New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

There are dangerous intersections in every neighborhood. The ones we dread crossing every day, the ones we take the long way to avoid, the ones where we ask loved ones to hold our hands while crossing.

These intersections are a perfect storm of outdated traffic design, millions of vehicles competing with pedestrians and cyclists to move around the city each day, drivers who flout the traffic laws, and the limits of asking 35,000 uniformed police and 3,000 traffic enforcement officers to police 6,000 miles of city roadways.

Residents frequently complain of dangerous drivers not receiving tickets, of police writing tickets for one moving violation but not others, or of an intersection that is made safe for only part of the day, during an officer’s shift.

 

“While the Upper East Side has among the lowest amount of public park space in the city, Sutton East Tennis sits on City park land but is not accessible to most community members, because it charges rates as high as $225 an hour,” Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the district encompassing the courts, wrote in a letter to the Parks Department arguing against any private control over the Queensboro Oval Tennis Courts.

The Parks Department is set to award a contract for a new operator of the courts, according to Parks’ request for new operators issued in March.

Sutton East charges up to $225 per hour for doubles on weekends, but prices are as low as $15 an hour during the summer months. Those with a seasonal tennis pass from the Parks Department do not have to pay an added fee during summer months.

 

Advocates pointed to two construction projects in particular – at 200 Amsterdam Avenue and 180 East 88th Street – where they said developers have attempted to exploit zoning laws.

“These are real issues rooted in specific buildings, but they should worry residents in any neighborhood in Manhattan,” said Jim Caras, General Counsel in the office of the Manhattan Borough President.

Caras said the East 88th Street project, a planned 32-story residential building, includes a 10-foot, unbuildable lot that allows the project to skirt zoning rules, as the developer can claim the building no longer fronts on 88th Street, allowing them to build a taller building.

“It’s like playing Whac-a-Mole with an industry that has billions to devote to coming up with new ways to circumvent the rules, and as soon as we find a way to get them to follow one rule, they come up with a new way to do it,” said City Councilmember Ben Kallos. “The creativity is limitless for trying to avoid the rules.”

 

Upper East Side Community groups joined Council Member Ben Kallos today to cheer the arrival of over 100 new tree guards on the Upper East Side. The guards, are located primarily on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Avenues, as well as busy side streets near the 4,5,6 and new Q train stations. Additional guards have also been added to the islands protecting the bike lanes along 2nd Avenue.

Council Member Kallos allocated $175,000 of discretionary funding to the project and chose sites with the consultation of the East 86th Street Association (disclaimer: I'm a Board Member), the East 72nd Street Association, the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, the East 60's Neighborhood Association, and Upper Greenside. Keeping this number of activists happy may seem like a challenge, but there was nothing but cheer at today's event, and, of course, requests for even more. "These tree guards, while providing essential protection for trees and plants in the bike path islands, add an attractive finishing touch to these tiny oases throughout the East 60's and 70's" said Barry Schneider, President of the East 60's Association via a Kallos office press release. From my perspective, having advocated for these guards for the past couple of years, the guards are attractive, essential, and improve our quality of life on the Upper East Side. While hundreds more are needed, if the satisfaction of local residents and activists today is any indication, the program seems likely to be continued and expanded.

 

Ben Kallos, who represents the neighborhood in the City Council, has joined a pending lawsuit against the developer and the city alleging that the developer’s tactics represent “a deliberate attempt to circumvent and nullify” city zoning provisions. Kallos and others said the East 88th Street project speaks to a broader issue of developers finding and exploiting zoning loopholes to build ever-taller towers without regard for neighborhood context. Several speakers at the July 16 press conference referenced the proposed 668-foot condo tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side that is the subject of an ongoing zoning dispute over the project’s irregularly shaped lot.

“It’s kind of like playing a game of whack-a-mole, with an industry that has billions to devote to coming up with new ways to circumvent the rules,” Kallos said, citing tactics such as excessive floor-to-floor ceiling heights, so-called “gerrymandered” zoning lots, and the use of mechanical voids as tools that have been used by developers with increasing frequency in recent years to inflate building heights and property values.

