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CB 1 member fights cell phone tower takeover of Astoria

Evie Hantzopoulos may have been newly appointed to serve on Astoria’s Community Board 1, but she has long been fighting to ensure that mobile service providers do not sell out her community.

In 2003, the 44-year-old mother of three rallied with her neighbors, calling on the city for increased oversight for cell phone providers that place towers in residential communities.

“Nobody knew what they were at first,” Hantzopoulos said of the self-certified towers being constructed in her neighborhood seven years ago. “We tried to call the city to see if it was legal, but no one would give us an answer. We weren’t told who regulated them. We had to do our own research.”

Hantzopoulos enlisted City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who introduced a bill that required the city Department of Buildings to maintain a list of all newly constructed cell towers that could be viewed by the public. Two years later, Vallone’s legislation was passed.

The councilman recently proposed new legislation that would force cell phone providers to notify tenants and community boards about new towers before they are constructed, demand that the companies demonstrate a need for additional cell service in the community in which it will be placed and require new towers to display the provider’s name on it.

“We’ve had a huge battle from the industry,” she said. “They don’t want people to know where these antennas are. They are installed on rooftops, so immediate exposure is not an issue because the Federal Communications Commission has strict guidelines. But if you live near these antennas for five or 10 years, it’s not a good thing.”

Last week, Hantzopoulos was appointed to CB 1, where she said she will continue to fight to prevent cellular towers from invading her community as well as call for more green space in her neighborhood and educational improvements.

But Hantzopoulos’ community work extends outside her own neighborhood. For the past 13 years, she has worked at Manhattan’s Global Kids Inc., a group that leads social action initiatives in public high schools throughout the five boroughs. She currently serves as the organization’s deputy director and director of programs.

“We talk with students about what’s going on in the world,” she said. “It shows them they have the right to take part in decision-making and policy. A lot of them are first generation or immigrant students. Many of them will be the first in their family to go to college.”

One of the recent projects in which she was involved was a student fund-raising program for displaced people in Darfur’s refugee camps in Africa. The students wrote Congress on the matter and recently took their cause to Washington, D.C.

“She’s a remarkable woman,” Vallone said of Hantzopoulos. “She went from being an Astoria mom to a worldwide figure in the fight for responsible cell phone towers because of her drive and perseverance. And she doesn’t do it for accolades, she does it for her community.”

Both Vallone and Hantzopoulos were featured in a 2009 documentary film on cell phone antennas titled “Full Signal.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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