NIMBY Effort to Side Step Public Review Aided by Champion of Government Reform

“Do as I say, not as I do,” is the clear message behind City Council Member Ben Kallos’ recent actions and public statements on development and land use issues.

In the name of transparency, Kallos is pushing to bring a myriad of changes to the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals.  He is the sponsor of legislation mandating new evidentiary standards, disclosure rules, and reporting requirements, all in the spirit of sunshine and good government.

At the same time however, Kallos is working with a special interest group known as East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA). The group is comprised of wealthy and well connected residents of The Sovereign, a 47-story luxury building on Sutton Place with sweeping views of the East River.

Recently, ERFA and Council Member Kallos jointly filed an application to change the zoning rules in the area.  This was the second application they submitted.  The first was blatantly self-serving, lacked even the appearance of a planning rationale, and was ultimately withdrawn since it had no chance of being approved.  The second application was equally self-serving and lacking in a planning rationale.  The sole purpose of both of these rezoning proposals was to block the construction of a new residential building that would obstruct the river views of the well-heeled residents of The Sovereign.

Council Member Kallos has coordinated with Community Board 6 to waive the customary public review process for his zoning application and prevent open and broad-based community participation. Typically, the public review process provides the public 4 or 5 months to adequately review a zoning application with several opportunities to publicly testify before the City Planning Commission makes its decision. However, for his application, Kallos is providing the public with only 16 days to review all environmental findings, study potential impacts, and develop a well-reasoned response.

Kallos was a driving force behind Community Board 6’s unprecedented decision to waive their review period—thus preventing any members of the public who oppose the zoning application from voicing their opinion. In fact, the Community Board voted to waive their right to schedule a public hearing before the completed application had even been submitted.

It is a shameful exploitation of publicly-entrusted government responsibility by Council Member Kallos and the other elected officials as co-applicants to waive broad based public participation and silence the voices of those who oppose.  

Regardless if you have the point of view in support of a new building or if you’re opposed to the project – we should not cavalierly waive the public review process.  To put this in proper context, imagine the public outcry if a private applicant was able to skirt the public review process.

At a time when we could all use more faith in government, now is not the time to abandon our principles. Let’s remember that it is the responsibility of every elected official to represent and give a voice to all citizens and not just the well connected.