New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Joe Anuta

Crain's New York Councilman to push back on development with beefed up land-use staff by Joe Anuta

Councilman to push back on development with beefed up land-use staff

With as much as a 50% staffing increase, the City Council is prepping for a more active role in shaping development.

The City Council is getting closer to adding several land-use staffers as lawmakers push to take a more active role in shaping development in the five boroughs.

In March council Speaker Corey Johnson announced that he would increase the legislative body's budget by 27%, to $81.3 million. And now that the budget has been approved, the council has $1.8 million to spend on 21 staffers, up from nearly $1.3 million and around 15 people who worked in the division in the previous fiscal year.

City Councilman Ben Kallos is aiming to have one of the new hires work with the Committee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions, which he chairs, to examine claims from developers and the city about how much affordable housing a particular development might be able to support. The implication is that the council would be able to squeeze more amenities or affordability out of certain projects if it had someone with the expertise to take a deep dive into a project's finances.

"The City Council has been outgunned by the real estate industry and the city's [Office of Management and Budget], the Department of City Planning and the [Department of Housing Preservation and Development]," he said. "Combined, those agencies have thousands of people at their disposal, and the council hasn't had enough staff to take on the onslaught of projects."

The council also has taken an interest in doing more proactive rezonings in areas such as Bushwick. And a spokesman said the additional headcount would help produce environmental-impact studies, for example, which are lengthy research documents about a land-use action's potential effect on a variety of conditions. Other members are pushing priorities that include incentivizing more grocery stores, increasing the number of affordable units for homeless households and, in several cases, blocking development projects proposed in their districts. However, it is still unclear exactly what the extra employees will do and when the positions will be filled.

 

Crain's New York City board approves Sutton Place tower, but the fight is far from over by Joe Anuta

City board approves Sutton Place tower, but the fight is far from over

The 800-foot tower proposed for East 58th Street was first begun by Connecticut developer Joseph Beninanti, who took a huge financing gamble and ultimately lost the property to one of his lenders, Gamma Real Estate. During the foreclosure process, a coalition made up of nearby residents opposed to the soaring scale of the building and City Councilman Ben Kallos began advancing a rezoning proposal to cap heights in the area. The goal was to push through changes before Gamma completed the foundation work, which would have ensured that the project would be subject to existing zoning rules.

Crain's New York New map shows scaffolding darkening 270 miles of NYC sidewalks by Joe Anuta

New map shows scaffolding darkening 270 miles of NYC sidewalks

The Department of Buildings decided to release the data to give residents a better idea of when permits are issued and when they expire, and allow watchful neighbors to track sheds they suspect of overstaying their welcome.

"Real-time mapping not only increases our ability to monitor structures such as sidewalk sheds, but also shows how we are harnessing technology to hold building owners accountable," Rick Chandler, commissioner of the department, said in a statement.

Many attempts to reduce the proliferation of unwarranted scaffolding have been made over the years. After New York City Housing Authority residents complained that scaffolding at their developments was left in place long after work finished, the state passed a bill requiring them to be removed. And in 2016, City Councilman Ben Kallos introduced a bill that would penalize owners who leave scaffolding up when work is not being done, though the legislation has yet to gain traction.

Crain's New York Community groups launch lawsuit to block in-progress Upper East Side tower by Joe Anuta

Community groups launch lawsuit to block in-progress Upper East Side tower

Community groups and elected officials representing the Upper East Side filed a lawsuit targeting DDG’s 32-story luxury condo tower rising at 180 E. 88th St. The suit against the developers and two city agencies contends that the project’s height and configuration were achieved by exploiting a quirk in the zoning code.

“The loophole being abused here is just an example of what residents have endured from overdevelopment in our city,” City Councilman Ben Kallos, who is a party to the suit, said in a statement released Friday.

DDG broke ground on the project in April 2015, but a year later ran into trouble after community groups complained about an unusual aspect of the site’s zoning: The developer had carved out a separate, 4-foot by 22-foot lot along East 88th Street that allowed it to alter the building to a more advantageous shape.

