Oct. 24, 2023 By John Schilling
The Western Queens Co-Op Coalition (WQCC) hosted a town hall in the Queen of Angels auditorium on 44-04 Skillman Ave. in Sunnyside on Monday, Oct. 23, to inform residents of the nearby co-ops and condominiums about the proposed 1197 amendment to Local Law 97.
Local Law 97, also known as the Climate Mobilization Act, was passed by the City Council in 2019 and requires building owners with properties of more than 25,000 square feet to reduce their carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. If these properties are unable to meet these numbers, they could face hefty fines as early as next year, a cause for concern among many residents of the co-op and condo developments in Western Queens.
After hosting the first town hall in July, WQCC decided to host another town hall on Oct. 23 to explain the 1197 amendment, which was introduced by Eastern Queens Council Members Linda Lee and Sandra Ung last month.
“We do potentially have a very positive update on our effort to amend Local Law 97 and make it possible for co-ops to comply with this law without going broke,” Sunnyside Towers Board Member Jane Menton said in opening remarks. “It is designed specifically to protect co-ops like all of ours.”
According to Geoffrey Mazel, a legal advisor for Presidents Co-op and Condo Council (PCCC) and one of the key drafters of 1197, the amendment takes more of a “rigid view” by giving special consideration to efforts to reduce carbon emissions that Local Law 97 misses.
This includes allowing consideration of open and green spaces in “a building’s gross floor area when calculating greenhouse gas emissions limits” and “penalty reductions” for co-ops and condos. Additionally, 1197 would also take into account “emissions-reducing technology” previously installed in a building, including solar panels and oil to gas conversions. 1197 also calls for the median value of the property to be considered when determining penalties “for failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
One point of contention in Local Law 97 is that while the legislation forces co-ops and condos to comply, it exempts or imposes very minimal fines on buildings that include hospitals, power plants, rent-stabilized buildings, family homes, NYCHA housing and city buildings. At the same time, these co-ops and condos could be subjected to nearly the same penalties as big commercial buildings like the Empire State Building, Mazel noted.
“The difference is for them to pay it, they can go to their stockholders, their investors or whatever and raise their rents … and it’s not a problem,” Mazel explained. “When it comes to co-ops and condo homeowners, it comes out of your pockets.”
Currently, the 1197 amendment has 16 sponsors in the City Council, along with pledges from three more and about two or three other members “interested in sponsoring it,” according to Mazel. In order to get out of committee and pass, 1197 needs 26 sponsors.
After an overview of 1197, Mazel clarified that this amendment is not a movement “led by climate deniers” but instead “people that are unable to afford to live in New York City and don’t want to go bankrupt.”
“This is pure grassroots,” Mazel added. “We’re just asking for common sense.”
Celtic Park President Charles Herzog echoed Mazel’s plea by talking about his housing co-op’s own green efforts not acknowledged by Local Law 97. In its 756 units, 25 buildings and two blocks, Celtic Park enjoys numerous trees and courtyards, as well as LED lights, modernized elevators, oil to gas conversions and solar panel installations.
“Just about a week ago, we received an ‘A’ energy rating…and with all that, we could still face over $2 million in fines in 2030,” Herzog said. “We’re middle to lower income, many of us are senior citizens and we just can’t afford it.”
Following Herzog, Berkeley Towers Sec II Corp President Sean McGowan called out to the co-op and condo board members in attendance, encouraging them to head to accelerator.nyc to check for their building’s estimated Local Law 97 fines in 2024 and 2030.
Both McGowan and Herzog called on the crowd to voice their support for 1197, including Western Queens Councilwoman Julie Won.
“My goal tonight is to have everyone understand that we’re here to have you support Local Law 1197, which is amending 97 to give boards of directors more credits to fight climate change and lower their fines in 2030,” McGowan said. “I’m trying to [find out] what we can do, how much it will cost, and if I’m going to have to take out a mortgage to do it, which obviously I don’t want to do,” he added.
At the end of the town hall, Won announced to those in attendance that she would back the 1197 amendment.
“I’m happy to say that I’m committed to making sure that I support Intro 1197,” Won said, resulting in applause. “I love the idea of making sure that solar panels, other wind power, whatever it is that we can do to make sure that we’re minimizing fines,” she added. “It should be calculated by income level, not just by cost, and it makes no sense to me why homeowners were exempt.”
In further remarks, Won apologized to her constituents for the stress caused by Local Law 97, despite the legislation predating her election to City Council in 2021. While referring to Local Law 97 as “well-intentioned,” she emphasized a need for the City Council to take a closer look at future legislation before passing it.
“Nobody is denying climate change,” Won said. “I understand that we all have to do our part, but we also have to do our due diligence before passing laws so we don’t find ourselves in this situation ever again,” she added. “I am committed to making sure that we support this bill … [and] you have my full support.”