughs. That’s why we have the fences here to show things for sale,” she said.

Co-Curator Geechie Dan shows off his vintage Lee collection. Courtesy of Athena Dawson

Berot explained how conversations last year about honoring 50 years of hip-hop lead to Councilwoman Nantasha Williams’ proposal of a pop-up museum. 

“The idea of the pop-up museum came from her [Williams] because she had visited one in Atlanta. Our next thing was we could do it, but where? And do we have a budget?” Berot said. 

The budget for the museum came from Nantasha Williams’ office which allowed JCAL to do “really big things like get all the little artifacts and recreate the scenes,” Berot said.

Geechie Dan’s collectible items were a main focus on bringing all of the moving parts of the exhibit together. He showed off his colorful Lee collection that hung on the fencing, as well as his giant wooden cassette tape, vintage hip-hop magazines and authentic boom boxes. Those were just a few of the items he brought to the exhibit at King Manor. 

The largest wooden cassette tape in the world is showcased with vintage magazines. Geechie Dan loaned the items pictured to the pop up. Courtesy of Athena Dawson

Dan emphasized how important it is to host the museum in Queens.

“I always felt that Queens heavily contributed to hip-hop on the business aspect of it and we don’t get the accolades in return that we put out from our borough. When we talk about Queens, we are talking about elevating hip-hop to where it is today,” he said.

Throughout his life, Dan’s passion for hip-hop led him to amass a collection of over 1,000 cassette tapes that he feels shaped his lived experiences. 

“When I was coming up, Run DMC had just come up on the scene and I was collecting tapes. Majority of these artists were from the Bronx… They were my hip-hop heroes. We emulated what we heard and we gravitated towards that,” he said.

Dan’s passion for hip-hop led him to become the co-chairman for the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, and create his own hip-hop program playing his tapes on Sirius XM. “Go hard for your passion, go hard for your dreams. It’s not going to be easy, you have to work for it and believe in yourself,” he said.

Dan is hopeful that there will be more hip-hop related museums and exhibits in the future. 

“This is nice that we did the first one here, but I’m hoping we can do four or five more [pop-ups], with York College, Laguardia, Queens College and more with JCAL. Let’s see if we can take this to a network.. When I do something I want to take it to another level,” he said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Lee jeans as Levi’s, and as DJ Diamond the Artist as DJ Diamond. 

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