New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

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 Bill to curb epidemic of sidewalk sheds finally advances by Aaron Elstein

Bill to curb epidemic of sidewalk sheds finally advances

Since August 2008, the front of the Department of Buildings' headquarters in lower Manhattan has been covered by a sidewalk shed. The unsightly steel-and-wood structure outside 280 Broadway stood because for years the city had set aside no money to pay to fix the crumbling facade.

"Thankfully, work has commenced as of a few months ago," Patrick Wehle, an assistant buildings commissioner, said at a City Council hearing last week. But the point had been made: Because it's much costlier to fix a façade than to maintain a shed that devours sidewalk space, blocks sunlight and hurts businesses, and no deadline to remove it, sheds have spread across the city. There are now 8,843—about 200 miles worth—and they pop up any time a building is built or repaired, as Crain's documented in a cover story last year.

Late last year City Councilman Ben Kallos sponsored a bill to stop the scourge and last week a hearing was finally held to discuss it.

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 New Yorkers could see the stars, if only lawmakers could see the light by Ben Kallos

New Yorkers could see the stars, if only lawmakers could see the light

How many kids grow up in the city without realizing what the night sky really looks like? But it’s not inevitable that this continue for generations to come. If only the city would tackle light pollution. The potential benefits of reducing light pollution are enormous, ranging from the pragmatic (saving energy) to the fantastic (inspiring the next Einstein).

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.

Crain's New York A cure emerges for New York's epidemic of sidewalk sheds by Aaron Elstein

A cure emerges for New York's epidemic of sidewalk sheds

Sidewalk sheds, the unattractive steel-and-wood structures that pop up anytime a building is being built, repaired or has been deemed unsafe, have spread across the city like kudzu during the past decade. As Crain's described in a cover story earlier this year, approximately 190 miles of them are devouring sidewalk space, cutting off sunlight and hurting businesses trapped underneath.

But at long last, there may be relief for exasperated New Yorkers.

On Tuesday, City Councilman Ben Kallos introduced a bill that would require sheds to be taken down if no work is done on the building above for seven days, with exceptions for weather and other issues. The legislation would close a loophole that allows landlords to keep dormant sheds up forever, so long as the city's Department of Buildings grants a permit, which it routinely does. The bill would also let the city do the work and bill the property owner.

Laurent Delly, who has lived near a shed that has stood since 2004 at the corner of West 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue, called the bill great news for the city. "We would be pleased with a tangible solution to this chronic issue, which has affected all of us as New Yorkers for years," he said.