New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Daniel Fitzsimmons

Our Town Is the Luxury Market Slowing Down? by Daniel Fitzsimmons

Is the Luxury Market Slowing Down?

News of the 80-story, 260,000 square foot proposal broke last April, and sent the comparatively squat and sleepy Sutton Place neighborhood into a panic. Community Board 6 voiced its objections, and Councilmember Ben Kallos came out strongly against the building’s height and social implications.

But it wasn’t just community opposition working against Bauhouse principal Joseph Beninati. Michael Stoler, a managing partner at the investment firm Madison Realty Capital, said Beninati’s background also played a role. Antares Investment Partners, the firm Beninati co-founded with a prep school classmate that at one point boasted $6 billion in assets, was accused of overleveraging investor capital. Beninati and his partner, James Cabrera, were sued for millions after the firm’s collapse, and Antares was stripped of most of its assets in the late-aughts.


Our Town A Tall-Building Cap on the U.E.S. by Daniel Fitzsimmons

A Tall-Building Cap on the U.E.S.

If passed, the new zone would cover East 52nd Street to East 59th Street from First Avenue to the East River. The plan is a direct response, said Councilmember Ben Kallos, to a skyscraper currently in development on East 59th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place. The development, which was first reported by this newspaper last April, is as-of-right and is being driven by the Bauhouse Group.

Our Town When a Playground Disappears by Daniel Fitzsimmons

When a Playground Disappears

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also came out against the plan, and questioned why prospective market rate tenants would want to live in apartments where garbage trucks will rumbling by on their way to the MTS (the Dept. of Sanitation has not yet revealed the exact route trucks will take on their way to the MTS, but East 92nd Street is a likely route).

“The garbage trucks are going to go by Holmes,” said Brewer. “It’s hard for the residents.”

She also criticized the plan for retroactively engaging with tenants of Holmes Towers after key decisions have already been made. She also wants any residential project at Holmes to be one hundred percent affordable.

“I don’t know that I’d call it a joke, but I’d call it a challenging process,” said Brewer of the city’s forthcoming attempt to win tenants over to the plan. “I would want a hundred percent affordable with much discussion about what affordable is.”

Councilmember Ben Kallos, who is also opposed to the plan, agreed.

“I think we’re going to make it as hard for the mayor to do this as possible,” he said.

Kallos said NYCHA is set to meet with residents to review the plan on Oct. 7.

Our Town Funding Deal for Esplanade by Daniel Fitzsimmons

Funding Deal for Esplanade

HSS agreed to invest in the East River Esplanade as part of a favorable land use vote held recently by the city council. The hospital will repair and maintain a two-block stretch of the esplanade and, in a partnership with Rockefeller University that’s being led by Kallos, will work with key community stakeholders to develop a master plan for the esplanade from 62nd Street to 78th Street.

Our Town Luxury Mega-Tower For Sutton Place by Daniel Fitzsimmons

Luxury Mega-Tower For Sutton Place

Kallos said he’s opposed to a high-rise luxury residential tower in a residential neighborhood, and will be looking to mobilize the community to push back against the size and scope of the Sutton Place Development.

“The brochure tells the story for us,” said Kallos. “What’s most concerning to me about [the project] is that it’s creating a future where the only people that will have a right to light and air are the people who can afford it.”

Kallos pointed out that the sales brochure touts views above the 50th floor that will have unobstructed views.

“They don’t even bother showing what views will look like for the first 100 feet,” said Kallos.

Our Town Questioning A Housing Plan by Daniel Fitzsimmons

Questioning A Housing Plan

Like Brewer, Upper East Side council member Ben Kallos is also concerned that developers are getting far more from these programs than what they’re giving back to the community, especially when the inclusionary housing program is combined with the controversial 421a tax break for developers that build affordable housing.

Kallos said while there’s been outrage over so-called poor doors, where affordable housing tenants have a separate entrance than their market rate counterparts, there should be more outrage over the “poor building.”

“There is very little difference between the poor door and the poor building,” he said.

Kallos believes that the inclusionary housing program and other initiatives designed to spur construction of affordable housing have not delivered on the promises that made possible their existence.

Our Town New Kids On The Block by Daniel Fitzsimmons

New Kids On The Block

Before he was appointed to Community Board 4, Austin Ochoa said more of his peers would be applying to serve if they knew they had a shot at getting on the board.

Ochoa, age 19, was appointed by Borough President Gale Brewer in April. She’s been working for the past four years to pass a bill allowing 16 and 17 year olds to serve on the board, and last week that work paid off with the passage of a state bill allowing it.

“These 16- and 17-year-olds are so intelligent, so grown up, and I don’t know if it’s because they’re in New York, but they can really keep up with the adults,” said Brewer. “Not all, but many. And anybody that says otherwise just doesn’t know this group of 16- and 17-year-olds.”

The bill was sponsored and passed at the state level by Senator Andrew Lanza and Assembly member Nily Rozic. City Council member Ben Kallos joined forces with Brewer to introduce a resolution calling for the measure at the city level, and Brewer credited council member Mark Levine with pushing for teens to be allowed to serve on community board when he was still a district leader.

“We’ve been working on this for about four years,” said Brewer.

Our Town An Act of Disobedience by Daniel Fitzsimmons

An Act of Disobedience

Councilman Ben Kallos condemned the arrests and the city’s actions.

“We as a community joined together in a grassroots action to exercise our First Amendment rights,” said Kallos. “It’s a dark day for democracy when an administration is arresting seniors and NYCHA residents who are trying to protect a children’s playground from a garbage dump.”