New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Commercial Observer

Commercial Observer RIP, ULURP: What City Charter Changes Might Mean for Real Estate by Rebecca-Baird Remba

RIP, ULURP: What City Charter Changes Might Mean for Real Estate

In addition, there are a number of charter revision proposals that will spark alarm among real estate developers. Some politicians and anti-development groups have trained their aim on the Board of Standards and Appeals, a quasi-judicial body that grants minor zoning changes to landlords who argue the city land use rules make development or renovations financially difficult. Councilman Ben Kallos, for example, wants to give the City Council and borough presidents the power to appoint members to the board, which is currently chosen by the mayor. He posits that the mayor has too much power over the land use process, because he appoints the BSA and the majority of the City Planning Commission.

“No single indivdual who is seeking money to run for higher office should be able to control the land use process from beginning to end,” Kallos explained.

Another recommendation on the charter commission’s list calls for allowing the council to veto BSA decisions. But even Kallos acknowledges that could raise legal issues, since the council also signs off on major zoning changes.

Real estate lawyers argue that these two changes could create serious legal issues for the city, because they would politicize a board that’s supposed to be independent of city politics. The BSA exists to offer relief from the city’s zoning code. Without the BSA, developers can argue that zoning qualifies as a constitutional “taking” of property.

Commercial Observer Goodlawyas: Three Lawyers Who Challenge New York’s Real Estate Empire by Mack Burke

Goodlawyas: Three Lawyers Who Challenge New York’s Real Estate Empire

“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,” New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the members of the ERFA, said in a statement at the time of the BSA decision. “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.”

Real Estate Board of New York President John Banks said in a prepared statement at the time of the BSA verdict: “The Board of Standards and Appeals made a sensible decision, recognizing the importance of as-of-right development to our city’s continued growth and success… New York City needs predictability, continued investment and new housing, and the BSA’s decision helps achieve that.”

Commercial Observer Power Politicians: The Officials Who Call the Shots on Real Estate by Rebecca Rembra

Power Politicians: The Officials Who Call the Shots on Real Estate

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Ben Kallos

New York City Councilman, Manhattan, District 5

If a developer wants a rezoning or a special tax exemption for its project, it has to convince the City Council that the development will benefit the neighborhood and New York City at large. The first step in that process is getting a “yes” vote from the subcommittee on planning, dispositions and concessions, which is chaired by Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos. Since taking over the gig in January, the second-term Democrat has adopted a more aggressive stance toward evaluating land use applications than some of his predecessors. He asks each developer how much subsidy they’re receiving from city, state and federal sources, what the cumulative value of their tax abatement is, whether they’re using minority- and women-owned businesses for construction, if they have a local hiring plan, and whether their workers are getting health insurance and earning a living wage.   

“We’re squeezing as much affordable housing out of every dollar as we can,” Kallos said.

In December 2017, the council passed a bill he co-authored that would impose fines on landlords who receive the J-51 or 421-a tax breaks and flout the law by failing to register and offer stabilized leases for rent-regulated units. He also spearheaded a package of bills passed by the council last May that sought to reform the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), the little-known body that grants zoning variances to developers who claim they are financially burdened by the zoning code. The legislation requires the BSA to write more thorough decisions, create a map of variances and notify local community boards, council members and borough presidents when it receives an application.

However, Kallos may have waged his fiercest battle last year against Gamma Real Estate, the developers of a planned 800-foot-tall residential tower at 3 Sutton Place. He helped pass a 10-block rezoning in the East 50s that will discourage projects like Gamma’s by forcing builders to adhere to “tower on base” standards, meaning 40 to 50 percent of the building has to sit below 150 feet. The developer is appealing the new zoning with the BSA, arguing its tower should be grandfathered in under the old, less-restrictive zoning.