Crain's New York Council takes a page from developers' handbook against Sutton Place tower by Joe Anuta

Council takes a page from developers' handbook against Sutton Place tower

Last week City Councilman Ben Kallos shepherded through his chamber a 10-block rezoning of the Sutton Place area that will result in shorter and squatter buildings than are currently allowed. He said they would fit in with the varied character of the tony enclave without sacrificing too much of the square footage that could be built in the future. While that sounds like a reasonable proposal, his motivation was far different. Kallos and a group of residents known as the East River Fifties Alliance wanted to zone out of existence a luxury condo tower being built along East 58th Street. To do so, they pushed the limits of the city's land-use rules in the same way that developers are often criticized for doing.

So blatant was their gambit that the City Planning Commission put a clause in the rezoning to protect the 800-foot project. But Kallos removed it and then fast-tracked his legislation's approval to ensure the developer, Gamma Real Estate, could not complete a foundation in time to squeak in under the old zoning rules.

Crain's New York City Planning Commission Paves Path Forward for Sutton Place tower by Joe Anuta

City Planning Commission Paves Path Forward for Sutton Place tower

Gamma's victory was short lived, however, as Ben Kallos, the Upper East Side's city council member, vowed to snip the newly created lifeline once the proposal lands on his desk.

"I disagree with the grandfathering clause, and I plan to remove it from this application and move forward," he told Crain's.

Crain's New York Armed with new fines, NYC is struggling to collect from illegal Airbnbs by Joe Anuta

Armed with new fines, NYC is struggling to collect from illegal Airbnbs

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill late last year to stop Airbnb hosts from turning their apartments into de facto hotels, bigger fines were supposed to deter a practice elected officials argued took much-needed apartments off the rental market.

But more than six months after city inspectors’ first round of enforcement, the de Blasio administration has collected only a fraction of the issued fines, which added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a Crain’s analysis. In large part, the trouble is rooted in the city’s long-flawed collection system—where cases and appeals can take months to process and landlords have little reason to pay up—which could ultimately defang efforts to curb illegal home sharing.

Crain's New York Push for Height Limits Extended Across Entire Upper East Side by Joe Anuta

Push for Height Limits Extended Across Entire Upper East Side

 

We are getting ready to fight,” said City Councilman Ben Kallos, a critic of residential skyscrapers who supports the board’s proposal and is working to advance it from idea to reality. He has reason to be hopeful.

The City Planning Commission held a hearing last week on another proposal in Kallos’ district that would limit heights in Sutton Place.

Crain's New York City demands construction-accident data from employers by Joe Anuta

City demands construction-accident data from employers

On Thursday, a worker named Juan Chonillo fell to his death from a Fortis Property Group project in lower Manhattan. He was employed by a non-union firm called SSC High Rise Construction. Hours later, a 45-year-old worker employer by union subcontractor EJ Electric fell to his death at Brookfield Property's Manhattan West—the second fatality on the site in four months. The Department of Buildings said Monday that contractors in both instances have supplied the administration with the required data.

The legislation, sponsored by City Councilman Ben Kallos, was among a suite of construction bills passed earlier this year. Lawmakers are set to pass a controversial construction training bill on Wednesday

Crain's New York Council takes aim at developers who plead poverty to evade zoning by Joe Anuta

Council takes aim at developers who plead poverty to evade zoning

According to the Manhattan councilman sponsoring five of the bills—which are to be heard Wednesday by the Committee on Governmental Operations—the board is too frequently persuaded. In 2011, it approved 97% of applications, many of which were opposed by local community boards.

"We are taking away the rubber stamp from a government agency that used it far too often over the objections of residents," Councilman Ben Kallos, chairman of the committee, said in a statement. "Developers will have to be honest."

Making a false statement on an application would trigger a $25,000 fine, according to one of the bills sponsored by Kallos. Another would require the board retain a certified appraiser to pore over financial analyses to better vet applicants' claims of financial hardship. Other bills are designed to increase transparency and incorporate opinions from elected officials into the board's considerations. Together, the measures would more thoroughly scrutinize developer's claims of hardship and potentially make it harder to get a zoning variance from the board.