New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

“A lot of the people who own these buildings do not act responsibly and they don’t start repairs before problems start,” McDermott said, citing why many buildings have severe damage.

Nearly two years ago, City Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill that would require sheds to be taken down when construction is inactive. Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) has sponsored the bill, which was reintroduced this year after a new section was implemented.

The bill proposes that all unsafe conditions are corrected within 90 days of a critical examination report being filed. A commissioner may grant a 90-day extension upon review of the building’s progress.

“This is a safety issue, by and large,” Holden told the Chronicle. “We aren’t saying remove sidewalks sheds where buildings are unsafe, so there are exemptions of the law. There’s a balance.”

Holden said that he is confident that the bill will pass. Kallos, he said, is thorough in his thoughts and what he wants to see come of the proposal. He also said that he is a proponent of the bill and signed it because Holden himself proposed a bill similar to Kallos’. This one seems to be more active, as Holden said it “would probably pass.”

 

Kallos tapped his discretionary funds to buy five security cameras for the northern blocks — each with a live 24/7 feed to the 17th Precinct — and Powers dipped into his Council funds to purchase two more for the culs-de-sac as far south as Beekman Place and 50th Street.

They don’t come cheap: Each camera will cost $35,000 for an overall tab of $245,000. It wasn’t immediately clear when they will be installed.

“Soon, the 17th Precinct will have eyes on the park — and it will be able to respond instantaneously and even proactively,” Kallos said in an Aug. 3 press conference at the river-facing dead end on East 54th Street.

 

The project has a tortured history that began in 2015, when Connecticut developer Joseph Beninati bought a run of small apartment buildings and filed plans for a 950-foot condo tower. He later lost the site to lender Gamma Real Estate, led by Richard Kalikow.

During the protracted foreclosure process, a neighborhood group aligned with City Councilman Ben Kallos was able to gain approval for a rezoning that prohibited such a large structure there. Because Gamma had not started work on the 800-foot tower before the rezoning, Sutton 58 appeared to be kaput. But in late June, a city board granted the project an exemption. Now Gamma is building, and the neighborhood group is planning to sue.

Get the popcorn ready.

 

Starting in 2019, NYPD security cameras will be installed at seven locations in the mostly-residential neighborhoods, City Councilman Ben Kallos and Keith Powers said. Both council representatives pitched in to fund the cameras after a proposal gained broad support during the last participatory budgeting cycle, but not enough votes to secure funding.

"We're here to talk about quality of life and making sure that every park in our neighborhood has the best quality of life and is as safe as possible," Kallos said Friday.

 

“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.”

 

As part of the city’s ongoing charter revision process, New Yorkers could be asked to vote this year on major changes to rules governing community board membership, including instituting term limits and a uniform citywide appointment process.

Ben Kallos, who represents much of the Upper East Side in the City Council, said in recent public testimony that term limits “are necessary to ensure that these bodies reflect their communities and create a culture of getting things done and foster mentoring and the passing on of institutional memory.”

 

The New York City Council is expected to vote next month on a series of bills that address the impact of ride-hailing services like Uber Technologies and Lyft Inc.

Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, said he was against the cap as well.

 

Ben Kallos, a City Council member from Manhattan, said that he planned to vote against the cap ... he was bothered by the idea that the cap would halt new licenses while studying the industry.

“The scientific method says we test our hypotheses before we act on them,” Mr. Kallos said. “I don’t support any legislation that creates a solution before we know it actually fixes a problem.”

 

Councilmember Ben Kallos called the buffer lot a “sham zoning lot,” created so that developers could skirt the zoning rule known as “tower-on-a-base” that would have constrained the building’s height and design had it legally fronted on E. 88th St. In 2015, DDG Partners sold the buffer lot for $10 to a legally separate company, though both entities were under the same name and developer address, Kallos said.

One factor debated by the BSA commissioners last week was whether the tiny lot could conceivably be sold and built upon in the future. Kallos argued no, explaining the lot is adjacent to what is expected to be the building’s main entrance. Though the building has a Third Ave. address in city records, its condos have been advertised as being on E. 88th St.

“The developer never bothered to hide that the unbuildable lot is a sham,” Kallos said in his testimony to the BSA. “Under the terms of federal and state laws, this transaction would likely be considered a fraudulent conveyance in a foreclosure or bankruptcy proceeding.”

 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — A fire house covering a large span of the Upper East Side is set to receive an investment of more than a half-million dollars for renovations.

City Councilman Ben Kallos is allocating $525,000 for fixes at the home of Engine Company 22, Ladder Tower 13 and Battalion 10 on East 85th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, the councilman announced Tuesday.

"Our firefighters respond to every 911 call as if our lives depend on it, because they do, and they are always there for us, fighting fires, saving lives, and we must be there for them," Kallos said in a statement. "When we run from danger our firefighters run to it, they are our bravest, and we must do everything in our power to support them."

 

The New York City charter is being revisited by not one, but two revision commissions.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the first commission to review the city charter during his State of the City address in February. The stated intent of the mayor’s commission was to examine campaign finance and improve democracy in the city, but over the course of several public hearings, commissioners also examined local engagement through community boards and, in turn, the level of input that residents have in city land use decisions. That commission plans to wrap up in time to have proposals on the ballot in November.

Ultimately, substantial changes to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure – the standard public review process for city land use decisions – are unlikely given the commission’s narrow focus and short time frame. In its recently released preliminary staff report, the commission acknowledged the complexity of the matter and recommended not pursuing it further. The report defers consideration to future commissions, and recommends they conduct more outreach on the issue.

 

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.