Kallos and other members of the City Council have said that the legislative body needs more resources to expand its land use staff to review projects before they receive approval.

 

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.

 

 

There's no law mandating when dormant sheds must be removed, but city Councilman Ben Kallos is trying to create one. In 2016 he introduced a bill that would require private landlords to take down a shed if no work were underway for seven days, with exceptions for bad weather. If a landlord refused to undertake repairs, in some cases the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development could step in and arrange to have the work done.

"It's a law of nature that what goes up must come down," Kallos said, "but not in New York when it comes to sheds."

Kallos' bill hasn't gotten any further than a single hearing in November, mainly because neither the Real Estate Board of New York nor the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, wants the city meddling any further with sheds and construction work. Nor is the de Blasio administration—which already has its hands full managing public housing—interested in getting involved with costly, complex repair projects that come with potentially significant legal risk thanks to the state's scaffolding law, which holds building owners and contractors 100% liable for any gravity-related accident even if they are only partially at fault.

 

A recent piece of local legislation, authored by Councilmember Ben Kallos and passed in January, mandates all noise mitigation plans be filed electronically, effective for all plans created after May 5th. “After years of getting noise complaints then asking the city to do something about it and requesting a copy of the noise mitigation plans, I started to think they didn’t exist. Now we will be able to see for ourselves, force developers to follow the plans, and turn down the volume on construction noise,” wrote Councilman Kallos in an email.

 

In granting Gamma a six-month extension Tuesday, the board “ignored the law and the facts in order to rubber-stamp a developer’s bad conduct,” Ben Kallos, the city councilman who led the rezoning campaign, said in a phone interview. “We’re going to have to go to the courts, which will hopefully have less political influence.”

Work on Sutton 58, in the Sutton Place neighborhood along the East River, was halted in December when the city council approved regulations capping the height of all new buildings in the area. Gamma had been racingagainst the clock to lay the tower’s foundation before the vote, which would have exempted the project from the new rules. At the time, the developer said it was just 10 work days away from completing the foundation, so the six-month extension effectively would allow the tower to be built to its full height.

 

City Greenlights Sutton Place Megatower

Added by paul on June 28, 2018.
Saved under City HallPoliticsReal Estate
Tags: Bill de BlasioKramer Levin Naftalis & FrankelBen KallosNYC Department of TransportationNYC Department of BuildingsNYC Board of Standards and AppealsMichael Hiller3 Sutton PlaceGamma Real EstateMargery PerlmutterEast River 50s AllianceJonathan KalikowErrol Louis

 

An East River 50s Alliance rendering of the impact of the 3 Sutton Place megatower on the neighborhood skyscape. | Via erfa.nyc

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | A city agency has given the go-ahead to developers building a 64-story tower on the Upper East Side. The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) decision arrives after years of advocacy against the tower — including a community-based rezoning effort led by the East River 50s Alliance (ERFA) in an attempt to halt the project.

The board’s June 26 decision in favor of the developer effectively exempts the tower at 3 Sutton Place — also known as 430 East 58th St. — from a 10-block stretch of rezoning in the East 50s.

“They [the developers] trumped the democratic process,” Michael Hiller, ERFA’s lawyer, said after a public hearing last Tuesday, June 19, anticipating that the BSA decision would favor the  developer. “I just think that’s outrageous.”

ERFA plans to take the decision to court. The organization said in a statement that the BSA decision was no surprise.

“The East River 50s Alliance will now take the community’s fight against this monstrous, out-of-place megatower to the courts and away from a city agency,” the group said in a statement. “Unfortunately for the community and the City at large, the [BSA] abrogated its responsibilities under the Zoning Resolution, including especially its obligation to independently assess the invalidity of ill-gotten, after-hours work variances and alleged street closure permits that allowed the tower’s developer to engage in a race to complete the foundation. The Board committed multiple errors of law based upon a misapprehension of what the Zoning Resolution provides.”

