A New York City Council member is trying to give the city a heads-up on vacant building sales.
Councilman Ben Kallos plans to introduce legislation on Thursday that would require real estate brokers, realtors and listing agents to notify the city 30 days before a vacant property — including empty lots and unoccupied buildings — of 20,000 square feet or more goes up for sale, Commercial Observer has learned.
Kallos said the bill will bring the city in the loop on transactions, giving it the first right of refusal on vacant properties to allow it to build more schools, firehouses and other municipal buildings.
“In my district, which is the Upper East Side, we have three gigantic vacant spaces,” Kallos told CO. “I’m trying to build more pre-K sites, and more schools [and] firehouses … It’s clear to me that it is a bad thing that real estate isn’t getting into the hands of the government [and] public-private partnerships aren’t happening frequently.”
The city would be required, under the new legislation, to express interest in acquiring the property or say why it’s not interested within a 30-day timetable. If an owner rejects the city’s offer, the city would also be required to disclose why it didn’t use eminent domain — when a government takes private property for public use and compensates the owner — or the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to acquire the property, according to the a copy of the bill shared with CO.
But, commercial real estate attorney Joshua Stein, who owns an eponymous law firm, raised concerns that the bill would slow down, or eventually stop, deals in the city and questioned if the bill was even necessary.
“There’s an existing system for the sale of real estate, [and] there’s an existing system where the city agency wants real estate,” Stein said. “They can either announce their requirements, or they could do a negotiated purchase, but there’s absolutely no need for this whole new bureaucratic overlay.”
Kallos — a Democrat who represents Roosevelt Island, much of the Upper East Side, and part of Midtown East — says the notification requirement would provide more accountability for the city to actively seek out new locations for public buildings. While his district needs more school seats and firehouses, the city has been slow to respond to real estate professionals offering properties for sale, Kallos said.
“We have done the work of finding sites for the city to place pre-Ks and new schools, and where, again and again, the city has refused to answer,” Kallos said. “The goal here is to create real accountability around city agencies that have failed to build the essential infrastructure we need that is leaving our children in overcrowded schools, and threatening people’s public safety without enough firehouses.”
The legislation, which could take weeks or months to be voted on by the council, carves out notification exceptions for properties involved in a bankruptcy court proceeding, those being refinanced but retaining the same ownership, or those that have been acquired by another city agency through eminent domain.