The developer, Jonathan Kalikow of Gamma Real Estate, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

City Councilmember Ben Kallos at a 2016 rally held by the East River 50s Alliance in support of the neighborhood’s rezoning initiative. | Photo by Jackson Chen

The decision hinged on whether substantial foundation work on the site at 3 Sutton Place had been completed by Nov. 30, 2017 — when the Sutton Place rezoning was approved by the City Council. Opponents of the Gamma Real Estate tower, including East Side Councilmember Ben Kallos, said the permits to close the streets and work after hours from the Department of Buildings and Department of Transportation were fraudulent. To obtain these permits, there had to have been a public safety threat to leaving the construction incomplete, but Kallos and ERFA activists insist there was no public safety threat justifying the permits.

“I think after-hours variances are a bane in the existence of every New Yorker who wants to get a good night’s sleep or enjoy their weekend,” Kallos said. “It’s bad enough that the Department of Buildings is granting them for the wrong reasons.”

If the DOB gives out such variances “like candy,” the councilmember argued, the BSA vote could have at least sent the message that such variances cannot be used to fast-track foundation work.

“I’m disappointed by the fact that they said this was for public safety but by closing the street it actually endangered people’s safety,” Kallos added.

 

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.

 

“The fight to preserve our residential communities against super-tall buildings will likely have to continue in court before a judiciary less likely to be tainted by the political process after today’s irresponsible decision by the Board of Standards and Appeals,” Kallos said in a statement. “The Board ruled in favor of a bad acting developer against a lawful rezoning that was the result of a grassroots effort by the local community and elected officials.”

Gamma Real Estate bought the site out of foreclosure after the Bauhouse Group defaulted on loans for the assemblage it created along three contiguous lots form 428-432 East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place

 

“The city has been complicit in ignoring the law in order to help a developer beat the community,” Council member Ben Kallos, who helped lead the charge for the rezoning, said in a statement. “If [Jonathan] Kalikow’s behavior is any indication of what the city is prepared to let developers get away with, then no law on the books will prevent developers from abusing the system and winning, until the courts step in.”

 

 

Outrage turned to action as New Yorkers worked to support migrant children brought to the city

 

An outpouring of donations for the separated migrant children at the office of Council Member Mark Levine (right). Photo courtesy of the Office of Mark Levine

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    Lawyer Moms for America participated in a protest in downtown Manhattan last week. Photo courtesy of Lawyer Moms of America

 

“It was a very intense and an emotional experience, and I experienced the heartbreak of meeting the children, some as young as one-year-old.”

Council Member Mark Levine, after touring the Cayuga Center in East Harlem

 

At first, not even New York City’s elected officials knew that the perilous journeys for 239 migrant children separated from their parents had come to an end, for now, in Manhattan.

But as the story unfolded last week of how the Trump administration’s family separation policy — widely denounced as a moral and human rights catastrophe by politicians, religious leaders and former first ladies from across the political spectrum — had resulted in an estimated 2,300 children shipped to far-flung cities around the country, New Yorkers took notice. And when news broke that approximately 700 of those children were believed to be in New York State, with over a quarter of them in New York City alone, many City leaders and everyday citizens first expressed outrage — and then quickly took action. “I have to say how incredibly proud I am of the way New Yorkers have supported these kids,” says City Council Member Mark Levine, who represents Northern Manhattan.

Under pressure, President Trump signed an executive order on June 20 ending his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents who were detained at the southern border. But New York City officials continue to push back against the lack of Federal transparency about the reunification process and demand the exact whereabouts of the children already separated from their parents. And that begins with the young people shipped hundreds of miles now sharing the same shores as Lady Liberty.

On June 22, Levine, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and other elected officials, toured the Cayuga Center in East Harlem, where some of the migrant children are being held, as first reported by NY1.

“It was a very intense and an emotional experience, and I experienced the heartbreak of meeting the children, some as young as one-year-old,” says Levine. “It was also a tremendous relief to see the quality of care [Cayuga Center] is providing [them]. That’s not to minimize the trauma these kids have gone through.”

After Levine’s office put out a call for donations last week, they were flooded with baby formula, diapers, clothing and books, sometimes brought in by young children themselves to help those in need. Over 1,200 volunteers signed up with the office online, including attorneys offering pro bono services and doctors and dentists offering their expertise to provide check-ups for the migrant children.

“It is better that the children are here in a state that is willing and able to help them rather than elsewhere,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side. “I hope to be able to work with the City and the State to improve the lives of these children and reunite them with their families, and if even possible help put them on a path toward legal status here in the U.S.”

 

The Charter Revision Commission empaneled by Mayor Bill de Blasio met on Thursday at NYU for the second of four expert advisory issue forums, discussing what could be the marquee issue for this year’s commission: changing the city’s campaign finance system. The first meeting, held Tuesday, focused on voting and election reform.

Like the first hearing, Thursday’s saw the commission hear from invited experts on the topic at hand, and was broken into two sections. For campaign finance, the first panel discussed context and perspective of the city’s system from politicians and experts, and the second provided recommendations.

 

A law firm that Mayor de Blasio owes $300,000 in unpaid legal fees to last fall won a zoning loophole for one of its developer clients after lobbying two of the mayor’s top aides, a Daily News investigation has found.

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel pressed Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and Marisa Lago, the mayor’s appointee as City Planning Commission chairwoman, to halt rezoning that would have killed a residential tower being built on the East Side by the law firm’s client, developer Jonathan Kalikow.

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By then, Councilman Ben Kallos argues, the damage was done. He says the delay allowed Kalikow to build enough of the tower’s foundation to claim the building as substantially completed – the trigger for approval of the entire building by the Board of Standards and Appeals.

“Without this bogus clause, this rezoning could have been done weeks earlier and the community wouldn’t be facing an appeal to a rightfully won rezoning,” said Kallos (D-Manhattan), who opposes Kalikow’s tower.

 

On June 8, 2018, City Council Member Ben Kallos, together with the New York City Housing Authority, announced the start of renovations and upgrades for the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center.

Council Member Kallos allocated $680,000 in Fiscal Year 2015 and $350,000 in Fiscal Year 2017 for upgrades to the senior center and youth center. NYCHA and the City Council, including former Council Members who represented the neighborhood, provided the remaining funding.

Council Member Kallos said, “The Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center is truly one of our community’s cornerstones. I could not think of a better way to put this money to good use in a way that will benefit the everyday lives of my constituents. I am looking forward to the work being completed and happy for those who will reap the benefits.”

 

 

One bill currently at the City Council, proposed by Council Member Ben Kallos, would increase the cap on public campaign matching funds from the current 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat to 85 percent. The CFB is now proposing a more moderate increase to 65 percent of the spending limit, reasoning that it nonetheless boosts small donations while giving candidates the flexibility to raise and spend funds from private sources since public funds payments are usually doled out in the closing stretches of each election cycle.

 

 

City Councilman Ben Kallos and the New York City Housing Authority teamed up to fund the project.

"The Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center is truly one of our community's cornerstones," said Council
Member Ben Kallos. I could not think of a better way to put this money to good use in a way that will
benefit the everyday lives of my constituents. I am looking forward to the work being completed and happy for those who will reap the benefits," Kallos said in a statement.

 

City Councilman Ben Kallos was a co-sponsor of the law. He says if the data is correct and there really is widespread noncompliance with the state and city rules, the city should do something about it.

“We need to know if the legislation we passed is actually working,” Kallos said.

Meanwhile, some advocates say the law isn’t working. Brad Considine is the director of strategic planning at the APLD. He believes that New York City residents are not getting their money's worth for the law, which costs cooling tower owners approximately 130 million dollars a year.

“The whole thing is misguided, but they did it over a weekend,” Considine said, referring to the city’s legislation. “They felt political pressure and their political interests and business interests [are] driving this discussion, and meanwhile people are getting sick and dying.”

This story was co-reported by WNYC and Gothamist.